Victoria’s human rights body has praised the state’s police force for acting on gender inequality and sexual harassment, but has stressed there’s still more work to be done.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission released its third report from its review into sexual harassment and discrimination in Victoria Police on Tuesday.
The organisation’s leaders have shown courage by inviting the Commission to conduct the review, according to Commissioner Kristen Hilton.
“Victoria Police took decisive action to address widespread structural and systemic discrimination against women,” she said.
“So much about understanding and dealing with inequality is about training your capacity to notice it.
“Victoria Police has been serving the community for 167 years. The harmful systemic and cultural issues that we identified in 2015 have been developed over this history and will take time to address and change.”
The first report, published in 2015, identified “widespread and normalised” sexual harassment and discrimination in Victoria Police, which had “profound and lasting harm for many of the organisation’s employees, especially female employees”.
Many of the perpetrators were not held accountable and, in some cases, were even promoted despite abusing their power.
“The layers of ignorance and tolerance in the organisation reinforced the power of perpetrators, entrenching sex discrimination and sexual harassment as cultural norms,” the report said.
The new report found Victoria Police has implemented 80% of the Commission’s initial recommendations, and made a further 16 recommendations to be applied by 2030.
While more than 19,000 employees — which is 92% of the workforce — have received online education about discrimination and harassment, the report found “unacceptable” rates of workplace harm still plague Victoria Police.
For example, one quarter of female employees (599) and almost one in 10 male employees (344) reported having experienced sexual harassment in the past three years. The Commission also found ongoing, systemic discrimination against women within Victoria Police.
Hilton said the organisation cannot fulfill its purpose without addressing such issues.
“Victoria Police plays a critical role in responding to gendered violence in the community – on any given day, 40 to 60% of Victoria Police call outs are in response to family violence. So, addressing gender inequality in its workplaces is not just vital for improving the experience of individual employees, but also for improving the organisation’s ability to serve the Victorian community.”
“There are now more women in senior leadership roles than ever before. Women are being paid more fairly, with an almost 2% reduction in the gender pay gap. Women also have better access to professional development and their voices and experiences are being listened to,” Hilton noted.
“Across the organisation, more men and women are accessing flexible work arrangements (up almost 20% overall) and have reported positive changes that are increasing their sense of safety and belonging at work.”
Among the new recommendations, the Commission called on the state government to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to give the Commission more power including being able to undertake public inquiries and investigate other matters of discrimination and harassment.
The state government welcomed the report.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville said the government will continue to support Victoria Police in its efforts towards a safe and fair workplace.
“I thank the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission for the invaluable work it has undertaken since 2014 to make Victoria Police a safer, more inclusive and equal workplace for all members and staff,” she said.
“The final report provides a roadmap for continuous reform over the next decade and provides detailed steps on how we get there.”
Hilton said Victoria Police’s actions demonstrate the change that is possible when an organisation takes their duty to prevent discrimination and harassment seriously. She urged other organisations to review their workplaces.
The Commission offers a free service to help resolve complaints. Victoria Police employees who have experienced discrimination or harassment can make a complaint on 1300 292 153 or through the online complaint form.