The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been exposed as a cesspool of misogyny, where systemic sexual harassment and bullying flourish, in a new report by the country’s former sex discrimination commissioner.
Elizabeth Broderick, who led the high-profile review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force from 2011, has found a similar culture of misogyny in the nation’s top security agency.
In a six month examination of the organisation, Broderick found women were grossly under-represented in the AFP — just 36 per cent of employees were female — and nearly half of them had reported being sexually harassed at work.
Alarmingly, about two-thirds of the AFP workforce have also reported being bullied within the past five years, with 62 per cent of men and 66 per cent of women reporting it.
The figures are double the national average.
Broderick gathered her data through both focus groups and an anonymous survey undertaken with sworn and unsworn members of the AFP.
She found while the numbers of bullying and sexual harassment victims were high, there remains a reluctance to formally report the behaviour, due to a belief careers would be destroyed.
There also remains a stark disconnect between the perceptions of male and female members of the AFP, with the vast majority of men reporting to Broderick that sexual harassment was not a problem.
“I have never seen sexual harassment in this organisation over the last few years. I am very surprised that it’s still occurring,” one man said.
“I’m shocked that people are still being sexually harassed in the AFP. I know it happened in the past but we have so many policies around this, there’s training — what are people thinking?” another man said.
“We may have had issues in the past, but there’s no discrimination here now and women and men are equal,” another male member said.
The female respondents told a different story.
“You always hear people say, ‘we have enough women in our team’. It makes you feel like furniture,” one woman said.
“I have likened some of my experiences here to (domestic violence). It’s how you are made to feel — fearful, vulnerable and excluded,” another woman said.
“I was told in recruits that I had to modify my personality when I got into the organisation as the AFP doesn’t like independent thinking, opinionated women,” another said.
Other women said workplace sexual harassment was often dismissed.
“Sexual harassment gets swept under the carpet. Nothing gets done. The response is ‘Oh, it’s only him. He’s been doing that forever, that’s just him’,” one woman told Broderick.
One woman reported being moved from her role for refusing to sleep with her unit co-ordinator, while others reported being discriminated against and bullied after announcing pregnancies.
“When I announced my second pregnancy … my supervisor said to me, ‘I thought we agreed you would keep your legs together’. It was horrible. I had to move out of that area because working there was not going to be sustainable,” one woman said.
“When I told my supervisor I was pregnant he said, ‘I’m really disappointed in you’,” said another woman.
However, just 18 per cent of people bullied or sexually harassed in the organisation sought assistance and just a third of them went on to make a complaint.
The majority of those said they wished they had not, due to the way the complaint was handled and the career ramifications that resulted from making it.
“If I had my time again, I would never report (being sexually harassed),” one woman said.
“When I reported the incident to my team leader, I was moved. How is that fair,” another woman said.
“Because I reported being sexually harassed, my career here is over,” another said.
Broderick laid the blame for such behaviour squarely on the AFP leadership.
“Poor leadership is a common factor when instances of sexual harassment and bullying occur,” she wrote.
“Leadership at all levels of the AFP must consistently and visibly commit to a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying.
“Strong messages about the unacceptability of sexual harassment and bullying must be regularly and effectively communicated and offenders must be held to account.”
Broderick has made 24 recommendations to elicit cultural change, all of which AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said would be adopted.
Number one was that cultural reform “must be owned by the Commissioner and the Executive Leadership Committee with responsibility for cultural change embedded into their performance metrics.”
Colvin told the ABC on Monday that the responsibility for the report’s shocking revelations was as much his as it was that of previous leaders.
“I don’t want to cast any aspersions of previous leadership,” he said.
“I’m the commissioner of the AFP now and I have been in this position for two years so it is an indictment on me as well.
“I think what we’re seeing is that in organisations like the Australian Federal Police, organisations that are particularly male-dominated, organisations that also have command or control as a principal part of the way they operate, these behaviours can sometimes be masked, they can be hidden, and it is time that we expose them and that’s what we’re doing.”
Colvin said a new division would be immediately established to deal with allegations of sexual harassment and bullying within the organisation as “formal reporting mechanisms aren’t working”.
He pledged the report would herald a new era for the organisation.
“What this report has done is it’s given voice to people within the Australian Federal Police who have wanted to have their voices heard and have wanted to tell us the story and those lived experiences is what we have to learn from,” he said.
“Frankly, there is zero tolerance for this and today marks the beginning of an era for the AFP where we will improve.”
In introducing her report, Broderick said despite the damning cultural revelations, there was no reason for Australians to lose faith in the enforcement agency that oversees some of the biggest security threats to the nation, including counter-terrorism.
“The findings in this report are not a reason for the community in any way to have reduced confidence in the AFP. Quite the contrary,” she wrote.
“The report serves as a reminder that the AFP would be committed to the principles of equality and diversity, to combating sexual harassment, bullying and exclusion.”
Source: News Corp Australia