Police chiefs have vowed to address sexual harassment across the force after it emerged a high proportion of police officers and staff had witnessed or experienced some form of inappropriate behaviour.
A survey of almost 1,800 police staff in England, Wales and Scotland found that 70% of police staff who have direct contact with the public or who work alongside police officers have witnessed sexual harassment, compared to 50% of their colleagues that don’t.
Six in 10 reported that they had personally experienced sexual harassment, compared to 40% of colleagues who did not work alongside police officers or with the public.
The report, published by Unison, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Surrey, revealed that almost half of police staff had repeatedly heard sexualised jokes, a third faced intrusive questioning about their private life, a fifth had been stared or leered at and almost a fifth had received a sexually explicit email or text message.
Being touched in a way that made individuals feel uncomfortable was reported by 18% of staff, while one in 10 had witnessed or received unwelcome touching, kissing or hugging.
Eight per cent said they had been told they might receive preferential treatment in return for sexual favours, while 4% had been pressurised into having sex with a colleague.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for professional ethics, chief constable Julian Williams, said the survey highlighted some “outdated and unacceptable behaviour that must be rooted out”.
“This behaviour falls short of the high standards set in the Code of Ethics, which each member of the policing profession is expected to uphold,” he said.
“We have committed to developing a comprehensive action plan by October that addresses the range of harassment found. Some of the behaviour described is predatory and requires the strongest response from police with individuals removed from the service.
“Other behaviours like the repeated telling of sexualised jokes may not be malicious in intent but are misguided and damaging, and our focus will be on finding effective ways of challenging them.”
The majority (66%) of the survey respondents were female, and included responses from police community support officers, crime scene investigators, clerks, fingerprint experts and detention officers.
The sexual harassment experienced or witnessed resulted in many police staff feeling stressed: 22% said sexualised gossiping and joking increased their stress levels and hindered productivity.
Almost one in four said it was easier to keep quiet about harassment than complain, while 37% thought nothing would be done even if they did speak out.
Concerns about whether reports of sexual harassment would be kept confidential were raised by 34% of staff and 31% felt complaints would not be taken seriously.
Last month the Women and Equalities Committee said more needed to be done to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, suggesting that attempts made so far have been “inadequate”.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Sexual harassment has no place in the modern workplace.
“Perpetrators must be confronted and dealt with immediately. Otherwise their behaviour could escalate from filthy jokes to more serious forms of sexual harassment.
“No member of police staff should feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated at work. Employees who witness or experience this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour need reassurance that they will be listened to, and believed, and that effective action will be taken to end the harassment.”