Sexual harassment in police 'serious': Supervisors accused of inaction

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The Independent Online
SEXUAL harassment of policewomen by colleagues is still a serious problem, according to a report on equal opportunities issued yesterday by the Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The report, the first by the service openly to acknowledge the extent of sexual harassment within it, says breaches of equal opportunities policy are often 'instigated or defended' by chief officers. It makes 19 recommendations for improvements.

Women represent about 12 per cent of the service; the report says they are over-represented in posts such as community relations and juvenile liaison and seriously under-represented in the CID, traffic and training.

The survey of 12 of the 43 forces in England and Wales concludes: 'There is a serious problem of sexual harassment of women . . . in the service. There is no evidence that women are institutionally barred from opportunities, but their expectations may be restricted by the existing culture.'

It says: 'There was strong evidence that women police officers were suffering persistent low- level harassment unchecked by supervisors . . . there was evidence of physical harassment which had been brought to the attention of supervisors and had not been dealt with.'

In the wake of the Alison Halford case, several policewomen are bringing industrial tribunal cases alleging sexual discrimination, and a recent study estimated 6 per cent of policewomen had suffered serious sexual assaults by colleagues.

The survey found no evidence of specialist posts being closed to ethnic minority officers. But in some forces 'an underlying level of racist banter was accepted'. It adds: 'Supervisors were unprepared to challenge or, worse, were prepared to join in.'

British women are more likely to complain about sexual harassment than their United States counterparts, according to a study published today.

About 42 per cent of British victims asked or told the 'harasser' to stop compared with 34 per cent of US women. Just 12 per cent of women in the US threatened to tell or told people of their difficulties, compared with 42 per cent in Britain.

The research, conducted by the University of St Thomas in St Paul, US, in co-operation with the Industrial Society in London, reported that 41 per cent of British respondents said their employers had policies prohibiting sexual harassment, while the figure in the US was 84 per cent.

Academics believe high profile cases in the US have deterred women from making an issue of the problems they face.