Human rights news in other jurisdictions

Equal Opportunity Commission seeking more sexism or bullying inquiries

Miles Kemp, The Advertiser | January 02, 2017

The Equal Opportunity Commission wants other organisations to come forward and volunteer for more inquiries like the one that aims to cleanse SA Police of sexism.

Commissioner Niki Vincent said her organisation was “open for business” and nominated the Metropolitan Fire Service as one possibility, after Victoria found widespread sexism in its fire service.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens last month promised to lift standards and make police work more accessible to women, after Ms Vincent’s investigation found a “boys’ club” culture of accepted sexism and predatory behaviour.

Ms Vincent said the confidential and independent way the organisation had conducted itself during the SAPOL review had proved its worth.

“I’d love to do organisations like the fire service (in SA) and I’d love to do private organisations where we could go in and do an independent review and I think this is one of the best ways we can help make changes in wider society,’’ she said.

“This came out of the Victorians doing the VicPol review and the Fire service followed over there.

“We are definitely open for business for consulting work that includes independent reviews and to assist organisations in setting up equal opportunity strategies, policies and programs.’’

An MFS spokeswoman said it was happy to have discussions with the commission.

Ms Vincent said providing consultancy to organisations that wanted to change workplace culture was an example of her organisation expanding its equal opportunity agenda after a 40 per cent funding cut in recent years.

“The more reviews we have to uncover this stuff and help people and organisations come to terms with this and make changes the better it is for society, because we spend a hell of a lot of time in workplace,’’ she said.

“This shifts the way people think, not just in the workplace but outside.

“The more of these reviews we are contracted to do the more we can stamp it out and make people realise it is unacceptable.

“There are so many organisations out there who just do not understand that telling that sexist joke is really not appropriate and could even amount to sexual harassment.’’

Ms Vincent said private companies and departments had a guarantee by contracting the Equal Opportunity Commission that the highest standards would be upheld.

“We would never do anything that would compromise our independence. We are very alert to that, and if I do find a conflict there is the capacity to put other people on to conciliate a matter,’’ she said.

Ms Vincent revealed minor changes to the SAPOL report had been requested and rejected.

“We wanted to push them,’’ she said.

Dr Vincent said the Commission is in the process of discussing agreements with universities to develop and include equal opportunity subjects, again to counter funding cuts at a time when complaints had increased by 40 per cent this quarter.

The studies would be in postgraduate business programs, and would include internships and joint supervision of student research projects at PhD level in business, law and possibly other disciplines, where these are relevant to the work of the Commission.

“We want to develop an intensive course in equal opportunity and human rights for all the business programs and work with the law schools for placements here and PhD projects.

“Getting into the business schools at university is the sensible way to go about stopping some of these problems before they start.”

Dr Vincent also has plans to expand training and consulting work for domestic violence prevention.

COMMENTS FROM SA POLICE EMPLOYEES

“I have met so many men in the job whose behaviours have been bad towards women, and the bosses were often involved in perpetuating this behaviour. There were no women in senior positions to speak to.”

“SAPOL is still a ‘boys’ club’ and many of the behaviours ... are learnt from other, mostly senior men. Women are still belittled and treated as ‘second class’.”

“There appears to be an expectation that as a female officer, you tolerate the harassment with clenched teeth and a smile and that, in fact, you should be flattered as it means you’ve been accepted and are part of the team.”

“I was hit on by many married men. From (my) first day, my boss made a comment full of sexual innuendo. I asked him one time at work ‘are you staring at my breasts?’ and he said ‘yes, I find it comforting’.”

“After one night shift, the team I was in thought it would be good to have pizza and a beer and watch porn on the big screen in the conference room. I was the only woman in the team. I felt like I’d be ostracised if I didn’t stay. I felt awful.”

“I feel a constant need to not be offended. I use words like c*** and d*** regularly to show that I don’t care and will not put in complaint.”

“To be part of the team, I needed to be more than my male counterparts — more dedicated, more hardworking, prove myself more, take less leave.”

“Women who do stand up against the lower-level sexual harassment behaviours, in particular, can be labelled as prudish or complainers. It’s a tightrope that women have to walk.”

“I have been (managing critical incidents) and had male colleagues arrive and say to me ‘grab us a coffee would you, darling?’.”

“It was common for male officers to rate a victim, or witnesses, for their attractiveness. They would also rate new policewomen coming into the team. This would happen in front of me and other women.”

“If a victim attended the police station and detailed to me the incidents I have just described, I would be strongly encouraging that person to pursue criminal charges.”

“I have been told by a male supervisor ... ‘I have a penis, you’re a woman, you ... will always be a sexual object to me’.”

“A new senior member started on our team. He would tell me things like ‘I want to impregnate you’. I started getting more and more text messages including comments about his penis.”

“There was an occasion where men on my team called me at home while they were away on a work trip to ask me about my breast size, which they had been speculating about together.”

“After a work barbecue at which we had all been drinking, a teammate ... had sex with me. I didn’t want to, but I was so affected by alcohol I couldn’t stop him. I have never consumed alcohol around any workmates from then onwards.”

“I have experienced being picked up by the back of my vest and paraded around by males seeking to prove how strong they are.”

“I am in a same-sex relationship. I have had a male colleague ask me (for a) threesome with him.”

Source: The Equal Opportunity Commission review into sexual harassment and discrimination in SA Police