UNISON and National Police Chiefs’ Council to tackle worrying levels of sexual harassment

Police chiefs have pledged to act over high levels of sexual harassment among police staff working for forces in England and Wales, as set out in a report published today (Thursday) by UNISON, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Surrey.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says the report highlights some ‘outdated and unacceptable behaviour’ that must be ‘rooted out’. Details include some police staff (4%) being pressurised into having sex with colleagues, or being told that sexual favours could result in preferential treatment (8%).

The findings are based on a survey of 1,776 police staff in England, Wales and Scotland.

The analysis of the findings is a joint venture between Professor Brown from LSE and UNISON, which represents police staff. UNISON is working with the NPCC to address and eradicate sexual harassment.

The survey showed that half (49%) the police staff questioned had heard sexualised jokes being told repeatedly at work. One in five (19%) had received a sexually explicit email or text from a colleague.

The survey also reveals that:

  • a third (33%) have faced intrusive questioning about their private lives
  • more than a fifth (21%) have experienced inappropriate staring or leering
  • almost one in five (18%) have been touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable
  • a similar percentage (18%) have seen colleagues make sexual gestures at work
  • twelve per cent have witnessed/been the subject of unwelcome touching, kissing or hugging
  • eleven per cent have been asked out on a date by a colleague, despite making it clear they were not interested
  • six per cent have been sent an explicit poster or photo

In the vast majority of cases, the survey found that colleagues – either police officers or staff – had instigated the sexually harassing behaviour.

The LSE researchers found that the more serious the harassment, the less likely it was that the affected staff member would report it. Nearly two in five (39%) survey respondents said keeping quiet was easier than complaining, and more than a third (37%) said nothing would be done if they did complain.

According to 34% of staff, the gossiping culture at work meant they didn’t believe the matter would be kept confidential, and 32% felt they would not be taken seriously.

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.”

Professor Jennifer Brown, co-director of the Mannheim Centre at LSE who led the research, said: “This research finds levels of sexual harassment consistent with that reported in police forces internationally as well as other workplace surveys.

“This is a serious problem for police forces.  When staff are already under pressure, what they need is to be able to work in an environment that respects them rather than generates yet further stress.” 

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Professional Ethics, Chief Constable Julian Williams, said:“The UNISON and LSE research into sexual harassment among police staff is important. It shines a light on policing and finds 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.

“We invited UNISON and the LSE to speak to all chief constables about their findings in July. There is already good practice in forces with staff surveys to identify the level of unreported sexual harassment, training and campaigns but we need to do more.

“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.”

Notes to editors

–     An executive summary of the UNISON/LSE report Time to Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in the Police is available here.

–     The study focuses on what working life is like for police staff including police community support officers, crime scene investigators, clerks, fingerprint experts and detention officers. It does not look at the experience of police officers.

–     As of 31 March 2018, there were 77,348 police staff working for forces in England and Wales. They make up 39% of the total police workforce in England and Wales (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 11/18)

–     Two-thirds (66%) of the survey respondents were female and 34% male. Almost a third said the most extreme sexual harassment increased their stress levels (32%) and hindered them from completing their work (25%).

–     The authors of the main report are: Jennifer Brown, Ioanna Gouseti, LSE and Chris Fife-Schaw, University of Surrey

–     Professor Jennifer Brown is a co-director at the Mannheim Centre for the Study of Criminology and Criminal Justice at LSE. She was deputy chair of the Independent Police Commission led by Lord Stevens.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) studies the social sciences in their broadest sense, with an academic profile spanning a wide range of disciplines, from economics, politics and law, to sociology, information systems and accounting and finance.