Police staff have been pressured into sex with a colleague and bombarded with sexually explicit messages, a disturbing new study has revealed.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has pledged urgent action after research, published by Unison and the London School of Economics on Thursday, unveiled the scale of harassment suffered by workers.
The survey of almost 1,800 police staff – including crime scene investigators, detention officers, clerks and community support officers – found that half had heard sexualised jokes and one in five had received a sexually explicit email or text from a colleague.
Alarmingly, one in 25 said they had been pressured into having sex, and one in 12 were told sexual favours could result in preferential treatment.
A third of those surveyed said they had also faced intrusive questioning about their private lives and one in five had been touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
One in 10 said they had been asked on a date by a colleague even if they had made it clear they were not interested.
The NPCC said the behaviour “falls short of the high standards” set out in forces’ code of ethics.
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.”
McAnea added: “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.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said police forces “need to ask themselves serious questions” about how harassment had been “able to thrive”.
She added: “More needs to be done to ensure there is a clear zero-tolerance policy on harassment and bullying. Police staff should have a safe and supportive environment to voice concerns, with assurances that cases will be dealt with effectively.”
Professor Jennifer Brown, co-director of the Mannheim Centre at the LSE, who led the research, said: “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.”
Chief Constable Julian Williams, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for professional ethics, said the research had shone a light on policing and “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 added.
“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.”