A superintendent who conducted a welfare check on a senior constable on sick leave fondled her buttocks and kissed her forehead in front of her young son.
When a Sydney policewoman found herself in an unwanted tight embrace with her commander as he fondled her buttocks and kissed her forehead, she knew she had no choice but to speak out.
It would be her words against a much more superior officer — a superintendent — but she had to set an example and make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else.
The NSW Police Force confirmed on Friday that the superintendent was discharged in June 2020, and that the force had “undertaken a review of its policies and guidelines in regard to the steps taken by staff when a welfare check is conducted upon an injured officer”.
The victim, a decorated officer with 18 years’ experience, was going through a rough patch, struggling with the attempted suicide of her partner, when her commander sent her a text on September 3, 2019, saying he would pop over to her house to discuss her return to work. She’d been battling a back injury on top of her emotional distress.
“I thought ‘that’s odd’, when he was due to come over the next morning with another person to discuss my work options, but I didn’t think too much” the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told The Saturday Telegraph.
“He started off talking about work and he wanted to get some pay slips organised to see how much annual leave I had and whatnot. Then he said to me ‘we don’t have a job for you’, with his hands out prompting me to come forward.
“I got a bit teary with all that was going on … then it just happened from there.
“I’ve blocked it out of my memory, but he was touching me on the bum, patting my bum, kissed my forehead while he had me in a bear hug, pushing me towards him. The he tried to sit me on his knee.
“I just wanted him off me. I didn’t want to get in an argument with my son there.
“I’m a black belt in taekwondo so I felt so guilty about that afterwards, that I didn’t defend myself, but I was more worried about my boy, he was four at the time, and what he saw.”
The senior constable said she felt extremely anxious and uncomfortable.
“The best thing I knew to do at that point was say ‘you need to leave. There’s the door’.
“I pushed him off me and said ‘there’s the door, go’.”
“I felt like I was about to explode. He said to me ‘I’m going to take care of you’, then he took off.”
Later the police officer’s young boy said to her “I don’t like that man. He hurt my mummy”.
The police officer, who has received awards for her service, said she knew that if she didn’t tell someone it would eat her up.
“Everything that happened was wrong,” she said. “It’s not my fault that this has happened and I thought ‘if I don’t speak up no one else will’.
“I thought ‘I’ve got to be strong and I’ve got to do it’.”
The police officer said she knew that if she didn’t tell someone it would eat her up.
In the back of her mind though, she thought “Who am I going to tell? He’s my commander.” before finding the courage to make a formal complaint the next day.
On September 26, 2019, the senior constable also lodged a worker’s compensation claim, citing psychological injury arising out of the incident at her home. A doctor certified that she had no work capacity as a result of the injury, and was referred to a psychologist.
A month later she was served with a summons by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) and gave evidence on October 28, 2019.
The LECC this week tabled its findings in NSW Parliament and recommended Police Commissioner Mick Fuller consider discharging the male police commander and overhauling the rules around welfare checks for injured police.
“The Commission found that the complaint of sexual harassment was sustained and amounted to serious misconduct by the Commander,” the report said.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw
The commission said it made the report public to encourage junior officers to make complaints of sexual harassment, especially when perpetrated by senior officers.
The LECC report also revealed the commander had been investigated by the NSWPF for seven complaints of sexual harassment in 2004 made by subordinate female officers when he was an inspector, all of which were sustained, resulting in him being penalised by being demoted for 12 months.
The women’s vindication, however, has been bittersweet.
While she was waiting for this decision, insurer EML issued a dispute notice in December, denying liability for her worker’s compensation claim for psychological harm. She has been forced to use her own annual sick leave since that time.
Her lawyer Nadia Rahman, from Specialist PTSD and Injury Lawyers, said EML disputed that she had a psychological injury at all and, more importantly, that her injury arose out of the course of her employment.
Because she was not physically at work on the day of the harassment — due to her back injury — EML ruled that she was not “working” or “in her employment” during the incident, and therefore her injury, if any, was not compensable.
“By his own admission, he didn’t just go there to catch up or have a coffee. He, as her superior officer, went to discuss her continued employment with the NSW Police Force and then seemingly used that to “comfort her” when she got upset,” Ms Rahman said.
“They can’t have it both ways. She deserves compensation for what she has gone through and the way it has affected her.”
EML has been contacted about whether it will change its decision in light of the finding that the senior constable was sexually harassed by her commander.
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