‘Do you like this position?’: The workplace rife with shocking sexual harassment

A Herald investigation has found sexual harassment of female staff is rife, but is often buried or ignored within NSW Corrective Services, the arm of the state government’s Department of Communities and Justice that’s responsible for running prisons.

Yet despite years of reports and data showing there have been significant sexual misconduct problems in at least 14 of Corrective Service’s work sites, it failed to implement key policies to stop it, forcing the workplace safety regulator to step in.

SafeWork NSW issued six improvement notices to Corrective Services between October 2023 and March this year warning that the department’s response to sexual misconduct was deficient across a host of measures and was putting workers at risk.

Staff from the Herald spoke to people who told their stories on the condition of anonymity to preserve their jobs and protect themselves from retribution. They say they have been enduring harassment for years, but have been too scared to report it, or their reports have not been acted upon.

They are speaking up now after a Special Commission of Inquiry into a staff member, Wayne Astill, who was convicted of raping 14 female inmates over five years, found a toxic culture of cover-up within the organisation and exposed myriad procedural failures (he is appealing against his convictions).

In a 2022 case, corrections officer Glenn Anthony Ash was convicted in Bathurst Local Court of 11 offences against colleagues at a Central West prison, including sexually touching without consent, carrying out a sexual act on another without consent, and assault with an act of indecency.

The incidents included asking colleagues to touch his penis, rubbing their backs and necks despite being told to stop, and masturbating in one complainant’s office. He also asked a complainant to “rearrange him” while unzipping his pants.

The Ash case prompted an independent review of the centre at which he worked, which led to misconduct proceedings against three more staff members. The results of the review have not been made public.

[T]he women who spoke to the Herald said in most cases the victims do not come forward, either because they feared retribution from the “boys’ club” or because if they did, no action was taken. The male officers protected each other.

“I know if I report anything it backfires on me,” said a different woman, who has had multiple experiences of serious harassment over her career. “We’re surrounded by toxicity. Colleagues are often more toxic than inmates. You have a false sense of security, you think if someone is wearing blue they have a strong sense of morals. But they don’t.”

The Herald approached Corrections Minister Anoulack Chanthivong for comment, but he did not provide any.

Source: 12ft

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