Police step up handling of sex assaults

  • 03/04/2017
police sexual assault

A decade since an inquiry found some police officers had behaved disgracefully when handling complaints of sexual assault, New Zealand police says they have revolutionised their culture.

The 2007 Commission of Inquiry into police conduct, led by Dame Margaret Bazley, reviewed 313 complaints of sexual assault against 222 police officers between 1979 and 2005.

It found that while police misconduct was relatively rare, there had been instances of police officers behaving disgracefully by exploiting vulnerable people and protecting alleged perpetrators.

On Monday, New Zealand Police released a fresh report, called "A decade of change", in which it said it had revolutionised its culture in the 10 years since the inquiry's release.

"More than ever before, we have a healthy, diverse and inclusive culture that puts victims at the heart of everything we do - and we are in the process of building a truly high-performing organization," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

"Victims of sexual assault who turn to police today can expect to deal with staff who uphold our values of empathy, professionalism, and respect.

"I'm pleased to report we have changed significantly, having implemented all  47 police-specific Commission of Inquiry  recommendations," Mr Bush said.

National Rape Crisis spokeswoman Andrea Black agrees police have made major changes to their culture, attitude and the ways they handle complaints, but says they need to keep working.

"It is only 10 years [since the release of the 2007 inquiry] and cultural changes take generations," she said.

"There are still people who are choosing not to go to the police if they are harmed by a police officer.

"So there is still a long way to go to build trust."

Ms Black said frontline police played one of the most critical roles in ensuring victims of sexual assault felt confident enough to pursue their allegations.

"How we respond to that person when they speak up about [sexual assault] is pivotal to the perpetrating stopping and to healing, recovery and change occurring," she said.

"It is also important to recognise there are amazing police officers.

"It is not a blame game, it is about all of us looking to change to live in a peaceful world where sexual violence does not happen."