One of Australia’s top female officers has revealed she was repeatedly sexually harassed early in her career in evidence at an inquest that has heard shocking accounts of bullying and misogyny in police ranks.
Katarina Carroll returned to the Brisbane Magistrates Court for the commission of inquiry into the Queensland Police Service’s response to domestic and family violence on Thursday after Wednesday’s explosive hearings.
The hard-nosed Queensland police commissioner became visibly emotional as she admitted: ‘A number of times during my career, what happened to these women and other women happened exactly to me.’
She said in one instance a senior male officer told her outright that she ‘didn’t deserve’ to be a police officer because she was taking the job from a man.
Commissioner Katarina Carroll gave emotional evidence at an inquiry into police culture that she was sexually harassed early in her career (pictured)
Commissioner Carroll said she filed a complaint and never had a subsequent problem with the colleague in question.
But she claims she was later hit by another officer while she was in a car with him.
‘I was pretty well attacked by what I would say was a sexual predator… He took me to a forest and started taking my seat belt off.’
She said she ran back to her police station where other male officers protected her.
“I just wanted to say that my station protected me,” she said.
On another occasion, she said, the men at her station stepped in when yet another officer repeatedly ‘pinched my ass’.
She said she did not report these incidents because she felt her colleagues had handled the situation and were looking out for her safety.
The commissioner was questioned about Task Force Juniper, which was set up in April 2019 to tackle sexual harassment and gender inequality within the police force, but was disbanded just a year later.
Counsel assisting the inquest, Ruth O’Gorman KC, said the task force was regarded as a ‘toothless tiger’ and was eventually reconfigured into two units within the police force, but these remained short staffed.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ruth O’Gorman (pictured) said Task Force Juniper, set up to tackle bullying and misogyny in Queensland Police ranks, was seen as a “toothless tiger”
Commissioner Carroll said she had been “passionate” about the opportunity to improve the culture of the force, but the demands of Covid policing had seen the units sidelined.
She said she accepted Ms O’Gorman’s claim that women in the force had been let down by the units’ failure to implement changes in culture.
‘I agree… women have told me that,’ said Mrs Carroll.
Thursday’s hearing followed shocking accounts given to the inquiry on Wednesday into sexual harassment in Queensland Police ranks threatening the force’s reputation.
A detective senior sergeant preyed on junior officers and committed at least nine sexual assaults between 2002 and 2018.
In one incident, he walked up to a female officer waiting to be interviewed for a job and slid his hand up her bottom, up her back and onto her bra.
During his interview, another senior officer passed a note saying “loose?” to the sergeant, who nodded and smiled.
Ms O’Gorman said her team requested two years of internal harassment and bullying.
These amounted to 1,676 complaints lodged against 738 different QPS officers from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2022.
A 2019 investigation following a woman’s complaint found that a senior male constable at her station had targeted at least three women.
He repeatedly stalked the women online, repeatedly sending them pictures of his penis and subjecting them to unwanted sexual touch.
When the woman who made the complaint directly told him to back off, he threatened to break into her house and rape her, the inquest before Judge Deborah Richards heard.
Commissioner Carroll said she found the behavior ‘completely unacceptable’ and said there was a culture of silence in the force which needed to change.
She said a 2019 review found workplace bullying occurred as a result of the ‘very paramilitary’ style of management in the QPS she approached.
Commissioner Carroll (pictured) admitted she was ‘concerned’ about the culture in the QPS and that it was partly down to ‘paramilitary’ management style
Commissioner Carroll agreed that sexism and misogyny are prevalent, troubling and consistent in special teams, stations and districts.
She agreed that a system often used to determine consequences for those at the center of complaints, known as a local management solution, was broken.
The commissioner also apologized to three female officers who ‘fell through the cracks’ after complaining about sexist and racist bullying by their superiors.
An internal investigation found that a senior officer had bullied nine people over the 13 years to 2019.
He shouted, threatened, cursed and sent pornographic images to officers at his station.
He called a colleague a ‘towel head’.
The man’s behavior was also dealt with via senior management resolution and he was later promoted.
Three senior female officers were bullied so badly after reporting him that they felt forced to transfer to uniformed police or quit.
Another victim was stonewalled by colleagues after reporting a sexual assault by a senior officer.
‘It ruined my career. I couldn’t fix it, she said.
‘I often wonder how these colleagues would react if their wives or daughters were unfairly victimized in this way in a workplace on top of being sexually harassed.’