Professional Boundaries

Professional Boundaries

Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose

The Standards of Professional Behaviour state that:
We do not use our professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with anyone with whom we come into contact with in the course of our work, who is vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power.

The Code of Ethics state that:

Officers and staff will:

• Ensure that any relationship at work does not create an actual or apparent conflict of interest

• Not engage in sexual conduct or other inappropriate behaviour when on duty

• Not establish or pursue an improper sexual or emotional relationship with a person with whom they come into contact in the course of their work who may be vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power

The abuse of position for a sexual purpose is defined as:

'any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member*, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public'.

This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose. (*including volunteers or staff contracted into police roles)

As a supervisor you have a responsibility to ensure that your officers and staff are working in line with the Code of Ethics, the Standards of Professional Behaviour and the organisational values of the force. When officers or staff abuse their position this undermines public confidence in the service as a whole. As a supervisor you are in a position to identify when officers or staff may be abusing their position or when there are early signs which could enable certain behaviour to be addressed before it becomes more serious. This briefing note is provided to you to assist in recognising the circumstances in which such abuse often occurs and the possible warning signs that you should look out for.

This does not mean that all officers and staff are not to be trusted, but sadly corruption of this kind occurs in all forces and we all have a responsibility to prevent it and to protect the public.

Officers and staff who have behaved in this way have commonly been in posts with remote or ‘relaxed’ supervision. As supervisors and managers, your officers and staff members are accountable to you, and should feel that they are. This does not mean being unfriendly or overly critical, but you should feel able to hold your team members to account and you should know what they are doing with their time.

Possible warning signs:

• The perception of an officer as a ‘knight in shining armour’. This might manifest itself as gushing praise.

• Victim has a ‘favourite officer’ or frequently requests a certain officer

• Unexpected visits / welfare checks by the officer

• Domestic abuse investigation is steered towards low level / quick resolution

• Physical contact

• Flirtatious behaviour

• Nicknames/pet names

• Unnecessary communication i.e. through social media/phone/email

• Kisses on end of messages (‘x’) or other sexualised comments

• Contact or visits off duty

• Presents/gifts/letters

• Continued contact after an incident or case is concluded

• Victim will often not see that there is anything wrong with the relationship and how it started

People who are particularly vulnerable to such abuse include those suffering mental ill health, those with learning difficulties, juveniles, those who are drug or alcohol dependent, victims of abuse and victims of an alarming or traumatic experience.

What to do if you receive information/an allegation

• Let the person tell you about it. Do not stop the conversation in order to refer the concerns elsewhere. This may be the only time the victim or informant is willing to provide any details on the matter.

• Try and identify who the officer/staff member is through name, contact/profile details and description

• Ask what, how and when questions about the reported events

• Remember, the victim may not be aware that the conduct is inappropriate and also, may think they are responsible or guilty

• Report the facts to PSD
Reporting Process

If you have any concern that a victim or witness may have been targeted by an officer for sexual gain or that they may have engaged sexually with an officer or staff member, please report your concerns to PSD.