VANCOUVER - Female Mounties are afraid to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and bullying on the job because they don't have faith their complaints will be taken seriously and they believe it will be them — not the problem officers — who will ultimately be punished, an internal RCMP report has found.

The report, conducted in response to a number of high-profile allegations of sexual harassment, details the results of focus groups involving 426 RCMP officers and employees from B.C., many of whom told their own stories of being bullied, belittled and in some cases sexually harassed and assaulted by colleagues and superiors.

Those same officers said the force and its senior officers are ill-equipped or even unwilling to properly deal with the problem.

"There was an overwhelming perception, based on personal observations, that there are no consequences for the harasser other than having to transfer and/or be promoted," says the report, obtained through access-to-information laws.

"This perception of no 'real' consequences left participants feeling that coming forward was not worth it. . . . Overall, the participants felt the consequences for filing a harassment complaint outweighed the complaint itself."

But Insp. Carol Bradley, the team leader for the B.C. RCMP Respectful Workplace Action Plan, said the report concluded harassment wasn't rampant but was a problem.

"We agree that any amount of harassment is not acceptable," said Bradley.

Bradley said the report was a result of a pro-active initiative by Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, the commander of the force in British Columbia, who sought the opinions and concerns of employees.

It also follows a string of lawsuits and media reports involving sexual harassment.

The most widely reported case involves Cpl. Catherine Galliford, a former media relations officer who detailed years of abuse she says left her with post-traumatic stress. The RCMP has denied her allegations.

The internal report, completed in April by Simmie Smith, an RCMP diversity strategist in B.C., suggests gender-based harassment was common among the women who participated in the focus groups.

Participants recalled a range of problems, including aggressive male supervisors, cases in which women were assigned to menial tasks and ignored in meetings, sexual innuendo, inappropriate touching and indecent exposure.

If they or their colleagues attempted to complain, the participants said, they often faced retribution. They believed their careers would suffer and they risked being transferred to new jobs or locations as their superiors targeted them, not the offending officers, to deal with the problem, the report said.

Participants attributed the problem to an "old boys' club" mentality they said permeates the force, in which officers with connections "never have to worry about being held accountable."

"I would never report harassment," one participant said during the focus groups. "I have seen what happens to those who have and their life was made hell by those in management positions who have used their authority to intimidate."

"We wear a bulletproof vest to protect ourselves from the bad guys out there," another participant said, "but really we need to be wearing the vest to protect ourselves from the bad guys inside our own organization."

At the same time, the report reveals a widespread belief within the force that such complaints, and the media coverage of them, have been exaggerated and blown out of proportion.

Indeed, the report notes statistics related to complaints don't show significant numbers of harassment cases. But the report suggests that discrepancy is likely due to the fact that women aren't reporting abuse when it happens.

"The result is a significant failure to report incidents and an unwillingness to discuss the issues with supervisors or management," says the report.

"This failure has, in turn, resulted in the release of a pent-up need to have the issues addressed. This, in part, seems to explain the recent spate of revelations to the media."

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a dedicated unit to investigate harassment complaints.

In response to the report, Callens, announced the creation of a 100-member team dedicated to investigating harassment complaints.

"I acknowledge, without reservation, that we have some issues that we need to deal with," he said when he announced the team in April.

"I'm committed to ensuring that we take the type of action that our employees deserve."

The report also recommends the creation of a system to track complaints and identify the worst offenders, improved resources for officers who are considering filing a complaint, and new anti-harassment education programs for officers and civilian members of the RCMP.

Bradley said the RCMP is glad so many employees came forward and shared their concerns and solutions.

"We're developing a respectful workplace action plan and we have a number of initiatives that are intended and designed to address the concerns of employees, and, in fact, contain many of the suggestions they made for improvement," she said.

Since Galliford made her complaints public, several other Mounties have also come forward with similar allegations in lawsuits of their own.

Those cases include a class-action lawsuit that is making its way through the courts. That suit was launched by Janet Merlo, who alleges she suffered through 19 years of harassment and discrimination during her career at the detachment in Nanaimo, B.C.

None of the allegations in any of the lawsuits have been proven in court.

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