EXCLUSIVE: Being a prison officer takes “a special type of person”, according to Corrections Victoria, but some female survivors of domestic violence are being treated as damaged goods when applying for jobs with the government bureaucracy. Our Melbourne correspondent, Gary Johnston, takes a deeper look.
You’ve applied for a job. You have the required qualifications, relevant experience, outstanding references. Informally, you’ve been told by your prospective employer that you’re exactly the sort of person they’re looking for, dedicated, flexible and energetic.
They won’t give you the job. They say that they can’t give you the job.
There’s a problem. A big one. Insurmountable, they say.
It’s him, you see. That bloke you used to know. Your ex. You can’t get the job because of him, the man who abused you, who harassed you – still does as a matter of fact – who phones you up, barrages you with abusive texts, sometimes even turns up at your house in the middle of the night, uninvited and unwelcome, hammering on your front door, yelling invective, blaming you for his wretched existence, refusing to accept he’s no longer a part of your life.
Sorry, they say, But it’s association, you see. You have an offender association and therefore, you’re unsuitable.
*Sandi, has what’s known as initiative. Raised in Western Sydney by an absent mother, she left school at age fourteen, had her first child at sixteen and endured ten years of family violence at the hands of *Peter, a man she thought she’d escaped when she decamped with her kids to outer Melbourne, bruised and battered, but assured she was finally free of his controlling, violent, terrifying domination.
At first, things looked good. Sandi enrolled in University, taking a course in Criminal Justice, determined to use her own experiences in a positive manner, aspiring to work with kids from similar backgrounds to her own, believing genuine empathy would be an huge advantage and that she could make a difference, maybe save them from falling into the same invidious trap that had befallen her.
Then, Peter found her. Sandi’s not sure how, but he did and the cycle of oppression repeated. He wouldn’t take no for an answer; ‘no’ being a word he apparently couldn’t discern.
She called the police. Peter was arrested and imprisoned, but still the harassment continued. Trying to do the right thing with a man who despite everything was the father of her children, Sandi visited him in jail. Thus, earning herself what’s called a Visitor Reference Number (VRN), meaning her personal details, including biometric technology which involves hand, iris or fingerprint scanning, were recorded, kept on file and, as it turns out, eventually held against her when, eminently qualified and suitable, she later applied for a position with Corrections Victoria.
On their webpage, Corrections Victoria state that they “don’t look for a certain type of background, education or work history when looking at potential prison officers”.
Instead, the bureaucrats claim they are interested in candidates possessing “certain qualities” such as empathy, resilience and conflict management skills. One would think a brave female survivor of family violence such as Sandi would have all those qualities in spades. Seemingly not, though.
Whenever petty bureaucracy decides to inveigle itself out of a difficult decision, it relies on the same, sure method. Small print. Rules and regulations. Paper shuffling. Red tape.
And so, the apposite clause was duly identified and proffered Section 2.6 of the Commissioners Conduct and Ethics Requirements, Sub section 1, Security and Control:
“Staff seeking to be employed in all offender and prisoner-facing roles within the Victorian correctional system (including private prisons) are subject to security checks on recruitment. The checks include a requirement for employees to declare any conflicts of interest and offender associations.”
Of course, the clause doesn’t actually spell out that any such associations actually disqualify a candidate from employment, but then again…
So, amazingly, unfairly, Peter’s modus operandi, his controlling behaviour, his unacceptable inability to let Sandi go, his criminal harassment, continues apace, apparently with the full sanction of a State Government department boasting a strategic policy which unequivocally states, amongst other noble sentiments, that they work together, act with integrity, respect other people and ‘make it happen’.
Nice. Plainly however, they’re not making it happen for people like Sandi.
How many individuals, most of them women, though no fault of their own, would have similar ‘associations’, and therefore, would be denied the opportunity to move forward, using their personal experiences for good, even when as Sandi was, they are exactly the sort of candidate criminal justice organisations desperately need?
Discrimination is defined as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, background or sex. And it’s illegal. Or is it?
* * * * *
At Sandi’s graduation ceremony, the University Vice Chancellor opined the notion that Australia is a classless society where everyone, regardless of class, status or situation, is delivered of a fair go.
Everyone is equal, he said.
The VC is a middle aged man who attended Melbourne’s top private school, went to Oxford University in the UK and spent a two year, all expenses paid sinecure at the USA’s prestigious Harvard Business School.
Some, as George Orwell forlornly pointed out, are, it seems, more equal than others.
And if you happen to be female, Aboriginal and the victim of family violence, then, really you’re not equal at all.
Corrections Victoria, contacted for comment, said that individual cases could not be commented on, but that they stood by their employment policy of fairness, lack of discrimination, gender and cultural balance.
When she heard that, Sandi laughed.
It was a hollow and empty laugh, though. Because, not surprisingly, she didn’t find it funny in the slightest.
* Names have been changed
Feature Image: Corrections Victoria