The House legal affairs committee on Wednesday discussed the possibility of designating sexual harassment in the police force and fire brigade a disciplinary offence.

The aim, they said, is to bring “institutional visibility” to the matter.

Committee chair and Disy MP Fotini Tsiridou said the committee aims for “the practical strengthening of the voice of sexual harassment victims, who are mainly women”.

She pointed out that a similar move had already been made for public sector workers.

In addition, she refuted the idea that the move to designate sexual harassment in the police and fire services as a disciplinary offence is tantamount to a downgrade from its status as a criminal offence.

“There are many serious criminal offences punishable under the police force and fire brigade’s disciplinary codes, which are also disciplinary offences,” she said.

She also said there are already committees and competent bodies within the police force which deal with such matters and act to protect the victims from their abusers while cases unfold.

“Of course we agree that institutional visibility should be given to these offences, on the one hand to raise public awareness and empathy, and also to allow for disciplinary and criminal prosecutions of members of those services who commit such unacceptable and reprehensible offences,” said Akel MP Aristos Damianou.

He did note, however, that there appears to be a lack of prosecutions of such offences taking place.

“We have requested evidence of the extent to which the regulations have been implemented since 2007, and whether there have been disciplinary proceedings and suspensions or criminal prosecutions and convictions of police officers for sexual offences,” he added.

He said he did not wish to pre-empt the results of the request but noted “the information and experience we have gained over time is that unfortunately we make very good and strict laws, but they are not implemented.”

He added that this results in “the victims of sexual harassment and abuse, possibly even of rape, not getting justice”.

Nikos Loizides, chairman of the Isotita police union, submitted a memorandum which warned that the implementation of the proposed law could lead to police officers “facing disciplinary action instead of criminal prosecution” for sexual offences.

He added that “there is a serious possibility that, after a criminal conviction, the person facing disciplinary proceedings will be acquitted due to the fact they have already been convicted for the same offence.”

“Any police officer or firefighter, regardless of rank, who is found guilty of a criminal offence of sexual harassment or indecent assault, after being found guilty by a court, has no place in those services,” he added.