Victoria PolicePolice in Geelong have come under fire for their handling of the reported sexual assault of a gay man, sparking an investigation expected to reach the desk of the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner.

Zac Damelian, a Melbourne man who grew up in Geelong, was violently assaulted in a public toilet in Johnstone Park around 250 metres from the nearby Geelong Police Station last Friday. Damelian left the scene immediately to report the incident to police, but on arrival at the station was told to call 000 for police to be dispatched as they could not leave the building.

Damelian said police were dismissive, telling him they couldn’t get on the “bat-phone” to arrange a police response straight away.

Still in shock following his assault, Damelian returned after calling 000 wanting to make a complaint about how he had been treated, but was dismissed by the officer on duty. Damelian said he would speak to the local press about the incident, and was reportedly told by an officer, “Do your best”.

The police responding to the 000 call soon after were not able to locate the alleged attacker.

Damelian reported the incident to local newspaper the Geelong Advertiser, and a story was published on Saturday. Acting Senior Sergeant Matthew Sims was quoted in the piece as saying Damelian must have thought he was at a fictional police station in TV show Blue Heelers, expecting police to run out of the station to chase the offender.

“That’s not how it works,” Sims is reported as saying.

“We have to ring 000 to get a van to attend and we did that. And it’s all documented that we did it straight away and they were there in a short amount of time.”

Damelian told the Star Observer he felt humiliated by Sims’ public comments.

“I bawled my eyes out…I cannot believe they totally belittled a person after a sexual attack,” he said.

Although he was not cruising for sex, Damelian is aware the public toilet where he was assaulted is known to be a gay beat, and believes the Geelong Police would also be aware of this.

“The police response to a gay man being attacked at a gay beat was absolutely appalling and disgusting,” Damelian said, arguing this could have contributed to the police not taking him seriously as a victim of sexual assault.

“I had stated to the police that I knew that it was a gay male beat and that attacks had happened there before, and that it’s ridiculous and that they should go out there. I just got that whole look up and down and really dismissive attitude.

“If I had have been a woman or a male adolescent who didn’t [seem] homosexual I would have got a very different response from police.”

Damelian also said he had not spoken directly to Sims about the incident, which had been handled on Friday by other officers on duty at Geelong Police Station.

After the story ran in the Geelong Advertiser Damelian called the Geelong Police Station to make a statement about the assault, speaking to the officer in charge, Senior Sergeant Karen Allsopp.

Allsopp reportedly tried to refer the phone call to Sims, but Damelian did not wish to make a statement about a sexual assault to the officer who he felt had publicly humiliated him. When Damelian tried to arrange to make a statement with Allsopp, she allegedly told Damelian she didn’t want to get involved and ended the call.

The Star Observer spoke to Acting Senior Sergeant Matthew Sims regarding the incident, who reiterated the Victoria Police procedure of needing to call 000 when an urgent matter is reported directly to officers at a station.

Sims believed he was quoted out of context in the article, but stood by his comments. He said the only information he had about Damelian’s conversation with Allsopp was an email saying the victim had called to make a statement but hadn’t left contact details.

Sims said the sexual assault was not being investigated by police as it had not been formally reported in a statement. He also said no one has been arrested over the attack.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) spokesperson Carolyn Worth was shocked at Damelian’s story. The CASAs work extensively with Victoria Police to implement procedures for handling reports of sexual violence, in conjunction with special police units called Sexual Offence and Criminal Investigation Teams (SOCITs).

“The guidelines — they’re very clear — is that you tell general duties, that’s the general cops, that you’ve had a sexual assault. They then handball it to SOCIT to investigate. SOCIT attend very quickly, and they usually track offenders very quickly,” Worth said.

“SOCIT people are detectives who’ve also been trained in victim work. So they would have gone and looked for the alleged offender and secured the crime scene. So there’s a whole load of things they haven’t done. It’s breathtaking, really.”

Worth said this should have happened as soon as Damelian reported the assault, and that Sims had breached police procedure by discussing the matter with the media. She said the police response may have worsened Damelian’s trauma following his assault.

“If somebody turns up to a police station to report a sexual assault then they should be treated with some respect, and provided with a space to tell someone very quickly the details, not left at the front counter and told to ring 000,” Worth said.

“Then everything that’s happened since I would think would exacerbate his trauma, would make him feel dis-empowered, like no one’s really listening to him. To then go to the media and make something public in that manner is unforgivable.”

The Star Observer also spoke to Barwon CASA CEO Helen Bolton. The Barwon CASA works with police in the Geelong area as part of a “Multidisciplinary Centre,” linking Victoria Police with CASAs, child protection authorities and other services relating to victims of sexual assault.

Bolton said all police were supposed to be aware of the SOCITs, and wasn’t aware of widespread examples of conduct like this by police in Geelong.

“The SOCIT has got almost 20 members in Geelong. They’re a well-known and highly-regarded unit,” Bolton said.

“CASA works in closely with the SOCIT members; we have a great relationship and we’ve achieved amazing outcomes. So it’s really unfortunate Zac wasn’t referred across to that specialised team.”

Bolton was also shocked the Geelong Police were not investigating the assault, having taken Damelian’s alleged refusal to speak to Senior Sergeant Sims following his statements in the Geelong Advertiser as a refusal to make a statement at all.

She urged police to refer the matter to the SOCIT in Geelong.

Executive Director Greg Adkins from LGBTI organisation Anti Violence Project (AVP) was also surprised at the police response to Damelian’s report. AVP works with Victoria Police to improve the relationship between police and the LGBTI community.

“Gay men reporting sexual assault are treated with the utmost respect,” Adkins told the Star Observer, arguing the incident is not representative of Victoria Police as a whole.

“The sexual offences unit people handle it delicately and in a supportive way, and work with the sexual assault units like the CASAs. There’s a really good relationship.

“I think the 000 referral is probably a desperation measure by a member of the police force who wasn’t aware of the protocols of engaging with the sexual offences squad…the priority is the victim.”

The Star Observer asked Senior Sergeant Sims about the apparent failures to follow protocol by his officers, but Sims said he was not aware of such a breach.

“I’m not aware of that. Because he’s an adult victim and it’s an indecent assault, it initially falls down to the uniform branch for the initial investigation. That’s what I’m of the opinion of,” said Sims.

During the Star Observer’s investigation Damelian spoke to Sims about making a statement, and told him he would be making a statement to a Victoria Police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO). Sims said he had nothing to go on regarding the assault until a statement was made.

Sims said he had not breached police procedure by speaking to media, claiming to have only discussed Damelian’s complaint.

“I was speaking to the media in relation to the lack of police action, and there is no comment from me about the sexual assault. I spoke to Zac about that…he understood my position on that,” Sims said.

“It wasn’t me downplaying sexual assault at all. My conversation [with the Geelong Advertiser]…was in relation to the police action of being 200 metres from a police station and us being unable to attend.

“Probably if I was in the same boat I might do the same thing… I would advise that if you do require police attendance, the best thing to do is to leave the scene or get at a safe distance and ring 000.”

Despite Sims’ claims to the contrary, Damelian told Star Observer their conversation had been adversarial.

Damelian has taken the matter up with Victoria Police’s Internal Affairs Unit, who expect it to come to the attention of Chief Commissioner Ken Lay. Damelian also said he has contacted the Ethical Standards Department over Senior Sergeant Karen Allsopp’s alleged refusal to take his statement.

The Star Observer attempted to contact Lay’s office for comment but has been unable to receive a response at the time of writing.

Damelian said he hopes sharing his experience will ensure others don’t have to go through the same thing.

“I’m a logical person. The chances of actually finding that guy and me going through the trauma of making statements and everything to the police is going to be absolutely worthless in that respect,” he said.

“But they need to be held accountable, not just for me, but for any other sexual victim in the future that this may happen to in Geelong.”

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