Lyon case: AFL's respect and responsibility policy 'all over the place'

The AFL has been accused of undermining the credibility of its respect and responsibility policy amid claims its handling of the Ross Lyon harassment allegations was "all over the place".

The AFL and Fremantle Football Club have declared their investigations into the case are closed. Lyon allegedly verbally harassed a former junior staffer at the club over her attire and the woman was later awarded a low five-figure settlement.

The league and AFL had refused to name Lyon in what was a confidential case but The Age revealed on Monday he was at the centre of it. Lyon is due to break his silence on the matter in his weekly interview on Channel Seven news in Perth on Tuesday night.

Lyon was exonerated by the club and the AFL's integrity department is comfortable with the outcome but revelations of a payment have sparked debate over the league's recently upgraded respect and responsibility policy.

The case involving Lyon comes after the AFL handed Port Adelaide player Sam Powell-Pepper a three-week suspension for inappropriate behaviour towards a woman at an Adelaide night spot. In that case, Powell-Pepper was quickly identified publicly but the name of the woman, as in the case involving Lyon, remains confidential.

Carolyn Worth, the manager of the Centre Against Sexual Assault, said on Tuesday that the AFL's policy was confusing and the Lyon case should not have been dealt with in private.

"I don't think they (AFL) have handled it very well. I think the difficulty is, they appear to be inconsistent in their approaches," she told 3AW radio.

"You have the issue about Sam (Powell) Pepper being suspended for three weeks for what was inappropriate behaviour, not a sexual assault, then last year they had two of their senior executives, Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss, either resigned or they were asked to go in relation to having affairs with local people they worked with who were junior to them. Then you have this confidential approach in terms of inappropriate comments to a junior staff member as well from a coach. It just seems to be all over the place."

The Age stresses the Lyon case has not involved claims of sexual assault. Lyon had allegedly made inappropriate comments about the woman's attire several years ago at a club Christmas function.

Worth did say if the woman wanted the entire case and settlement to remain private, that was her prerogative, but questioned whether that had been the case.

"Whatever victims want, they should actually get. That possibility is fair enough as long as you believe that was of very free and willing decision and I think often there are large power differentials when you are dealing with large corporations like the AFL so it's hard to know how freely you engage in those sort of decisions," she said.

Worth said general cases were often negotiated confidentially but questioned whether that was the best approach if the AFL had wanted to bring about "cultural change" through its upgraded policy.

"I think it is unless it's a more senior executive. I think we can remember the David Jones issue with Mark McInnes. I think it is often negotiated confidentially," she said.

"I think the issue is, you don't want to be in the situation you are in now. The AFL inhabits a very public arena, and they make sure they do because that is their business. They are also very public about their respect and responsibility program and they say that's been rolled out and is bringing cultural change. I think if you are going to bring about cultural change you have to bring it in a public forum in a way that is consistent and really quite clear to everybody what you are doing. I don't think what they are doing is particularly consistent or clear."

Worth said she would have advised the league to go public when the claims were made, and name Lyon.

"I think they (AFL) probably should have said: 'We have had this issue come up. The complainant does not want to be named but we are saying this is the person she complained against and we would make it quite clear we have been through this process'," she said.

"They (AFL) could argue Sam Pepper was already named but he was named very clearly. They didn't name the young woman who it concerned but they did name him. I just think if you want to bring about cultural change you have to make it very clear to people these things will be brought out into the open."

In a statement on Monday, the AFL said "a matter at the Fremantle Football Club was referred to the AFL integrity unit at the request of the club and the subject of complaint".

"The AFL integrity unit investigated the matter in accordance with the league’s respect and responsibility policy," the league said.

"The matter was resolved following an investigation, which ensured privacy and care and provided full transparency for all relevant parties.

"The AFL’s respect and responsibility policy clearly outlines a process that is thorough and fair, complainant centred, has integrity, and protects the privacy of all concerned. This is in the best interests of the well-being of all parties."

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