NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck said she was aware of sexual harassment in the profession but was “shocked” at the scale of the problem, as detailed in a survey of its members.
The survey found that 31 per cent of female lawyers have been sexually harassed in law, and 17 per cent of women have suffered such harassment in the past five years.
Almost half of victims (49 per cent) do not speak up for fear of career consequences, and 38 per cent stay silent because they are worried reporting will make the situation worse.
Victorian Women Lawyers executive member Julianna Marshall said the stats from New Zealand were “depressingly unsurprising” and reflect what is understood to be “routine” within the Australian profession.
Women Lawyers Association of NSW deputy president Larissa Andelman supported this, saying it is imperative that we continue to evaluate the work being done to reduce and ultimately eliminate sexual harassment.
“Women in the vast majority of cases will not make complaints because there is a lack of trust in the employer, the law societies and the legal regulatory bodies to protect them and to create an environment where they continue to be productive in their workplaces.”
A “no tolerance culture” must be cultivated, she said.
Further to this, Ms Andelman said there needs to be significant law reform, at federal and state levels, to anti-discrimination laws.
“At the social/cultural level, the system should not rely on a complainant. Policies and procedures need to incorporate ‘by-stander provisions’ where all persons, particularly senior employees, have a responsibility to report sexual harassment conduct.”