Law Society survey finds 18% have been sexually harassed

More than a third of lawyers surveyed who have been sexually harassed say that type of behaviour was common in their workplace at the time, a NZ Law Society report says.

This morning the law society has released a comprehensive survey of sexual harassment, bullying and wellbeing in the workplace.

The lobby group and regulator for lawyers has been addressing workplace issues since Newsroom revealed two lawyers left Russell McVeagh following allegations of sexual assault and harassment regarding summer interns. Last month Dame Silvia Cartwright was appointed to lead a working group into the better reporting of harassment.

The law society asked 13,000 lawyers to participate and 26% of those asked to, did so.

Sexual harassment findings
The survey has found 18% of lawyers who responded feel they have been sexually harassed. Of those respondents 31% were female and 5% male.

Of this 18%, more than half (57%) described the sexual harassment as assault, including unwanted touching. However, 6% of respondents went further and described this as actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Thirty-five percent of lawyers who have been sexually harassed say the type of behaviour was common in their workplace at the time.

Meanwhile, 28% said they had witnessed sexual harassment in the legal environment in their working life to date.

Of those who were sexually harassed, only 12% formally reported it, with 41% of those respondents explaining that they did not think it serious enough.

One in 10 female lawyers can recall five or more incidents of sexual harassment.

About four in ten (39%) lawyers who have been sexually harassed say the experience affected their emotional or mental wellbeing, and 32% say it affected their job or career prospects.

NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck said in a statement there is a cultural crisis in the legal profession in this country.

“This survey makes it crystal clear we are not meeting that expectation, we are failing to keep our own people safe and we cannot stand for this.”

"The process of cultural change has started. Every practising lawyer has a responsibility for driving this change through their own behaviour and what they are prepared to tolerate from others."

Ms Beck says the Law Society had been caught flat-footed by the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations.

"I'm disappointed that this research is a surprise to us. I'm disappointed we heard about so much through the media. I'm disappointed that, for whatever reason, people chose not to report their experiences to us. I'm disappointed that for so many people, the law has not been a safe profession.”

More to come

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