Sexual harassment, bullying rife in the law profession

Nearly a third of female lawyers in NZ have been sexually harassed at some point in the careers, according to a new survey

Sexual harassment, bullying rife in the law profession

New research finding high levels of sexual harassment and bullying in the legal profession needs to be a “catalyst for change”, according to the New Zealand Bar Association president Clive Elliott QC.

The Colmar Brunton survey of more than 3,500 lawyers shows that nearly a third of female lawyers have been sexually harassed at some point in the careers.

According to the data, the harasser was most likely to be the target's manager, supervisor, partner or director.

Even though non-physical forms of sexual harassment were most prevalent, two thirds of lawyers who had experienced sexual harassment said it included some form of unwanted physical contact.

Moreover, six per cent of lawyers who had been sexually harassed described the harassment as an actual or attempted rape or assault.

Elliott said the survey findings are “disturbing as are other recent revelations about sexual harassment”.

“The survey has unveiled for all to see, what obviously many in our profession knew already,” added Elliott.

“Clearly what has been shown is intolerable and there is no option other than this, and other recent events, being a catalyst for real change in the legal profession.”

The research also found over half of all lawyers surveyed said they had suffered some form of bullying in their career, with 21% of lawyers experiencing bullying in the last six months.

The survey also found the reporting of sexual harassment and bullying behaviours is low within the profession. For both bullying and sexual harassment, less than one in eight reported the harassment or made a complaint.

Elliot urged all employees in the legal profession not to tolerate and to take action against any behaviour that may lead to instances of bullying or sexual harassment.

“This includes those working in the legal profession who are not lawyers, and who in many cases have less power to speak out about what is happening to them,” he said.

“We need to be committed and motivated individually to different standards of behaviour. This needs to be reinforced collectively.

“We are 100% behind behaviour change in the profession that will see an end to the appalling level of sexual harassment and bullying that we have heard about.”


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