The review of sexual harassment in Victorian courts presents the legal profession with an opportunity to change harmful practices and move towards safer and more inclusive workplace cultures.
The report from Dr Helen Szoke contains concerning evidence about the ‘open secret’ of sexual misconduct and harassment at all levels of Victorian courts and the wider profession.
‘Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected at work. This report makes for sobering reading, but it is important that we confront the testimonies and issues contained within it,’ said our CEO Louise Glanville. ‘Victoria Legal Aid supports the thoughtful and evidence-based recommendations from Dr Szoke, aimed at targeting and preventing harmful behaviours and improving reporting mechanisms and responses for victims,’ she said.
The review heard from 36 people working across Victorian Courts and Tribunals who had directly experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. They spoke about troubling behaviours including unwanted physical contact, unfairly gendered power dynamics and hierarchical structures along with a lack of options for reporting abusive behaviour.
It noted that younger professionals were particularly affected and that those working in regional locations felt it would be impossible to remain anonymous if raising a complaint.
The findings come after of over 2000 people from the Legal Services Board and Legal Services Commissioner, which found 36 per cent of legal professionals had personally experienced sexual harassment while working in the Victorian legal sector.
‘There is clearly much more work to do to make the legal profession a safe place, particularly for younger women. I note the proactive and look forward to working with our partners across the sector to increase prevention efforts, strengthen reporting systems and improve culture,’ said Louise.
In making recommendations for change, Dr Szoke’s report highlights that Australian employers now have a road map for better practice stemming from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and its Respect@Work report. We of the Respect@Work report, to create safer workplaces for all workers.
Reviewed 14 April 2022