Victorian Legal Service Board report shows that sexual harassment in the legal workplace is common

On April 1st Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, Fiona McLeay, released data showing that sexual harassment in Victorian legal workplaces is common, and has a disproportionate effect on women.

Results showed that 1 in 3 respondents had experienced workplace harassment at some point in their career. As well as this there was a significant gender imbalance in the proportions with 61% of female respondents and 12% of male respondents reporting experiencing sexual harassment in Victorian legal workplaces.

The study was carried out in 2 surveys sent in August and September of 2019, the first was sent to all Victorian legal practitioners to collect data about their experiences of sexual harassment, whilst the second was sent to principals of law practices, to collect data on how their firms manage sexual harassment.

Ms McLeay has said: “Sexual harassment affects millions of people across Australia, and it is very concerning to me that so many lawyers in Victoria have experienced this.  And this is not historic data – for a majority of people reporting sexual harassment in our survey it occurred within the last five years, and for 25%, this was in the last 12 months. Of the survey respondents who had personally experienced harassment – nearly all of them were women, over half had five or less years’ experience at the time of the most recent incident, and many were either in junior roles or were not yet fully qualified”.

Ms McLeay highlighted that the Board was developing a strategy to move forward and tackle the issue saying, “As the regulator, we will be doing everything in our power to investigate and respond to complaints about sexual harassment. We have the power to investigate individual lawyers, as well as legal workplaces, where the data shows ‘hotspots’ of sexual harassment behaviour … Ultimately it’s up to all of us to change our culture.  How we operate as lawyers – the standards we hold ourselves to, the behaviours we expect from one another, what we tolerate and refuse to tolerate – are what defines us as a profession”. 

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