30 May 2018

One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey

10:15 am on 30 May 2018

Nearly a third of female lawyers in New Zealand have been sexually harassed in a workplace environment, according to a Law Society survey.

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The survey was commissioned after increasing complaints about sexual harassment within the legal profession from young women.

It found that nearly one in five lawyers - 31 percent of women and 5 percent of men - have been sexually harassed, based on the Human Rights Commission definition.

One in 10 women can recall five or more incidents.

Read the full survey results here:

The survey also showed that while sexual harassment was most commonly experienced in the work place, almost half of women said the harassment they experienced was at a work event.

In the past five years, a third of female lawyers have experienced crude or offensive behaviour and 12 percent have experienced physical contact and sexual assault.

Nearly 40 percent of lawyers who were sexually harassed said the experience affected their emotional/mental wellbeing and 32 percent said it affected their job or career prospects.

About a quarter of both male and female lawyers who have been sexually harassed sought support of advice - friends and family were the most common source for advice.

Formal reporting of it was low - only 12 percent of lawyers who had been sexually harassed said they made a formal complaint.

More than half of lawyers said they had experienced bullying at some point in their working life.

The survey found that both bullying and sexual harassment was higher among women and young lawyers.

Maori, Pacific and Asian lawyers also had higher rates of bullying.

New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck said the survey showed there was a "cultural crisis" in the local legal profession.

"New Zealanders expect our profession to operate to the highest standards of integrity with a commitment to fairness, equity and justice. This survey makes it crystal clear that we are not meeting that expectation, we are failing to keep our own people safe and we cannot stand for this.

"The results of this survey are deeply saddening and I know lawyers across New Zealand will be very disappointed at what this report makes so clear."

But she said the process of cultural change had started.

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

She said the legal profession 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."

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