‘Culture of silence’ about sexual harassment in law must end
In order to combat sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and the legal profession, both legislative reform and cultural and structural change are needed, argues the Law Council of Australia.
In its submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, LCA is pushing for a consolidation of sexual harassment provisions across state and territory jurisdictions, as well as an “end to the culture of silence” that exists within legal circles.
Speaking about the submission, LCA president Arthur Moses SC said sexual harassment is “pervasive” in Australian workplaces, with the legal profession being “no exception”.
Australia’s legal profession “cannot deny the self-evident truth” that sexual harassment is a problem among practitioners, he said.
“Addressing sexual harassment is an issue of grave concern and one of the greatest challenges facing the legal profession. There is widespread and genuine support across the legal profession for action to be taken to address sexual harassment. While important initiatives are underway to address this behaviour, the reality is we can and must do more,” he said.
Women in the legal profession experience sexual harassment at rates equal to or higher than the national average, Mr Moses continued.
“As a traditionally hierarchical and male-dominated profession, it is critical for the legal profession to be honest, transparent and accountable about this issue and the scale of the problem. Unlawful conduct needs to be confronted and eliminated, not the subject of excuses,” he posited.
“The legal profession advocates that all people should be treated equally and with dignity. These rights apply equally to women lawyers. Everyone deserves to be safe at work.”
The legal profession “cannot turn a blind eye to unlawful conduct” by individuals within our own profession who harm colleagues or create unsafe workplaces, Mr Moses reflected.
“Sexual harassment and discrimination are the greatest hindrances to a truly inclusive legal profession that reflects the community it serves. It is also one of the reasons why the legal profession loses talent to other professions or industries.”
“The impacts of sexual harassment can be devastating to victims and their families. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important and timely inquiry, and to work with the AHRC, Government and the Australian community in coming months to drive meaningful change,” he said.
In its submission, the LCA suggested that the current legal framework “could be made simpler, firmer and more effective” in preventing and responding to sexual harassment in all workplaces, by way of simplifying the definition of sexual harassment to improve the law’s accessibility, making sexual harassment unlawful in all areas of public life, and also strengthening formal complaints processes and raising public awareness of the law.