Sexual harassment and convictions in the age of #MeToo

By Naomi Neilson|29 March 2020

The #MeToo movement and the convictions of high-profile men have revolutionised how the justice system handles sexual harassment cases, says one employment lawyer.

Earlier this month, disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years behind bars for sexual assault and rape. When the world learnt of his offences, it spurred the #MeToo movement, which in turn shaped how the justice system handled cases.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about the [email protected] report, and how such reports may transform the way workplaces handle sexual harassment complaints, special counsel for Shine Lawyers, Samantha Mangwana, said #MeToo challenged the impossible.

“The timing of this report is so interesting. It came just around International Women’s Day, sandwiched right between the days of Mr Weinstein’s conviction and then his sentencing of 23 years in prison,” Ms Mangwana said. “That is something that, only a few years ago, would have been considered absolutely impossible.

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“The former minister of Scotland, a government head, is going through a criminal trial for sexual assault. Again, that’s the sort of thing that would have been impossible.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission released the [email protected] report to analyse sexual harassment in workplaces. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it was “deeply disappointing” that Australia has yet to make any major changes.

There are several recommendations in the report that will go a long way in changing how the justice system responds to sexual harassment cases. One important change includes extending the complaints period from just six months to 24 months.

“This is worth highlighting because, of course, as we saw with Mr Weinstein and the many high-profile cases since, the whole #MeToo movement was really about people coming out about historic incidents that had previously been strictly taboo,” Ms Mangwana said.

Additionally, the commission recommended, in conjunction with the Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, it developed a practice note or guideline that identifies best practices to inform the regulation of the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Ms Mangwana warned that having too much confidentiality could halt progress made with #MeToo.

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“It’s been the media attention, the traditional media and social media since Mr Weinstein and #MeToo, that [have] brought about changes here,” Ms Mangwana said. “Unless there’s transparency and an understanding of the issues, there won’t really be change.”

“The #MeToo movement is what led to this wholesale change in the way harassment has been understood to be a problem. It was a necessary change for people to come forward, and it compares with the time when people didn’t feel able to do so.

“Now, the whole world over, we see the repercussions of that.”

Sexual harassment and convictions in the age of #MeToo
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