The more victims stand together to call out inappropriate conduct, the less women will continue to be victims of power-based sexual harassment, Noor Blumer said.
Former justice Dyson Heydon was directed out of the University of Canberra Law Ball after at least one young female student complained about his behaviour. Ms Blumer left even earlier, telling her husband she had been sexually harassed.
Speaking at the Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) 2020 National Conference, private practice solicitor Ms Blumer said that she does not regret speaking out about what had happened years before and other victims should consider doing the same.
“The greatest barrier to speaking out is fear,” Ms Blumer told the webcast. “Why should those of us who have done nothing wrong feel afraid? We are strong, educated women and this is our legal profession. If we cannot stand up for ourselves, how can we then represent those that have suffered serious domestic violence?
“The more we stand together to be counted, the more the stigma will fall away and the less we will continue to be victims of power-based sexual harassment.”
Ms Blumer considered what other than fear was stopping women from coming forward with their complaints and concerns. For one thing, she said that culturally, “Australians are raised not to be dobbers”. It would be “un-Australian” for them to complain.
Then there is the culture of the profession itself which prides itself on its confidentiality, proof of evidence and giving the clients the benefit of the doubt. As lawyers, Ms Blumer said they are regularly advising their clients against making public statements.
Ms Blumer’s experience with reporting sexual harassment is different than others. For one thing, after reporting her experiences at the Law Ball and learning that other young women experienced something similar, she offered to support them with her own story. Her position benefited the complaints and offered security in ways theirs did not.
For many years, Ms Blumer advocated for women in the law and played an important part in ensuring sexual harassment appeared in the Australia Solicitors Conduct rules. She knew that, by speaking out now about her experiences, “it would assist the plight of those brave former associates, some of whom had left the profession forever”.
Ms Blumer feels strongly that she and others who spoke out did the right thing. She is sure that those associates may wish, in retrospect, that they did more to save women in future from similar advances: “If they had done, would it have saved others from the ignominy and indignity of the sexual groping that I and others endured? Maybe.”
“Do I regret speaking out? Not at all. Would I do so again? Definitely. Do I wish I had done it sooner? Probably, although my story on its own would not have had anywhere near the force it did coming at the same time as the powerful statement from the Chief Justice, [the Honourable] Susan Kiefel of the High Court,” she said.