A new telephone hotline has been set up for people who work in the legal profession to report sexual harassment.
The service was launched this week by the New South Wales Legal Services Commission, and will allow practitioners in that state to make informal reports about misconduct in legal workplaces to trained professionals.
Callers can remain anonymous if they wish.
Reporting rates remain low
Speaking to Lawyer’s Weekly, Commissioner John McKenzie said that as the state’s supervising legal regulator, he wanted to explore new ways of offering support to workers who wanted to disclose that they had been sexually harassed, because current reporting rates remain low.
“The people who are the subject of this harassment and bullying are junior and often young in years, but not necessarily terribly young,” he said.
“It’s all a relative thing about power.”
Mr McKenzie said that workers in the profession often did not make complaints because they feared how it would impact their reputation and future career prospects.
He said this resulted in an enormous difference between the number of confidential reports and actual formal complaints.
“And I, as a regulator, wanted to try and change this dynamic, so that I’m not waiting on simply formal complaints to come in, but I’m wanting to start to at least open avenues to people who have either suffered this behaviour or have witnessed it, to start disclosing what they’re comfortable in disclosing with us on the assurance that they will control what we do with the information,” he said.
Online reporting platform coming soon
Mr McKenzie said that he is interested to see if victims of sexual harassment, or witnesses to sexual harassment are still interested in taking their complaint further after having a “good, supportive interaction with trained staff” on the hotline.
He also hopes the calls will provide the Commission with good data to help it better understand the issues around the reporting of harassment issues.
“So, I’m interested in seeing if I start to get a real, shall we say, pattern of similar complaints about one law practice, even though the people are not wanting to go on the record themselves individually, nor wanting to name perhaps any individual perpetrators,” Mr McKenzie said.
The Commission is also planning to launch a confidential online self-reporting service later in the year.
Mr McKenzie said the focus of his agency is to help change the culture of sexual harassment that is currently plaguing the legal profession.
“Our responsibility is in a very real sense, to take constructive action wherever we come upon instances that the law is not being followed in a very, very serious manner that deals with the entitlement of every person, and that includes every lawyer and every non-lawyer who works in a law practice, to have a safe working environment,” he said.
Hotline will help address ‘insidious behaviour’
Industrial relations specialist Miles Heffernan from Sexual Harassment Claims welcomed the new initiatives.
“Anything that gives support to victims of unlawful sexual harassment, and provides them with a safe space to report their experiences, whether that be on a telephone hotline or an online platform, is a good thing, and will hopefully go a long way to tackling this sort of insidious behaviour,” he said.
“The legal profession has long had a problem with sexual harassment – and it is yet to have its own #MeToo moment – but the time is coming.”
If you have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or sex discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.
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