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Lawyers say #MeToo

Lawyers say #MeToo

By Karin Derkley

Women's Rights Workplace 

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"Gobsmackingly bad" cases of sexual harassment are rife in the law and other professions, and journalists are working towards making them public, says Tracey Spicer.

Ms Spicer, one of the journalists leading the #MeToo exposés in Australia, is the keynote speaker at the Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Luncheon as part of the LIV Women in Leadership conference on Wednesday 23 May.

In the law and the professions generally, where men still have the lion's share of power, sexual harassment is "huge", she says.

"It's the case in any industry where you have a lot of concentrated power, with a lot of men at the top and a lot of women working in less powerful less well-paid roles.

Women are too often treated as "decorative objects, there for men to grope and grab and pick up and then put aside because they have more power than you in the workplace," she says. 

Ms Spicer helped initiate the Australian version of the #MeToo movement when she posted what she described as a "very small tweet" seeking input for an investigation of local perpetrators in the entertainment industry following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. That tweet unleashed a "tsunami of injustice" that she says has not let up six months down the track.

"I still get 10 to 12 messages everyday," she says. "There's clearly a huge unmet need for people to tell their stories because the systems that are in place are clearly not working."

The original campaign highlighted claims of sexual harassment by several high profile men in the entertainment industry, and led to the spotlight being shone across other industries.

Reports coming in show the legal sector is as rife with sexual harassment against women as the media and entertainment industries, says Ms Spicer. 

"After media and entertainment, we got people telling us gobsmackingly bad stories about what was happening in politics and business, with the financial and legal industries near the top," she says.

Ms Spicer is currently working on a series of further exposés of sexual harassment, teaming up with journalists at NewsCorp, The Australian Financial Review and The Guardian. In Australia's strict defamation law climate, the process of pulling together stories from survivors has been exhaustive and exhausting, she says.

"It's incredibly difficult to get these stories up in Australia. We have to approach them almost as if we are prosecutors - we have to get witnesses and enough evidence that it would be able to hold up in court."

In response to the swathe of allegations, Ms Spicer helped found NOW Australia to provide survivors of workplace sexual harassment and assault with pro bono or low cost support in the form of counselling or legal advice.

While the outreach and support service started with the "relatively privileged women" in the media and entertainment industries, it has now broadened to take in workplaces "from the boadroom to the factory floor".

"The worst cases of sexual harassment are seen in sectors like hospitality and retail where you have a casualised workforce on low wages and a huge power imbalance between the people running the outlet or the shops and very young girls often in their first jobs," she says.

 

Join us at the LIV’s Women in Leadership Conference and Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Luncheon on 23 May 2018 to learn more from inspiring women leaders including keynote speaker Tracey Spicer and Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton.


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