Lawyer details her sexual harassment story

The “comparatively minor” incidents involved two senior lawyers when she was in her early twenties

Lawyer details her sexual harassment story
A lawyer has come forward with her experience of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In a story published by the New Zealand Law Society, an unnamed lawyer detailed how two senior lawyers in their sixties essentially entrapped her into dates by asking her to meet to discuss work. The incidents happened when she was 22 and 24, respectively.

“Both incidents of sexual harassment which I experienced followed an eerily similar pattern. In the first case a very senior lawyer (Man 1) asked if I could come in on the weekend to work with him on a file. In the second case a similarly senior man (Man 2) invited me to meet with him to discuss the prospect of working with him on something important,” she wrote.

She was notified late in both circumstances and the meetings happened at the senior lawyers’ houses, she said.

“I turned up to the meeting with Man 1 to discover that his wife was away for the weekend – and that he had booked us a table for lunch at his favourite cafe. In fact, the whole event was essentially a date,” she said.

She said that five hours passed before she managed to leave. In those hours, they worked for just 45 minutes.

“Man 2 had no wife to dispense with but, since the meeting was at 5pm, he had poured me a glass of wine and started making dinner for us both by the time I had arrived. I left in the dark at 10pm, having had it made very clear to me (a) that Man 2 was immensely wealthy, and (b) that I would be very welcome to become his mistress,” the lawyer wrote.

She said that the incidents were relatively minor and the men were “just a couple of optimistic old boys trying when they shouldn’t.”

“I didn’t feel unsafe during either of these ‘dates’ and had previously liked and got on well with both men. But I had never given an iota of an indication that I was romantically interested in either of them and given that each was old enough to be my grandfather you’d have thought that they’d have needed some pretty clear encouragement to assume that I was,” she wrote.

She also detailed how the men did not stop trying to ask her out on dates, which affected her work and health.

Completely unacceptable
Kathryn Beck, New Zealand Law Society president, said that sexual harassment is completely unacceptable in legal workplaces. She said that while many efforts are making headway in improving diversity and respect for others in New Zealand’s workplaces, every professional in the legal industry must make a conscious decision for these efforts to succeed.

“Initiatives to remove barriers to opportunity which currently exist through a person’s gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation will only succeed if the legal profession also affirms and accepts the right of everyone in our workplaces to be free from sexual harassment,” Beck said. “In an hierarchical environment where workplace wellbeing, remuneration, promotion and advancement are dependent on the decisions and input of those in a position of power, it is an affront to human rights if that is abused. As a profession we act for others who have experienced sexual harassment. But as a profession we must also look at ourselves and agree that any harassment in our workplaces is absolutely unacceptable.”

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