You are here

Bullying and harassment ‘chronically under-reported’

15 May 2019

Add comment

A large-scale international survey of the profession has found 57% of bullying cases and 75% of sexual harassment cases were not reported, despite many cases having occurred in the past 12 months.

The 130-page report published by the International Bar association (IBA) today, found “chronic underreporting” of bullying and harassment was still an issue despite raised awareness following 2017’s #metoo movement.

“Even when targets report such incidents, workplaces are failing them – official responses are considered insufficient or negligible, perpetrators are rarely sanctioned and, in many cases, the situation is exacerbated”, the executive summary to the report states, adding: “Bullying and sexual harassment hurt the profession.”

The survey gathered responses from 6,980 legal professionals across 135 countries in six different languages.

Of those respondents, 67% were female, 32% were male and 0.2% were non-binary or self-defined. 

The survey found that 1 in 3 female respondents and 1 in 3 male respondents had experienced bullying in the workplace. 

Moreover, 1 in 3 female respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, while 1 in 14 men reporting experiencing it.

The survey revealed that more needed to be done to prevent such behaviour and educate members of the profession on the issue. 

Just 53% of workplaces were reported to have had policies on bullying and sexual harassment, while 22% of respondents said they had undertaken training.

Illustrating the detrimental effect bullying and harassment has not only on individuals but on their workplaces, the survey found that 65% of respondents who have been bullied and 37% of respondents who have been sexually harassed left or considered leaving their workplaces.

The report has identified ten recommendations for addressing the problem, including awareness raising, firms taking ownership of the issue and improving reporting models.

In a foreword to the report former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said: “The legal profession has a special, indeed privileged role, in advocating for and ushering in change” however, she added it “can only step up to this role with integrity if it makes sure its own house is in order”.

Responding to the report this afternoon, Law Society president Christina Blacklaws reiterated her position.

“Just as anyone is protected by the law, they should also be protected by employers – law firms included – which have a duty of care to their employees, contractors, clients and visitors,” she said.

“Working environments should be safe for all, with clear policies to prevent harassment as well as accessible, safe procedures to deal with any complaints. 

“Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment should be able to feel they can report it safely and with the confidence they will be taken seriously”.

She added that next month would see the launch of A Women in Law Pledge, which will commit signatories to tackle sex discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It is incumbent on all of us to work to end bullying and harassment of any kind,” Blacklaws said.

Categorised in:

Ethics Ethics, professionalism and judgement

Tagged in:

metoo; bullying; harassment