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NSW women lawyers urge reforms to curb sexual harassment

NSW women lawyers have put forward proposals for serious reforms to address growing sexual harassment within the legal profession.

Women’s Lawyer Association New South Wales released ‘Measures to deter and address sexual harassment: proposals for change’ this week and called for urgent reform.

In the proposal, President Larissa Andelman emphasised that “the responsibility of dealing with sexual harassment and bullying should not rest with victims”, proposing that the reporting process should take a victim-focused approach.

The policies put forth by the association aim to curb under-reporting of sexual harassment and prioritise the protection and wellbeing of the alleged survivor.

Ms Andelman also addressed the culture of silence within the profession, saying “there needs to be endorsement by the entire legal profession of bystander provisions and support for workplaces, law societies and bar associations to commence the process of educating and implementing bystander provisions into their workplace policies”.

“Those in positions of power in the profession in particular, must call out inappropriate conduct when they see or hear it,” Ms Andelman said.

The call for cultural change within the legal profession is echoed in the outcome of a national roundtable held by the Law Council Australia. The roundtable supported the establishment of a federal judicial commission and acknowledged that amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 were urgently needed and long overdue.

The roundtable and the association’s proposal underline the dire need for sexual harassment training and education within the profession, in addition to policy and law reform.

“There needs to be substantial preparatory work undertaken to gauge the existing behaviours…and to engage legal practitioners and those working within the legal profession about cultural change,” Ms Andelman said.

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