hear us roar
Hundreds of figures dressed in black surge through Wellington’s CBD. Young and old, of every race and creed they march, placards raised and voices in unison. They arrive at Midland Park. “Ru-ssell Mc-Veagh, sexual assault is not okay” the crowd yells, outrage directed at the top story of the imposing skyscraper in front of them.
Accusations of sexual assault and harassment against one of New Zealand’s largest law firms sparked this impressive show of solidarity – Russell McVeagh’s mishandling of such accusations ignited the ire of Wellington students; fuelled by empathetic upset and disgust.
Russell McVeagh has begun an inquiry into their accusations and the way they were handled, while similar reports of sexual violence against other firms have come to light, and seemingly no one is safe. This is not the birth of the sexual violence conversation – following movements like ‘Times Up’ and ‘Me Too’ – but Wellington student solidarity has proved it is definitely not the end.
So what do us students – future firm partners and business CEO’s – want done? What changes do we demand; for the right to remain free of harassment and violence, for the right to feel safe and comfortable in our workplace?
No one should ever fear sexual harassment in the workplace. And if they ever do, victims should feel safe and secure about getting help and reporting such behaviour.
But clearly, the statistics from a Victoria University Student survey show that neither of the above two premises are true. Sexual harassment is rife, and many students are unclear of the support and avenues to get help if they were a victim.
The survey illuminated the disturbing - while not surprising - number of students who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Ranging from sexual assault and harassment, to misogynistic jokes. What the responses show is that this is not an isolated issue. Many have suffered, and it is not hard to imagine there are some suffering now.
But what was acceptable in the baby boomer society - crude jokes, victim blaming, and a gender pay gap, is unacceptable to millennials.
As one student so eloquently put it “Heads must roll. Justice must be seen to be done”.
Students noted the importance of short term solutions such as looking into past allegations and adequately dealing with reports. But they also noted how firms should deal with similar situations in the future.
There is an overwhelming call for “zero tolerance” and transparency in the workplace. Firms need to be more open when handling claims of sexual violence, for instance publishing their guidelines against sexual harassment
But moreover, there was a consensus that something must be done more broadly to stop this.
Students want a culture shift. From one that blames victims to one that shames perpetrators. How can this be achieved?
A popular suggestion was education around issues of consent. One student suggested that mandatory workshops should be instituted for all firms and administered by the law society, dealing with consent and how such incidents should be reported.
The importance of awareness was also raised by many. Ensuring that everyone is aware of the services available to victims. One response suggested that the Law Society should promote their general guidelines on how to deal with this behaviour, by perhaps holding a seminar. Intriguingly, one student suggest that an independent body be set up to investigate such claims. This in theory, would avoid a repetition of the recent mishandling of claims.
where do we go from here?
There is an appetite for change amongst the student body. They are discontent and fed up with both a lack of action and what seems to be a general sense of apathy towards this particular issue. This is an issue that can no longer be ignored. The voiceless are slowly finding their voice. The creation and growth of a number of grass-roots organisations has fuelled this. It is time for the industry as a whole to respond. It is time for change.