Review confirms sexual harassment, lack of support at Human Rights Commission

A Ministerial review has confirmed there was sexual harassment at the Human Rights Commission and there were poor response systems and failure to provide proper support. there are =reports that a ‘clear -out’ of the Commission seems likely.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…today released the Ministerial Review of the Human Rights Commission in relation to the internal handling of sexual harassment claims and its organisational culture.

“I acknowledge the work conducted by retired Judge Coral Shaw. Her findings reveal a system that failed to provide proper care and support for sexual harassment claims made by staff.

“The main conclusions reveal:

  • Some sexual harassment occurred within the HRC but was not prevalent or endemic
  • The Dignity at Work policy used to investigate the October 2017 incident was aged and outdated
  • The HRC has recently improved its systems and processes for dealing with sexual harassment complaints by adopting a new Prevention and Response to Sexual Harassment 2017 policy, but it was formulated without full consultation with the HRC employees

“In relation to the governance and management structures and arrangements of the HRC it’s a concern that the review found:

  • Staff members’ lack of information and trust in management to deal appropriately with their complaints is a potential impediment to the successful implementation of the Prevention and Response to Sexual harassment 2017 policy.
  • There is a deep divide between some staff and some managers and a lack of trust in the management and the Commissioners among some staff.
  • Strategic leadership by the current Board is compromised by a lack of cooperation and communication between Commissioners and between Commissioners and the Chief Executive.

“I announced the review of the procedures and organisational culture at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, following recent concerns about the handling of allegations of sexual harassment.

“It is vital that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Human Rights Commission as New Zealand’s authority for dealing with complaints about sexual harassment.

“I am currently awaiting advice form the Ministry of Justice. I will also meet with the State Services Commission today to discuss the next steps to fulfil the report’s recommendations. I have spoken to all Commissioners and the CEO, and I will now deal with the question of Commissioner appointments, as a matter of priority,” says Andrew Little.

Click here to read the report

Newsroom: Changes likely at ‘toxic’ Human Rights Commission

A damning review into the culture of the Human Rights Commission has uncovered outdated sexual harassment policies,highly dysfunctional leadership and commissioners “barely communicating with each other”.

A clear-out of the Commission seems likely, with Chief Commissioner David Rutherford – singled out for some of the organisation’s problems – already confirming he will not seek reappointment.

A history of dysfunction

The review also uncovered “deep-seated personality clashes”, with some managers afraid of raising serious complaints against board members despite their concerns.

Former and current commissioners suggested the problems were not unprecedented, detailing dysfunction going back “many years” under previous commissioners.

However, the relationship between Rutherford and his colleagues had been described as problematic since he took on the role in 2011, with other commissioners critical of his communication style.

Rutherford told Newsroom the Commission’s board had accepted all of the recommendations from the report, which was “confronting to read”.

“The key thing is that we acknowledge we have to work together to get policies that make it safer for, or people feel safer to raise issues and complaints, that’s the issue.”

Rutherford said he took responsibility for all the issues raised in the report as chief commissioner, including the concerns raised about his communication.

“As regards my own leadership style, that’s something that you constantly have to think about and adjust as you go through life and I’ve done that…

“The real point at the moment now is to look forward – we accept that there are issues as raised by the judge and we need to work better as a team.”

He confirmed he would not be seeking reappointment to his role, but said he was committed to improving the organisation before his departure.

The Commission certainly needs a change of management and change of culture.

Law harassment survey

Most criminal lawyers have experienced or seen bullying or harassment in the profession, and the majority of offenders are judges.

RNZ:  Judges worst offenders in law harassment survey

Criminal Bar Association vice-president Elizabeth Hall, who instigated the survey, said the “staggering” results were “obviously of deep concern to both the association and the Law Society”.

Types of abuse include shouting, insults and threats, and nearly one in three had experienced unwelcome sexual attention.

In nearly 65 percent of cases, the person doing the harassing or bullying was a judge.

Fewer than 17 percent of respondents made an official complaint – mainly because they believed it would not make any difference and they were afraid of the repercussions.

Of those who did complain, just 6 percent felt this fixed the problem.

  • Of the 283 respondents (181 women, 102 men), about 60 percent had been in practice more than nine years
  • 88.1 percent had personally experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment in the last four years
  • Most commonly type of bullying:
    – mockery 69.2%
    -invalid criticism 60%
    – shouting 58%
    – bullying based on age/ experience 57%
    – personal insults 45%
    – unwelcome sexual attention 28.5%
    – threats 27.3%
  • Effect of the bullying/harassment: stress, loss of confidence, anxiety, fear, moved jobs

The law profession was not alone in having with problems with harassment or abuse, Ms Hall said.

“But what is unique to the sphere of criminal practice is this very entrenched hierarchical structure governed by people who have come up through this system in which you go down to court and have strips torn off you by the judge or opposing council, you patch yourself up and do it again the next day.

“That was the practice 20 or 30 years ago – but times have changed, people have moved on and that sort of thing is no longer acceptable.”

The Nation – #metoo and workplace sexual harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is a big issue. The Nation is looking at this this morning, in particular on the law profession.

88% of respondents to a survey by the Criminal Bar Association reported experiencing or witnessing harassment or bullying in the legal profession.

65% of respondents to a anonymous Criminal Bar Association survey said Judges were perpetrating harassment and bullying in the workplace

It is likely to be difficult to stand up against that, given the prominence of males in positions of power.

Former Lawyer Olivia Wensley live in studio discussing workplace harassment – “The legal profession is small in New Zealand. There are grave implications professionally for speaking out”.

“I was never asked if I experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. We called it “discourtesy”. We need to call a spade a spade – It’s sexual harassment.

“You can be out the door within seconds if you dare speak up” about workplace harassment and bullying.

There is significant under reporting.

NZ Law Society President Kathryn Beck on sexual harassment in the workplace – “We have acknowledged we have a problem of under reporting in this area.

“We have to change our culture”

It is an embedded culture problem. Very difficult to change.

Wensley says ‘hit them in the pocket”. Education is not going to do much.

Now Jan Logie is being interviewed.

Under-Secretary for Justice Jan Logie on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace – “This is being taken seriously right across Government”

“Deeply worried” about survey stating judges have been perpetrating workplace harassment and bullying

It’s tricky when judges are a major part of the problem, and are employed by the Government, but there needs to be clear separation of power.

More on ‘ NZ’s failure on sexual misconduct’

I have already commented on a Spinoff ‘Opinion’ by Catriona MacLennan – see Sexual misconduct issue hampered by generalised attacks. I think that sexual misconduct and sexual crimes are complex issues that require a concerted joint gender effort, and generalised blaming is unhelpful.

Another analysis of the MacLennan’s assertions from ‘NaCLedPeanuts’ at Reddit: NZ’s failure on sexual misconduct is much, much bigger than any one case:


It is difficult to put this down to anything other than them not considering sexual harassment to be important.

That’s not quite true. Sexual harassment and sexual violence is a serious issue that a lot of companies, institutions and organisations would rather not deal with when it pops up out of fear that it could spiral out of control and result in a huge amount of damage to that company, institution and organisation. It’s in the interests for sexual harassment and assault allegations to be swept under the carpet rather than aired in public, where the latter will often make uneducated, kneejerk reactions or engage in unscrupulous speculation about who did what.

We’re only at the cusp of these allegations so far, so I’d expect more damaging stuff to come forth in the future.

Sexual harassment – like rape, domestic violence, the gender pay gap and other issues – is pigeon-holed as a “women’s issue”. This means that women are regarded as being responsible for solving it.

Again, not true. The overwhelming evidence with regards to the beliefs and actions of feminists and women elsewhere within both the developed and developing worlds is that yes, it is a “women’s issue”, but that means that women are the victims, not that it’s their responsibility for them to solve it. The rhetoric (for the want of a better word) is that women are the victims, men are the perpetrators and that it’s up to men to solve these issues, or in the case of the popular rape culture theories, for apparently enlightened feminists to “teach men not to rape”.

This of course allows no room for nuanced discussions or action to address this issue.

Men are the perpetrators, but calling sexual harassment a “women’s issue” gives men a get-out-of-jail-free card.

There’s a couple of problems with this. Firstly, “men are the perpetrators” is very, to use a word favoured by the millennial left, problematic. It is problematic because it assumes that only men are perpetrators and only women are victims, something which is obviously not true. Sexual harassment and sexual violence can and does happen to anyone regardless of race, sex and sexual orientation but Western societies collectively struggle to get past the dichotomy which puts men and women as oppressors and victims respectively. This, again, leaves no room for nuanced discussions or actions that consider all victims.

Secondly it doesn’t give men a jail-free-card because, as we’re seeing with #MeToo in the United States and the wholesale embrace of misandry by Western feminism as a whole, men collectively as a “class” are essentially being blamed or held responsible for all the ills of society. As we have already seen, men elsewhere who have been accused have been suffering serious consequences despite the lack of evidence supporting a lot of these allegations. New Zealand generally has issues with recognising sexual harassment and sexual violence as a serious problem as a whole, but to suggest that this is a women’s only problem or that it’s regarded as a problem that only women are willing to solve is disingenuous.

Not a single male lawyer has spoken out about sexual harassment in the legal profession. They have – gutlessly –sat by and left it to women to speak;

Men’s opinions and voices regarding women’s issues, or at least social issues where women are perceived to be the primary victims, are a subject of discussion in of themselves. There’s no real agreement on whether or not men’s opinions or voices are welcome in these circumstances. In addition, reluctance can be assumed to exist because the opinions may be perceived as insincere, that they themselves may be implicated or accused, or simply that there’s enough moral outrage and that their opinion is simply moot.

It seems that it is only when journalists do stories about sexual harassment that employers are forced to deal with it properly;

Because of the damage that could come to employers, who usually had nothing to do with it, that could seriously affect their ability to do business. If your company has an employee commit a sexual crime against another employee, it’s in your interest to resolve that issue as quickly and as quietly as possible. Because you cannot control the damage if it goes public.

As a result of the latest stories, there will be reviews and new procedures.

Indeed. And we’ll likely see a mirroring of those procedures as implemented in places like the United States. South Korea, where #MeToo also has arrived, has seen an explosion of interest in the rule United States Vice President Mike Pence has regarding attending functions or dining alone with women, which he refuses to do. They’re applying it to business environments and that means not interacting or doing anything alone unsupervised with women.

That is because the root cause of sexual harassment is power.

Wait for it…

In our society, it is middle-class, Pākehā males who hold power.

Here it comes…

In their heart of hearts, they view women as inferior.

DING DING DING! Somehow I knew we couldn’t get through this article without someone blaming this phenomena on white males. For someone who earlier was arguing that all these social ills were women’s responsibility she seems to be more than happy blame every single white man in New Zealand for this issue.

But it doesn’t surprise me that we have this kind of idiotic social commentary being published by the likes of the Spinoff. After all misandry is en vogue at the moment. Maybe that’s why all the lawyers aren’t speaking out when they’re being blamed for everything that’s been happening?

Until we not only tackle but actually solve the power imbalance, Pākehā males will continue to believe that women’s bodies are theirs for the taking – whether it is in the workplace or elsewhere.

And how do you tackle and resolve this “power imbalance”? Give women more power! It’s almost like Ghandi was right about “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.

 

Sexual misconduct issue hampered by generalised attacks

Generalised anti-men attacks are common in social media – as are anti-women attacks for that matter. Sad but inevitable.

However they are more troubling when attacks are via media. Especially when it involves such a serious problems like sexual misconduct and abuse of power.

Catriona MacLennan (Opinion) at The Spinoff – NZ’s failure on sexual misconduct is much, much bigger than any one case

Sexual harassment is still not regarded a serious issue in Aotearoa.

That is what we have learned since 2014, as a pattern of inadequate responses to harassment has played out in the public and media spotlight.

Not a good start – yes, there have been prominent inadequate responses to harassment played out in the media spotlight, but the fact that they have received so much scrutiny suggests that sexual harassment is regarded as a serious issue by many people.

MacLennan goes on the detail a number of issues that have been given serious attention by media.

There are five common threads running through all these cases.

  • Many employers and other organisations do not have proper procedures for dealing with sexual harassment. It is difficult to put this down to anything other than them not considering sexual harassment to be important. I can guarantee that all of the above organisations have robust procedures for dealing with, for example, theft and would know exactly what to do if money disappeared;
  • The immediate response of a majority of organisations is to downplay sexual harassment and assault, minimising and trivialising it. This is because the key concern of those to whom sexual harassment is reported is with protecting the organisation, rather than supporting the victims;
  • Sexual harassment – like rape, domestic violence, the gender pay gap and other issues – is pigeon-holed as a “women’s issue”. This means that women are regarded as being responsible for solving it. Men are the perpetrators, but calling sexual harassment a “women’s issue” gives men a get-out-of-jail-free card. Not a single male lawyer has spoken out about sexual harassment in the legal profession. They have – gutlessly –sat by and left it to women to speak;
  • The role of the media is incredibly important. It seems that it is only when journalists do stories about sexual harassment that employers are forced to deal with it properly;
  • It is the victims who continue to pay the heaviest price. In addition to dealing with the behaviour to which they are subjected, they are forced to weigh up the likely impact on their careers of seeking justice for what they have endured.

The first two and last two points are fair.

But I question a number of assertions in the middle bullet point.

Sexual harassment is pigeon-holed as a “women’s issue”.

Perhaps in the past, but increasingly less so. It is becoming widely accepted that men need to take responsibility for inappropriate attitudes and behaviour.

This means that women are regarded as being responsible for solving it.

Who thinks that? Male journalists have been very involved in spotlighting issues. Male Labour Party officials were responsible for dealing with Labour current issues. They admit stuffing up, but Jacinda Ardern hasn’t been particularly prominent in resolving things either.

Men are the perpetrators, but calling sexual harassment a “women’s issue” gives men a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Only some men (a small minority) are ‘the perpetrators’.

How many men call sexual harassment a “women’s issue”? I haven’t seen it. This is generalised men bashing, which doesn’t help the issue.

Not a single male lawyer has spoken out about sexual harassment in the legal profession. They have – gutlessly –sat by and left it to women to speak;

That’s just patently untrue. Newsroom:  All six law schools cut ties with Russell McVeagh

Auckland’s Dean of Law, Professor Andrew Stockley, told staff and students today that students “invited to an event or employed in any capacity should expect appropriate and professional behaviour at all times, and that the school would not accept any student being subjected to inappropriate behaviour, pressure, or sexual harassment”.

Victoria University of Wellington’s Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS) also said it was ending its relationship with the firm over the way it handled the misconduct and assault complaints. VUWLSS President Fletcher Boswell wrote on Facebook:

“The assaults should have been reported as an official complaint to the Law Society immediately after they occurred. Russell McVeagh have confirmed that this was not done at the time, and that this still has not been done. From our understanding, this is a breach of what the firm is legally and ethically obliged to do”.

Law Faculty Dean Professor Charles Rickett said the law school withdrew because of concerns over the behaviour of some Russell McVeagh staff.

“On balance, we believe it is suitable to be cautious about the safety and wellbeing of our students and to wait until the outcome of the external review before deciding how to proceed.”

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford confirmed the university had been in discussions with NZLSA about covering any incurred costs.

“Victoria awaits the outcome of the external review of Russell McVeagh and the firm’s response to the review before deciding whether to resume activities with the firm. We believe it is in the best interests of our students and staff to await the external review of Russell McVeagh’s workplace culture and – perhaps more importantly – the firm’s response to the review.”

Waikato University’s Dean of Law, Associate Professor Wayne Rumbles, told Newsroom the university will not be hosting Russell McVeagh on campus, “nor will it be engaging with the firm for student recruitment, at this stage. The University will also be paying for its team to take part in the Client Interviewing competitions this year, rather than accepting sponsorship from Russell McVeagh. While investigations are carried out, our priority remains the well-being of our students and graduates.”

Back to MacLennan :

As a result of the latest stories, there will be reviews and new procedures.

But, fundamentally, nothing will change.

I think that things are noticeably changing.

That is because the root cause of sexual harassment is power.

In our society, it is middle-class, Pākehā males who hold power.

In their heart of hearts, they view women as inferior. They are used to women in their lives deferring to them.

This is generalised ‘middle-class, Pākehā male’ bashing. It is also sexist and racist. And I’m sure that it is false and unfair on many men.

Until we not only tackle but actually solve the power imbalance, Pākehā males will continue to believe that women’s bodies are theirs for the taking – whether it is in the workplace or elsewhere.

I’m quite disgusted by this. Attacking a wide group for the offences of some is wrong, and it ignores the fact that perpertrators are also outside the group that MacClennan is attacking.

This broad brush single colour attack won’t help solve the real serious issues.

Sure, men in general should do more to oppose sexual harassment and attacks, they need to speak up more, and stand up more for decency.

Women also need to do more. Some are, and that’s a good thing.

Some men have been and are doing more too. More need to be encouraged to do more. Tarring them with a generalised brush won’t help with that.

Making this an all men versus women issue is one of the worst approaches to dealing with the real problems that need resolved and that’s what MacLennan is doing here.

I think that fortunately most women don’t share these ‘all men are bad’ attitudes.

There are things that women can do, and there are things that men can and should do, to combat the sexual harassment and violence issues.

Most importantly, good men and women need to work together to improve our society, not see each other as inferior or as enemies.

 

Law Society “to fix sexual harassment and misconduct in the profession”

The Law Society acknowledges there are problems within the profession regarding sexual harassment and misconduct.

RNZ – ‘We know that there is an issue with the system’

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said he would consider a ministerial inquiry if the Society’s work to fix sexual harassment and misconduct in the profession was not up to scratch.

Mr Little said yesterday he had heard reports that the society had ignored serious allegations of this nature in the past.

He said he had no problem intervening if the Society wasn’t up to the job.

“The option I would have would really be a ministerial inquiry, something of that sort of nature, to represent a public interest in ensuring that the Law Society does its job of making sure that the profession is one that has standards, including standards of conduct towards its own employees, that’s what’s in question at the moment.”

The Law Society is trying to address the issue. They have set up a ‘working group’.

The move comes after law firm Russell McVeagh was put in the spotlight over allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and an alleged incident of sexual assault.

President Kathryn Beck said she understood why the minister was concerned but the organisation – which regulates lawyers – was ready to make a change.

“We know that there is an issue with the system if we’re not hearing about these things, either because people don’t know that that’s where they should go or they are not comfortable going there, either way we need to fix that.”

The Law Society on their working group:

Law Society announces working group to focus on sexual harassment reporting

The New Zealand Law Society is establishing a working group to consider what improvements can be made to enable better reporting of harassment in the legal profession to the Law Society.

“There is no place for a culture of sexual harassment in our profession. It must stop. The Law Society is determined to do all it can to tackle a complex issue in an innovative and practical manner,” Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.

“As regulator of the practice of law the Law Society fully appreciates that it must always assess whether the regulatory framework in place is flexible enough to meet current needs.”

“It is essential that all lawyers are able to practise in a workplace environment in which they are free from any harassment. The working group will look at whether the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and its associated rules and regulations allow us to take effective action.”

Ms Beck says the members of the working group, their terms of reference and the timeframe will be announced shortly.

“This is one of a number of actions the Law Society is taking to address a matter which impacts on all lawyers and their clients. The public discussion has been sobering but it has also highlighted matters that we need to resolve so we can be more proactive without re-victimising victims.

“Alongside our processes, we have looked at the practical actions which are needed to openly and fully address the issue of sexual harassment in the legal profession. This includes providing support for people who are affected by it.

“Over 2017 the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel looked at harassment as well as other matters blocking the advancement of women in the profession. It decided that the issue of harassment required its own project and focus, to be further progressed after launch of the Gender Equality Charter in April. This work has been brought forward. Clearly action is needed now.

“What are we aiming for? We must focus on the culture and underlying assumptions which exist in some law firms and legal workplaces. As with the Gender Equality Charter, the change has to come from inside, driven and assisted from outside.”

Ms Beck says the Law Society’s plan of action includes:

  • Development of an online portal and dedicated helpline which enables reporting of concerns related to workplace harassment. The objective is to make it easier for people to raise and discuss sensitive matters arising in their workplace.
  • A free webinar on harassment which will be available to all lawyers. This will be a similar format to the very successful unconscious bias webinar delivered last year.
  • Completion of a review of the National Friends Panel and identifying or recruiting members who are particularly well placed to provide support and advice on sensitive matters.
  • The Law Society will organise and facilitate meetings of key interest groups such as those for women lawyers and young lawyers to look at the issues, what needs to be done and to develop appropriate resources.
  • A national survey of all lawyers which looks at the current workplace environment for legal practice is being scoped. As well as seeking information on harassment, this will also include questions on stress and wellbeing.
  • Development of more local branch and national events which address how to deal with difficult people, bullying and harassment.
  • Provision of more information and practical guidance through Law Society publications, beginning with the April issue of LawTalk.
  • Inclusion of information which addresses harassment and bullying in Law Society publications for young lawyers.
  • Development and maintenance of centralised information resources and support available from organisations both within and outside the legal profession. This will draw upon the Practising Well initiative.

It looks like a lot of work involved there, to review all those issues, and to implement the suggested measures.

Russell McVeagh appoints investigator into sexual misconduct claims and admissions

Russell McVeagh have appointed Dame Margaret Bazley to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct within the law firm. Newsroom are continuing to put pressure on the issue.

RNZ: Dame Margaret Bazley to head Russell McVeagh review

Dame Margaret Bazley will lead the external review of allegations of sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh.

The firm – which provides legal services to the government – is in the spotlight over serious allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at two senior lawyers at its Wellington office, and separate revelations of alcohol-fuelled sex in a boardroom.

Those allegations and the firm’s response will be reviewed, as well as any other claims, and its culture and policies regarding sexual harassment.

Russell McVeagh chair Malcolm Crotty said women subjected to sexual harassment, as well as current staff and partners, wanted to be assured the review would be thorough.

“We think that Dame Margaret’s significant review into police conduct and culture resulting from the Louise Nicholas case will provide that assurance,” he said.

She will be assisted by a woman lawyer whose appointment will be announced shortly.

Pip Greenwood, a senior partner at Russell McVeagh, said the firm was “truly sorry and horrified” that the sexual harassment had occurred.

They admit that harassment has occurred.

“We are committed to ensuring that such incidents do not happen again. We are extremely grateful to Dame Margaret for agreeing to conduct this review. We have been conscious, in making this appointment, to appoint a person who is truly independent as well as who has experience in such work.”

Newsroom is continuing their pressure: Bazley to head inquiry into ‘sexual harassment’

The allegations are far from what is commonly understood as sexual harassment. They include complaints of sexual violation, including rape.

The firm’s announcement also reveals Dame Margaret’s report on the firm’s handling of the 2015/16 scandal and other “improper conduct” will not be made public. It will instead be shared with “stakeholders”, the Law Society and the law schools of the country’s universities.

So how will the public know that this isn’t another sweeping under the legal rug?

Russell McVeagh not only has a responsibility to deal properly with any proven harassment and sexual assault, they have a responsibility to the (presumed) majority of lawyers who are not involved and not guilty.

Otherwise the firm and the profession will retain a general taint.

Newsroom has been told Russell McVeagh’s portrayal today of the assaults and misconduct during the summer clerk programme as “sexual harassment” has gone down poorly among women closely connected to the case.

One former Russell McVeagh lawyer said: “This review is getting off on the wrong foot because it is minimising, from the outset, the gravity and nature of the alleged offending against the summer clerks. It confirms my scepticism that this review is just another window-dressing exercise.”

If it is kept secret then it will easily be construed as window-dressing.

Russell McVeagh lawyers who knew of complaints from the summer clerks of sexual assaults did not refer the matter to the Law Society, as required under its rules. The Society only learned of the accusations against two male lawyers from the firm when a woman concerned raised them with it between eight and nine months after the incidents.

If they broke Law Society rules that at least should be addressed properly and openly.

The firm conducted its own inquiry, let the two men leave its Wellington office with at least one continuing on Russell McVeagh client work, and changed its summer clerk programme with new rules over alcohol and treatment of women.

So they took some action, but under cover. Should they have referred any incidents to the police? Or did they improperly protect perpetrators and the company’s reputation?  The public should have confidence that things were done properly, or will be done properly to correct past cover-ups.

In the course of inquiries into Russell McVeagh’s handling of the summer clerk programme allegations, Newsroom has been informed of incidents involving eight male staffers accused of sexual misconduct, harassment or inappropriate behaviour to staff. Some have left the firm.

The incidents date from 2000, and some involve senior lawyers. Five allegations date from the past five years. The incidents, by year, are in the graphic above.

While the firm’s terms of reference – or scope – for Dame Margaret specify the incidents in 2015/16 and its aftermath, she should have scope to inquire into these further incidents under its second term “any other improper conduct that may be brought to the attention of the external reviewer and the firm’s response to those claims.”

Her inquiry into the sexual assaults by police against Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas took three years from 2004 to complete and report.

A proper investigation will take time, but time can defuse the public glare.

Dame Margaret is regarded as a thorough and exacting inquisitor. She will be helped on this Russell McVeagh review by an un-named woman lawyer.

She is a good choice, but will the public know she has investigated well and covered this thoroughly?

It is likely to be proper that some information remain private/secret, there may be very personal revelations, and also differences of claims and perceptions between accusers and accused, so due process is important.

But Russell McVeagh has admitted “the incidents of sexual harassment that have occurred at our firm have had a profound effect on the women involved and we are all truly sorry and horrified that they occurred.”

Unless this is public clarified and properly addressed the law firm reputation and all their lawyers will remain under a cloud of suspicion. The company has:

  • 36 partners
  • 8 special counsels
  • 20 senior associates
  • 6 company managers plus a Chief Executive Officer
  • junior lawyers and staff.

They owe it to victims, to the public, and to all of those staff who are not involved in any harassment or law breaking, and to the legal profession, to come clean.

 

How exactly does the #metooNZ movement define sexual harassment?

There is no doubt that sexual harassment and assault is overdue for being properly addressed with, and serious perpetrators should be held to account (with proper due process).

But there is also proper concern over  pushing things to far, of making too much of relatively minor indiscretions.

These concerns have been well stated by Rachel Poulain in a question she asks of the #metooNZ movement.

See Alison Mau launches #metoonz investigation into sexual harassment in New Zealand

Broadcaster and journalist Alison Mau is launching a national #metoonz investigation into sexual harassment, supported by Stuff.

Mau says it’s an opportunity for Kiwis — mainly women, but men too — to bring their tormentors to account.

Mau said the #metoonz project — which references the celebrity #metoo social movement popularised by US actress Alyssa Milano — was for people who wanted to have a voice but didn’t know where to go.

“There’s been a window opened, if you like, for women who have something to say and are trying to find a person they can trust to say it to. I don’t want Kiwi women to miss out on that opportunity.”

Leading a team of journalists, Mau will act as the first point of contact, and can be reached on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, via email at alison.mau@stuff.co.nz or on a private phone number – 027 839 4417. Making contact would be completely confidential, and details and stories wouldn’t be shared “until and if” people are ready, she said.

It will run like any journalistic investigation, but with one crucial difference. Mau has set up a “triage” system.

“We will be able to help people that come to us to find legal help, if they need it, to lay a police complaint, if they want to, and to access counselling.

“There’s a level of care, specifically in place for this project. Even if people don’t want to talk on the record… at least we will be able to point them in the right direction to find the help they need.”

Stuff has partnered with Mau on the project.

It’s a widespread problem that needs to be addressed, properly and with care for both victims and due process, and withouit being bogged down with relatively trivial issues.

Trump pot mocks Franken kettle

President Donald Trump has mocked Senator Al Franken after revelations of sexual harassment.

Trump wading into this has raised a few eyebrows given revelations and accusations involving him and harassment. And Franken has at least admitted bad behaviour, Trump attacked rather than acknowledged wrongdoing.

the exposure of Trump’s misconduct during last year’s presidential election campaign was a significant step towards the flood of revelations and accusations over the last month, started with the crash and burning of Harvey Weinstein.

NY Times: In Mocking Franken Over Claims of Sexual Misconduct, Trump Joins a Debate He Started

Last fall, Donald J. Trump inadvertently touched off a national conversation about sexual harassment when a recording of him boasting about groping women was made public at the same time a succession of women came forward to assert that groping was something he did more than talk about.

A year later, after a wave of harassment claims against powerful men in entertainment, politics, the arts and the news media, the discussion has come full circle with President Trump criticizing the latest politician exposed for sexual misconduct even as he continues to deny any of the accusations against him.

In this case, Mr. Trump focused his Twitter-fueled mockery on a Democratic senator while largely avoiding a similar condemnation of a Republican Senate candidate facing far more allegations. The turn in the political dialogue threatened to transform a moment of cleansing debate about sexual harassment into another weapon in the war between the political parties, led by the president himself.

Indeed, Republicans on Friday were more than happy to talk about Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who apologized this week after a radio newscaster said he forcibly kissed her and posed for a photograph a decade ago appearing to fondle her breasts while she was sleeping.

Democrats, for their part, sought to keep the focus on Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama who has been accused of unwanted sexual conduct by multiple women going back even further, including one who was 14 at the time.

It has embarrassed both Democrats and Republicans, with both being guilty of partisan attacks while turning a blind eye to their own transgressors.

But the notion that Mr. Trump himself would weigh in given his own history of crude talk about women and the multiple allegations against him surprised many in Washington who thought he could not surprise them anymore. A typical politician with Mr. Trump’s history would stay far away from discussing someone else’s behavior lest it dredge his own back into the spotlight.

But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarely deterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy.

White House aides labored on Friday to distinguish Mr. Trump’s case from those of others, arguing that the president’s conduct was not at issue because he won the election last year after voters had a chance to evaluate both the claims against him and his denials.

That’s typical of the excuse making for their own, something that has more than tacitly approved of and enabled ongoing sexual harassment going back at least fifty five years to the abuses of President Kennedy.

“This was covered pretty extensively during the campaign,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this president.”

She added that Mr. Trump still maintained that the more than a dozen women who have said that he kissed or groped them against their will were all lying. And she acknowledged no double standard in the president chastising others for sexual misconduct.

“Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t,” she said. “I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

Yes, it is a clear distinction. Franken has admitted what he did was wrong, happening in an area that allowed it.

Of course Hillary Clinton has waded in to this.

But Democrats saw the distinction differently. Hillary Clinton said Mr. Franken’s apology and call for an ethics committee investigation “is the kind of accountability I’m talking about — I don’t hear that from Roy Moore or Donald Trump.”

Speaking with Rita Cosby on WABC Radio, Mrs. Clinton added, “Look at the contrast between Al Franken, accepting responsibility, apologizing, and Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who have done neither.”

There’s a high degree of irony there given that tacl of apology and accountability of her husband, Bill.

For her own part, the sexual harassment conversation has been uncomfortable for Mrs. Clinton as well. Conservatives defending Mr. Moore point to various allegations made against Bill Clinton when he was president, including sexual assault, and even some liberals said they should rethink their defense of the 42nd president.

On Franken versus Ttrump she has a valid point.

But the condemning of opponents alongside defending of their own politicians by both Democrats and Republicans is evidence of a morally corrupt political system in the United States.

Trump’s denials, now alongside his mocking of Franken, looks distinctly like a socially corrupt president. The worst rot, whether it be Kennedy, Clinton (Bill) or Trump, is clearly at the top.

Accusations and trials in public by media are far from ideal, and will be manifestly unfair to some.

But this rot has been allowed to continue for a long time, and actions outside the old way of doing things (blind eyes and under-carpet sweeping) needed something drastic and unconventional to break the cycle of harassment and abuse.

And apart from the nonsense of “the president’s conduct was not at issue because he won the election last year after voters had a chance to evaluate both the claims against him and his denials”:

RCP average Trump approval:

  • Disapprove 56.9%
  • Approve 38.4%

The US voters did choose a president with a highly suspect past, but that was over an opponent with her own suspect past plus the known poor sexual behaviour of her husband. That’s not a strong position from which one can claim the moral high ground.

There is evidence at least of Trump having an appalling attitude to women in the past. The pot should start by addressing that adequately.

Senator next target, sexual harassment reckoning floodgates

The Harvey Weinstein revelations and accusations seem to have opened the floodgates of accusations of sexual harassment in the US. Kevin Spacey has also been publicly disgraced, Republican candidate for the Senate Roy Moore is under fire and now  a Democratic senator, Al Franken, the latest to be accused publicly.

Sexual impropriety by politicians is nothing new in the US, with prominent examples John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and the current president Donald Trump, but it now seems that accusations are being taken seriously and are getting traction.

The GOP has just been rocked by a string of accusations against a Senate candidate – Trump has distanced himself as more accusers emerge – Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall:

Gena Richardson says she was a high school senior working in the men’s department of Sears at the Gadsden Mall when a man approached her and introduced himself as Roy Moore.

His overtures caused one store manager to tell new hires to “watch out for this guy,” another young woman to complain to her supervisor and Richardson to eventually hide from him when he came in Sears, the women say.

Richardson says Moore — now a candidate for U.S. Senate — asked her where she went to school, and then for her phone number, which she says she declined to give, telling him that her father, a Southern Baptist preacher, would never approve.

Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered. They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, “forceful” kiss that left her scared.

Moore’s campaign did not directly address the new allegations. In a statement, a campaign spokesman cast the growing number of allegations against Moore as politically motivated.

There is a possibility some accusations may involve political motivations but the number of people being exposed suggest the tip of a much bigger iceberg, an insidious iceberg.

And a sitting Senator has also just been accused: Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It:

On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’

He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.

He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.

I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.

I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.

I felt disgusted and violated.

Unwanted advances are not uncommon at all levels of society, but it seems like the male political and media elite in the US are finally being exposed.

Prior to now acceptance and tacit approval of the actions of Kennedy, Clinton and Trump have been swept under political carpets, with power being seen as more important for both Democrats and Republicans than confronting and dealing properly with sexual harassment.

Jeff Greenfield writes: How Roy Moore’s Misdeeds Are Forcing an Awakening on the Left

Years of excusing Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct suddenly seems morally indefensible.

Watching the political contortions of Republicans to defend a candidate accused of sexually molesting teenage girls, Democrats and liberal pundits are reckoning publicly with their own history of fervid rationalizations on behalf of a recent president. But this should be just the beginning of a painful re-examination.

This new consciousness was glimpsed first in a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, a commentator of a stoutly progressive persuasion. “As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is,” he wrote, “it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.”

It was glimpsed in passing in a New York Times editorial, Ground Zero of conventional liberalism. “Remember former President Bill Clinton, whose popularity endures despite a long string of allegations of sexual misconduct and, in one case, rape—all of which he has denied,” it said.

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, where coastal elitism is a badge of honor, acknowledged the elephant in the room this way: “That so many women have summoned the courage to make public their allegations against Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly—or that many have come to reconsider some of the claims made against Bill Clinton—represents a cultural passage.”

These allegations have long been a part of the right-wing media’s talking points. Sean Hannity invoked them on an almost daily basis during the 2016 campaign, and they were used by Donald Trump as a protective shield, to ward off the charges of serial sexual harassment and the boastful confessions of same on the “Access Hollywood” tape. During the 2016 campaign, Trump brought these three women to a presidential debate, as living, breathing arguments for “whataboutism.”

But from the political center leftward, those allegations never reached critical mass. Maybe it was the very way the Right not only seized on the stories, but made them part of a much broader, far less credible series of accusations. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell spent years peddling “the Clinton Chronicles,” a series of videos that charged the Clintons with complicity in any number of murders. A congressional committee chair used a rifle and a watermelon to try to show that White House aide Vince Foster had been murdered, rather than taking his own life; As late as last year, the fever swamps were rife with stories of a pedophilic sex trafficking ring operating out of the basement of a popular Washington pizza parlor. Any one of these flights of lunacy acted as the 13th stroke of the clock, casting doubt not only on itself, but on every other allegation.

So what changed? Three people: Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

At the height of the Lewinsky impeachment melodrama, Clinton’s defenders always argued that the president’s behavior was a private matter. To this day, you can find references to Clinton’s “dalliances” and “peccadilloes.”

People have long excused sexual impropriety and harassment as normal ‘red-blooded male’ behaviour, which has allowed what I think is a small minority of males to continue as sexual predators virtually unchecked. That seems to have suddenly change.

In the end, though, neither Clinton nor Kennedy can escape the “reckoning” of which Hayes and Flanagan refer. In the case of Kennedy, his treatment of women was not simply callous, but jeopardized his presidency. In the case of Clinton, his public policies cannot erase the serious doubts about whether a sexual predator occupied the White House for eight years. And even measured by partisan concerns, Clinton’s behavior materially, perhaps fatally, wounded the campaigns of Gore and Hillary Clinton.

For many of us, it is easy to look at Weinstein, Trump and Moore as case studies in pathological behavior. Looking closer to home is a lot more painful; it is also compulsory.

Unless and until partisans across the board stop justifying unconscionable behavior out of political self-interest, the more likely it is that the pervasive cynicism about the process, and everyone involved in it, will fester and grow.

Emboldened victims (mostly but not all female) may stem the festering. The dirty most male non-secret may finally be addressed.

There are risks of course – trial by media, false or exaggerated accusations, political agendas may all play a part in some cases of unfairness and injustice.

But they are likely to be small degrees of shall we call it collateral damage. For a long long time unfairness and injustice has been allowed to continue virtually unabated, creating a large number of victims. This has had a profound and damaging effect on our society.

While the direct victims are obviously the worst affected there has been a lot of damage done to families and partners and others too. Innocent males have been indirectly affected by association and suspicion – it is understandable that victims become suspicious of and can have difficulty with relationships with far more than the actual perpetrators.

Addressing this insidious problem properly – with some inevitable unfair damage – is overdue, and may have a massive effect on our society in the future. We will all benefit.