Over the last couple of years, the problem of sexual harassment (in all areas of life) has come into sharper focus and greater public awareness. Even many women who have personally experienced sexual harassment or assault did not know the true scale of the problem because it was seldom discussed publicly. Thankfully, that is changing.
As we have these difficult conversations and ask victims to come forward, we are learning that no profession is immune from workplace sexual harassment – including the legal profession. According to a recent survey of nearly 7,000 attorneys in 135 countries, nearly a third of female lawyers reported being a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The survey, which was conducted by the International Bar Association (IBA), also found that nearly half of female attorneys had been bullied at work.
One might be tempted to assume that because this was an international survey, the prevalence of sexual harassment outside the United States would be inflating the overall numbers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In North America (presumably the U.S. and Canada), 43.3 percent of female attorneys reported being sexually harassed. That’s a higher rate than was reported in Latin America, Asia, Western Europe, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Male attorneys also disclosed being harassed or bullied, but the rates were much lower. According to the IBA survey, one in 14 men said they had been sexually harassed and a third of men had been bullied.
Whether the victim is male or female, 75 percent of sexual harassment incidents are never officially reported. That is an indication of just how widespread harassment is and how difficult it can be for victims to feel safe enough to come forward.
Although there is still much work to be done to combat sexual harassment in the legal profession, attorneys are nonetheless among the strongest advocates for other victims of workplace sexual harassment. If you are being harassed and nothing is being done to help you, please discuss your options with an experienced employment law attorney in your area.