The scandal involving the allegations against Dyson Heydon, former justice of the High Court (who emphatically denies the claims), confirmed that the scourge of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces was also to be found in the chambers of one of the seven most senior judges in the country. An unquestioning reliance on the calibre of the fine legal minds appointed to the High Court had blinded us to the reality that sexual harassment is as common in the legal profession as it is in corporate Australia and in all other industries. In particular, in the legal profession, a hierarchical structure and a culture of silence had served to perpetuate feelings of embarrassment, fear and shame on the part of victims.
In Power & Consent, Rachel Doyle, a practising Senior Counsel for over a decade, argues that we need to understand the power relationships at the heart of the modern workplace. Sexual harassment is rarely a ‘one off’. Perpetrators continue their harassment because they are not called to account for their actions. Silence and complicity allow recidivists to go unpunished and normalise the phenomenon of ‘getting away with it’. Perpetrators must be taught what consent means.
This book demands a new response to complaints of sexual harassment; one which recognises the power of strength in numbers, the probative value of multiple complaints, and the restorative power of grievances shared. It also calls for the imposition of new obligations: it asks bystanders to become participants and to take collective responsibility for supporting victims and stopping perpetrators.
Rachel Doyle SC is a barrister practising in Melbourne. She has been at the Victorian Bar since 1996 and was appointed Senior Counsel in 2009. She specialises in industrial and employment law, discrimination law, class actions and negligence. She has appeared in a number of royal commissions and inquiries, including as one of the counsel assisting team in the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission in 2009. She has a Bachelor of Arts and an Honours degree in law from Adelaide University. She was associate to Justice Daryl Dawson of the High Court from 1994 to 1996.