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.