Sexual harassment in the High Court

Dyson Heydon.

It’s an unusual name and one associated with power. As a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Dyson Heydon wielded power in the highest court in the land.

And now the name Dyson Heydon is associated with sexual harassment and a shattered reputation.

If you have seen the press in the past few days, you will know that an independent investigation commissioned by the High Court of Australia has upheld numerous allegations of sexual harassment against the former High Court Justice.

Since then, additional stories of harassment have come to light and it seems Mr Heydon’s reputation for predatory behaviour toward young women was a widely-known secret in legal circles.

What is it about powerful men and the bullying and harassment of younger women?

A study released in March by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, found that workplace sexual harassment occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level in Australian workplaces (see https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-sexual-harassment-national-inquiry-report-2020).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment are those in male-dominated industries. Of particular interest to me was the finding that workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment also include those with fewer women in senior positions.

The report also sets out the impact of sexual harassment on the workplace. Put simply, it is devastating for the victims and enormously costly for business.

We must have zero tolerance for the abuse of power. If it can happen in the upper echelons of society it can happen, and is happening, everywhere.

Dyson Heydon. An unusual name, and perhaps the name needed to start a #metoo movement in legal circles.

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Let’s get more women into senior roles so that there are more gender-balanced leadership teams and fewer workplaces in the higher risk categories for sexual harassment.

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