Wellington Scoop

VUW students march in protest against sexual harassment in legal fraternity

News from VUWSA
Hundreds of students today took their fight for workplaces free from sexual violence and harassment to the doorstep of Wellington’s professional services. An estimated 300 tertiary students and supporters marched from Victoria University’s Law School, to Midland Park, on Lambton Quay, protesting the inadequate response from Russell McVeagh to allegations of sexual assault, and asking that all workplaces do better.

Bethany Paterson, fifth year VUW law student and VUWSA Welfare Vice President, says students and graduates deserve more from their current and future employers.

“I’ve not studied law for four years to be assaulted and harassed in the workplace. The support here today shows just how much we need to be having this conversation with the right people, right now.”

At the march, student leaders from the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ Society and VUW Feminist Law Society presented a “student to-do list” which asked for all legal firms to improve the way they dealt with sexual assault and harassment.

As a result of students’ concerns, Wellington Central MP and Minister for Finance Grant Robertson has contacted VUWSA in support of of the Kaupapa of the march, and said he was keen to sit down with students to discuss how to achieve safer workplaces.

Victoria University of Wellington staff showed their support, with Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford addressing students at the front of the Law School before they marched down Lambton Quay, encouraging them to report all instances of sexual assault, and the University would throw their full support behind survivors.

Students were joined at the rally by Employment Lawyer Steph Dhryberg, Faculty of Law lecturer Yvette Tinsley and Wellington City Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons who all applauded the courage of young students and graduates for coming forward and calling out a culture which has persisted for too long.

The Students’ To-Do List:

Preventing sexual harassment and assault
– Consent education for all staff, focusing on power imbalances and alcohol
– Clear and transparent process for sexual assault and harassment reporting

Victim-centric approach
– The victim will be treated with dignity and respect, and will be at the centre of the process – their views and response comes first
– Counselling will be offered to the victim

Report to New Zealand Law Society
– Every serious incident of sexual assault and/or harassment will be reported to the New Zealand Law Society, so that they can fulfil their role to regulate all lawyers

Cut ties to perpetrators
– On every serious incident of sexual assault and/or harassment, the law firm’s relationship to the perpetrator will be terminated – and this fact will not be kept secret.

Earlier News from VUWSA
Victoria University students today marched from their Law School grounds to Midland Park in protest against the sexual harassment and violence that students, interns and graduates are subject to within the legal fraternity and professional services.

Stories of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace are increasing, as more survivors have the courage to come forward, and students are wanting to call out all professional services to be more accountable for shutting down this behaviour. This is following this year’s revelations about the treatment of interns and graduates while working for Russell McVeagh.

Students from the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA), Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS) and the VUW Feminist Law Society (VUWFLS) led the “March on Midland: Rally to End Sexual Violence”, to speak out against the toxic culture and power imbalance which is putting students and graduates at risk, particularly in the professional services.

Students are seeking three key outcomes from the rally:

for Russell McVeagh to be suspended from any further public work until their external review has been completed and they are held to the ethical standard that should be expected of firms advising the government.

for all law firms to adopt the ‘students to-do list’, which includes adopting a zero tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment in their workplaces.

for support from the legal profession, university, elected representatives and wider community to hear our voices, listen to our stories and stand up for safety in the workplace. Our students and alumni, quite frankly, deserve better.

“We deserve to be confident that we will be treated with dignity and respect at work, at university, at home – everywhere,” says Bethany Paterson, VUWSA Welfare Vice President and a fifth year law student. “We want senior lawyers to mentor and teach us, rather than reduce us to objects to stare at and grope. There is no amount of re-wording, re-phrasing, or re-drafting that can justify sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.”

“We are trusting you with our careers and ambitions, please take care of them and us,” Bethany says.

Indiana Shewen, a fifth year law student and VUWLSS Vice President Administration and Equity, says the March on Midland is about standing in solidarity with victims and survivors of sexual violence in all forms.

“We recognise that Māori, other ethnic minorities, gender and sexual minorities and people with disabilities are all impacted differently. Often young women are the victims, but this is not always the case – anyone can be a victim. Every story is important and we stand for all of them.”

“It is clear that sexual assault and harassment are pervasive problems within the legal profession, and not limited to one firm. We are calling for a re-haul of this inadequate culture – we do not accept sexual violence in any form.”

The march began at 12.30 from the VUW Law School grounds on Bunny St. Speeches from students and politicians were held at Midland Park from 1pm.

People attending the march were asked to wear black, in solidarity with the national Thursdays in Black campaign which aims to create a world without rape and violence through raising awareness, action and support.

News from VUWSA = March 9
The Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association is proudly supporting students’ right to demand a workplace free from sexual harassment and violence.

Recent stories of unwelcome and unsafe sexualised behaviour towards interns and graduates in the professional services have left the student body unsettled and ready to challenge the toxic culture that seems to have thrived for too long.

VUWSA President Marlon Drake says while the allegations against Russell McVeagh started the conversation, the firm’s inability to truly acknowledge the extent of the issue, or appropriately deal with the staff at the centre of the allegations, has forced students to act.

“We respect and applaud the women who had the courage to first speak out and lay complaints and we support our students now who are demanding a change in culture and practice within all law firms and other professional services.”

“The primary function of a students’ association, to support and encourage people who want to see change happen and that’s what we’re aiming to do with this rally,” Drake says. VUWSA members will proudly lead the march, alongside students from the VUW Law Students’ Society and VUW Feminist Law Society on Thursday.

Several hundred students have registered their interest in next week’s March on Midland on Facebook.

Supporters are asked to gather at the VUW Law School grounds on Bunny St at 11:45am on Thursday, 15 March. The March will begin from 12:30pm and speeches from students and politicians will be held at Midland Park from 1pm.

People attending the march are asked to wear black, in solidarity with the national Thursdays in Black campaign which aims to create a world without rape and violence through awareness, action and support.


  1. Fleur Fitzsimons, 15. March 2018, 13:47

    Well done to VUWSA for the very constructive to-do list aimed at the law profession:
    1. Prevention. 2. Victim-centred approach. 3. Report to the law society. 4. Cut ties with perpetrators.
    Every act of sexual violence and harassment is preventable. [via twitter]

  2. Deborah Russell MP, 15. March 2018, 13:56

    So good to see so many young people protesting against sexual harassment, and so proud that my daughter is there, along with many of her friends. [via twitter]

  3. Reed Fleming, 15. March 2018, 15:14

    Pretty proud to be a VUW/Law School/VUWSA alumni when I saw this rally in Wellington today. Thrilled that there seems to have been a big cultural change since I graduated. [via twitter]

  4. BasilF, 15. March 2018, 16:14

    Will they be off to Fraser House next?