What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 27 March 2023 – 2 April 2023

Former Victorian Magistrate ‘Sexually Harassed’ Junior Solicitor

A Victorian magistrate has been stood down following allegations he sexually harassed a young solicitor in December of last year. Mr Richard Pithouse resigned on 24 March this year due to concerns made about his “in-court behaviour last September.” According to the article, the former magistrate was alleged to have “communicated with a junior solicitor, whom he was in a mentoring relationship with, in an unprofessional and inappropriate manner”. The Judicial Commission stated on Wednesday this week that it was “satisfied the alleged conduct could be characterised as sexual harassment… of the junior solicitor.” Further, Mr Pithouse has stated in the past that “intoxication is not an excuse for the purposes of the tribunal” and suggested that it was a domestic violence victim’s “right to get beaten up if she wants to.” Mr Pithouse has been stood down in the past due to complaints of his behaviour, including suggesting a rape victim was experiencing “buyer’s remorse” and that the woman “had put herself in that position.” Further, the former magistrate has faced convictions of failing to stop after he crashed into the back of a parked car and drove off.

Employees of Victoria’s Prison System Subject to Sexual Harassment and Bullying

A new report released by the justice department details the widespread presence of workplace harm amongst employees of the Victorian prison system. According to the report, 17% of all staff had experienced sexual harassment from their colleagues, of which 69% related to sexually suggestive comments and offensive jokes, while 52% involved intrusive and unwelcome questions. Further, the report found that “senior staff and operational staff were identified as perpetrators at a disproportionately high rate.” 52% of staff experienced bullying from their colleagues in the custodial workplace, including 64% of staff having witnessed a colleague as the perpetrator. The report further explains that discrimination “was the second most commonly experienced harmful workplace behaviour reported by survey respondents.” Verbal abuse and taunts accounted for the most common forms of discrimination, with participants highlighting that “corrections staff made casual comments about racial stereotypes, made gendered jokes, and talked about the characteristics of staff and people in custody in a way that was openly derogatory.” According to the article, prison staff reported that sexual harassment and bullying had increased the difficulty of their already challenging positions, causing many to resign or consider quitting, with some workers developing substance issues and suicidal thoughts.

Jury to Deliver Verdict for Charges of Sexual Abuse for Former Victorian Principal

The jury in the Malka Leifer sexual assault trial has reached a verdict on some of the alleged charges, with a decision yet to be revealed in court. Mrs Leifer is facing 27 charges relating to incidents that allegedly occurred while she was principal of the Adass Israel school in south-east Melbourne. The charges include rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17, with two charges abandoned prior to the commencement of the trial. The three complainants (Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper), all of which are sisters, submitted statements to the police alleging that they were abused on the school grounds, school camps and at Mrs Leifer’s home. The jury asked Judge Mark Gamble on Tuesday this week how to navigate a deadlock. Judge Gamble instructed the jury to continue deliberating as juries had been able to “reach conclusive decisions… with time” in the past. The foreperson agreed that the jury required further time to deliberate and to resolve the deadlock issue. The jury is set to return to court on Monday, 27 March.

Australia Post Introduces New Access and Inclusion Program

The Australia Post introduced on Monday this week its new Access and Inclusion Plan for the 2023 to 2025 period. The plan details its commitments to improve the experiences of Australia Post’s “team members, customers and communities over the next three years.” The proposal is the first to introduce specific actions to support carers, as well as “enhanced accessibility options across Post Offices, websites and mobile apps.” According to the article, Australia Post is one of the most diverse workforces since the introduction of the first Accessibility Action Plan in 2012, with 5.6 per cent of team members identifying as having disability and having an “average tenure of 16 years.” Executive General Manager Susan Davies said that the program has “introduced new tools to better assist our team members, such as… haptics on our scanners, ensuring our many delivery team members who are deaf have the tools they need to get the job done.”