'There are always ways to do something'
The Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association began its 2018-19 membership year Thursday with a CLE that addressed an issue that can be hard to talk about: Preventing sexual assault in the legal profession.
“It’s a tough topic that disproportionately affects women. It contributes to women leaving the practice and that means a loss of talent and diversity,” said JWLA President Jamie Karpman.
Through interactive exercises, elements of sexual abuse, violence and improper behavior that can occur in any workplace were presented and then discussed by about 40 attendees.
Kennedy said that statistically, one in six women and one in 33 men are the victim of some form of sexual assault, whether verbal or physical, in the workplace.
“But the numbers don’t matter. One person assaulted is too many,” he said.
Hypothetical scenarios tailored to a law firm or the courtroom were presented, such as if someone is being verbally abused in the atrium at the courthouse or if a client makes improper physical contact with his or her attorney during a conference in the office.
Another hypothetical involved if a partner sent an email around the office asking his colleagues to “rate the hottest paralegal.”
Attendees were asked to offer possible reactions and interventions and discussed the relative merits of each option.
Graber said it’s up to people who are aware of improper behavior to find a way to intervene. That can be as simple as distracting the offender to help the victim avoid the situation or as proactive as reporting improper behavior to the offender’s manager or the human resources department.
“There are always ways to do something,” said Graber.
Kennedy said the program has been facilitated locally at schools and universities, but the JWLA presentation was its first to members of the legal community.
After hearing responses to the scenarios from the attorneys, including several labor and employment law specialists, Graber said that for him, it was more than presenting the program to another group of professionals, it was an enlightening lesson in judicial and legal ethics.
“In the legal environment, there are more avenues of relief, but it still takes someone to speak up,” he said.
“Think about your influence and use your power,” Kennedy advised.
Karpman said after the presentation that the association plans to make eliminating, or at least intervening in, improper sexual conduct in the workplace an annual CLE topic.
The next time it’s offered she’d like to see a more diverse audience.
“We need more men in the room,” she said.