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March 19, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Students March Against Sexual Assault

On Thursday 5 March 2018, students in Wellington marched from the Law School to outside the Russell McVeagh Wellington office to protest sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

Around 250 people, dressed in black in solidarity with Thursdays in Black, attended. The march was organized by the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, the Victoria University of Wellington Feminist Law Society, and the Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ society (VUWLSS).

VUWSA said the allegations of sexual misconduct coming to light recently about Russell McVeagh, and the firm’s underwhelming response to the matter, have “forced students to act”. Allegations involved Victoria University students clerking at Russell McVeagh.

“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.”

Chants included “Russell McVeagh, assaulting people’s not ok”, and “students, united, will never be divided”.

Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford said he was “very proud of our students, highlighting this issue by a public march”. He is eager to reduce barriers to reporting, and noted that this problem is not restricted to law firm internships, but is seen in many businesses.

Demands made at the march included the removal of Russell McVeagh from the Government panel, the reporting of sexual assault allegations to the Law Society, for law firms to cut ties with perpetrators, and consent education for all staff.

Speakers at the rally included VUWSA Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer Beth Paterson, VUWSA Acting Academic Vice President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, Wellington City Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, Associate Professor at the Victoria University School of Law Yvette Tinsley, and Partner at Dyhrberg Drayton Employment Law Steph Dyhrberg.

Nina Weir, a third year law student, said it’s “important that we say something”. She is excited about her future clerkship, since she believes the culture is being changed. “It’s gonna be a completely different sphere in a few years.” She is glad that VUWSA is responding. “We feel heard.”

Jess Trask, a fourth year law student, said she felt apprehensive about her impending clerkship. “The culture’s out there, it’s still an old boys’ club.” She said she would prefer to clerk at Russell McVeagh. “Odd as it sounds. Because they’ve been through the scandal already.”

Victoria University has cut ties with Russell McVeagh until the outcome of the external review and the firm’s response to it.

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