After Erica Giulione felt publicly humiliated and bullied by a male lawyer, she received an apology – and a warning. She had better get used to it if she wanted to work in the legal profession.
“He apologised, but then he said that I’d better get used to it if I wanted to become a lawyer. He legitimised his behaviour as something that was normal in the profession,” she said.
That personal experience motivated her to join four other students at the University of Sydney in designing an app to help law graduates record and report incidents of sexual harassment and bullying.
The students, from law, media, policy and computing backgrounds have developed Confidant – a free digital platform to help anyone in the legal profession to anonymously record and report incidents. The students who developed the app also include Amer Nasr, 26, Amy Su, 20, Marcus Lee, 23, and Urvashi Bandhu, 27.
Ms Bandhu left the industry after being publicly humiliated by her male colleagues in India. She thought the poor treatment of female lawyers was restricted to her home country. After arriving in Australia to study public policy at the University of Sydney, she discovered the same problem “was beyond borders”.
“When I was a young graduate, I was subjected to constant bullying from seniors and public humiliation,” she said.
“I left the law because of what I went through. I thought it was a cultural problem in a developing country. But then I realised the problem was equal here.”
Ms Giulione, 26, who studied criminology at the University of Ottawa in Canada before starting her post-graduate law degree at the University of Sydney, said she was shocked to read headlines in Australia about sexual harassment in politics and the judiciary. She said young lawyers were often reluctant to report incidents.
“We’re worried that our careers could be curtailed by an allegation of harassment – we could get blacklisted, and we may feel that our colleagues wouldn’t support us. This can be a lonely road,” she said.