This article is based on extracts from the Speaking Secrets podcast, a co-production by NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB. For the full episode with fifth year law student Beth Paterson, as well as further interviews with Sexual Abuse Help Wellington general manager Conor Twyford and Detective Sergeant Ben Quinn, listen to the podcast below. You can subscribe to Speaking Secrets on iHeartRadio and iTunes.
A student who led black-clad protesters down Wellington’s streets following serious allegations against Russell McVeagh says the law firm is in a dark place.
Dame Margaret Bazley is leading an external review of sexual harassment incidents at the firm after claims of inappropriate behaviour toward young, female law-clerk students.
Bazley is a formidable investigator whose 2007 report into police conduct sparked a major overhaul of the New Zealand Police, following the Louise Nicholas case.
“When it comes to the point where your organisation needs an external review by Dame Margaret Bazley you need be taking a really long hard look at yourself and wondering how the hell did you get to that point, like, that is a dark place for a company to be in when you’re needing that kind of action”, fifth year Victoria University law student Beth Paterson said.
She felt relieved when the story about the allegations broke earlier this year – by then, the whispers had reached boiling point.
“A lot of people felt really angry about what had come out about Russell McVeagh and super emotional about it because these are people who have sat in our lecture theatres with us and gone to law events with us.”
Paterson took to the streets surrounded by classmates and supporters to voice that anger and to call for change at a firm accused of allowing sexual harassment to run rife.
They carried signs reading “law firms not above the law” and “not ur summer menu”.
“The absolute adrenaline and power of the community was just out of this world. The feeling of bursting out of law school, which felt like a tsunami of force of my community storming down Lambton Quay at breakneck speed. I was actually trying to slow us down”, Paterson said.
In an earlier statement, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood said they were “all truly sorry and horrified” the incidents occurred.
“We are committed to ensuring that such incidents do not happen again.”
A spokeswoman has said the firm does not have anything further to add to the statements available on its website, and that they were awaiting the outcome of the review, which would be made public.
Paterson said people who haven’t been sexually abused still have a role to play in speaking out by backing their friends.
“We’re talking about no separation, basically, between people who’ve been abused and people who know someone who’s been abused – whether that’s in a law firm or not is by the by.
“I think the universality of that experience is so unfortunate and depressing, but it also means that we can all be a community speaking about this together.”