"På en avdelningsmiddag la han en femkrona i en domstrolssekreterares urringning".

#bywhatright: Upholding the law

2020-01-10 | Undertecknarna padlock


When a sexual assault takes place we depend on the judicial system. During #MeToo in Sweden in the autumn of 2017 women in the legal system came forward with testimonies of harassment and chauvinism within the sector. ”If you represent the law, it would be appropriate to also safeguard it”, 5 965 signatories wrote in their petition that was first published in Svenska dagbladet the 15th of November 2017.

Equality is first and foremost a question of justice, of having the same possibilities, rights and obligations regardless of who you are. This should be especially important within a profession that is supposed to be engaged in justice and the equal rights of all. If you represent the law, it would be appropriate to also safeguard it.

The world of acting is not the only one that is plagued by a widespread culture of silence. Just 24 hours after people in the legal sector decided to come together hundereds of testimonies about wrongdoing were received. Due to the massive interest we had to put a limit on the testimonies the day after we started the petition. Three days after the thought was initially conceived, thousands of women, from all areas of the legal sector and all ages have joined the petition. The testimonies we now share are both new and old. Some have experiences going back several years in time and this is the first time they have found the courage to share them. The stories are mostly first hand information and are proof of abuse of different degrees of seriousness from men in positions in power who abuse positions of dependency. But we have also received stories that cover things that have been witnessed but whom the person in question have not dared to take action against.

”The first day in law school we were welcomed by the words: Here we educate the best lawyers and Sweden’s best educated house wives.”

”Rape case – the male lawyer asks me to find all available information about guys, clothes, pictures etcetera of the injured party in order to show how ’slutty’ she was. I refused as it had no relevance to the case, and was only embarassing. Instead he was aided by a male colleague and took me off the internal time record of the case, which later was used for the billing statistis.”

”Being pregnant while working as a notary I was in communication with external actors referred to by the judge as ’the pregnant notary’ and then not to be included in the schedule of a large doping court case because ’one as a new mother develops so called mummy genes that make you not wanting to return to work at the time that was decided upon in the application of parental leave.’”

”I was offered a fair amount of alcohol at a private dinner by a lecturer at the law school and then fell asleep on his couch. When I woke up all the others had left and he was having sex with me. Afterwards he offered to call a taxi. The person in question has also worked as a court of appeal judge.”

”Rumour was spread that a partner and a boss at my law firm were caught buying sexual services [illegal in Sweden]. At a meeting the partner claimed he had taken the blame in order to protect a client. The other partners believed the unlikely story without any reservations and he was allowed to keep on working at the firm. Us female legal associates found out information about the summary imposition of a fine and it was a clearcut case, it was the partner and no one else who had paid two baltic prostitutes to perform oral sex on him. The police had been right outside recording and he was caught in the act. We revealed his lie to the other partners who silenced the whole thing. The convicted partner was the one raising the most money for the law firm. I left the firm as fast as I could.”

”Male lawyers call the seat for the counsel of an injured party as the ’lassie’s chair’ in order to belittle. Often she represents a female victim of a crime.”

”After a hearing in one of Sweden’s courts of appeal one of the male judges suddenly says: ’One wouldn’t say no to that, ha ha’ about the female attorney.”

”I wrote an opinion piece about affirmative action with regards to boards of directors. In general we in the law firm were encouraged to ’participate in the public discourse’ and my article was approved of by the human resource manager and partner before it was published in an online newspaper. It was shared widely. After its publication it was ok among the partners to joke in unbridled manners about me being a feminist. I was only to be given crisp bread during the Friday coffee break one of the partners wrote in an e-mail to the whole firm. The managing partner passed me while I was having lunch on my own in the law firms’ kitchen and he threw me a calender with ads for sportscars and said: ’here, you could do with a bit of macho’ and then left. I was 27 years old, a new graduate and had been employed there for six months.

”’You used to be so gorgeous. Now you're an elephant’. A comment by a male lawyer after my first pregnancy when I had gone from a size six to a size eight. ’What do you think your partner will think about you putting on so much weight? Men usually prefers the woman to keep the looks she had when they first met.’ Male boss after I put on five kilos after a second pregnancy.”

”He’s a public prosecutor and not unknown. I was a new graduate. We don’t work at the same work place but met on a business related issue. He was nice and good fun initially, wanted to take me to dinner. He wanted us to meet up soon again. I politely declined. He then started calling me ’honey’, telling me I had simply not understood what a catch he was and that I didn’t know what I was saying no to. He kept on asking me. When he was at a congress for work he called me. Drunk. It was two o’clock at night. From a blocked number. He called again and again, a minute in between. I answered, worried that something had happend to a family member or relative. With slurred speech he told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me. I told him I wasn’t interested and that he should go to sleep and sober up. He called again and again. Sent me text messages, left messages. Alternately slurred messages of love, alternately anger and insults such ’fucking whore’, ’you fucking cunt’ and threats such as ’If you don’t pick up you are over. I will make sure you are blacklisted, you will never get a job as a lawyer. I know lots of people, I will make sure your career is over before it has even started.’ He demanded I pick up the phone ’or else’...The threats were getting worse and worse, and began to include threats of assault and violence. I turned the phone to silence mood. In the morning I had 27 missed calls, 16 messages on the answering machine and some 20 texts. In the afternoon he called me, initially full of regret. He said he meant no harm, but didn’t I get that he had feelings for me? Didn't I get that he could help my career? He was of the opinion that I should see reason and meet him. I told him no. Then he started screaming what ’cunt and whore’ I was, that I should watch it carefully, that he’d make sure I would never be able to work as a lawyer etcetera. I hung up. He called me back up and screamed into the answering machine that ’I should be fucked violently’ and so on. All because he wouldn’t accept that I as a new lawyer turned him down. That I said no. I didn’t report it to the police. There’d be nothing for me to gain by it, only to lose. He still calls me/texts me sometimes when drunk. I ignore it. And I would never apply for a job at the prosecution office where he works. From what I know he hasn't turned his threats about ruining my career into action – but who knows what he might do if we ever met and his anger ignited anew.”

”As a new graduate, young and inexperienced I started at a shitty salary at the small law firm. When I tried to negotiate a minor raise in front of two of my considerably older male bosses (who were both well established and rather well known lawyers) one of them smiled and asked me in a smug tone of voice ’Oh, she wants a higher salary does she? Could it be you're pregnant love?’ as they both cracked up laughing. I remember that it made me feel uncomfortable, my cheeks turned red and I felt stupid, while inside I was boiling over, I felt offended but couldn’t muster a reply. At a later time the same boss challenged me as to why I wore blouses that covered my bum as he thought they looked like maternity wear. He thought ’you should show off your ass and be proud of your curves rather than use tent-like clothes’. I only put up with that work place for a year.”

On doing internship:

”When we select our interns it is crucial to be goodlooking or smart. Why do you think you got an internship, it’s not really due to your talents?”

”If all our interns had entered a cock sucking competition I really think you would have won.”

”I was going through a case in the house of the legal staff who was responsible for the internship. As soon as his partner had fallen asleep he stopped working, put on porno on the telly and started masturbating in front of me. I left, called in sick, changed the subject for my thesis, with a delay in my graduating as a consequence.”

The harassments continued later on in the career:

”At my summer job a colleague told me in an e-mail that he ’had to go home and change his outfit as he came in his pants just to see me get coffee’. This after sending me uninvited propositions in e-mails daily.”

”As a law clerk I was told by a judge that I should ’enter a charm school so that the other court clerks wouldn’t get jealous since I was so much hotter than them’. I was also told that they believed that I was ’distracting the counsels when I insisted on having my hair down, wearing lipstick and heels.”

”At the law firm after I had finished my service as a law clerk I received invites at different events by a married partner of the firm. Another partner was angry because he didn’t manage to make me cry at work. That’s what female ’britisar’ [law clerks] normally did if they cared about their job enough in order to be of the right fit for partnership. I changed workplace after just a few months.”

”After finishing as a notary at the district court a judge at the court became somewhat a mentor for me. He supported me, gave me tips and advice and one day he showed up at my office and wanted me to pay him back. With oral sex.”

Cultures of abuse benefit from informal and precarious structures, where women who are in a state of dependency can be taken advantage of. Maybe it’s not strange that nothing happens. Those with the power to change, those who have the power of decision of promotion, employment, wage determination and allocation of tasks are also those who benefit from the existing structure, or risk having to pay a heavy price for advocating change.

Change assumes that many are on board, while at the same time few are willing to voluntarily hand over power. Reactions such as ’the management had no knowledge of this’, or the questioning of as to why information has ’not come to light earlier’ is not uncommon. This indicates a lack of understanding of the issues. Good leadership should be based on science, not on ’opinions and perceptions’. It should be proactive not reactive.

Our testimonies also identifies apologetic, challenging and trivialisation of the accounts by the women who have had the courage to come forward.

”A fellow PhD student was often held up as the very promising scholar. In reality he spent all his time sitting in his office watching porno. He commented the looks of the female colleagues and gave tips on what porno movies to study in order to become less prude and more uninhibited. When all of us joined for after-work drinks he sometimes brought along young women he had found at some sex site and were making out with them front of us. His behaviour was seen as a norm and he was the one chosen for prestigious events and grants. Nothing could interfere with the management’s conviction that he was brilliant male genius.”

”I have been working for almost 15 years as a lawyer and corporate lawyer, focusing on traditionally male dominated sectors – IT and tech. The worst workplace, hands down, in dealing with these issues is a large well-renowned law firm. At many occasions I was bringing up the fact that I felt the handling of these recurring incidents was totally unacceptable and that I was not interested in becoming a partner in the law firm unless it dramatically changed its approach. The replies I got were along the lines of: ’but we have talked to XX now’ or ’we will no longer serve alcohol at office parties as some people can not handle it’. In the end gave up the idea of partnership and the law firm and have since chosen workplaces that have values closer to mine.”

”A selection of events I have witnessed: A female law clerk is pushed up against a wall and groped by a partner at a dinner held in connection to a conference.

A female assistant is invited to join a partner in his room after a dinner during a law firm trip: he is going to ’make her come so fucking hard’ he says.

A male partner never looks me in the eye but consistently looks at my chest during meetings. I started to dress in a a big wrap when I saw him in his room in order to feel less exposed.

A male partner asked a female law clerk across the dinner table if she is ’a naughty girl’.

A partner slaps a female law clerk on the behind during a social event in connection with a conference.

The men in question were never disciplined in any way for their behaviour.

I and other younger recently employed girls were asked to wear shorter skirts when American clients were visiting.

When I was doing service as a law clerk a now retired judge called me into his room the day before I would attend a rape case with him. He showed me pictures of the three defendants and asked me which one of them I would prefer to be raped by.”

”I want to share my experiences from my short time at a corporate law firm. I and all the other young recently employed girls were asked to wear shorter skirts when American clients were visiting. This was a requirement from the partners and an important unwritten rule as the Americans were particularly keen on us. One of the partners came repeatedly to get me in my room to tell me to go into the conference room and ’show yourself off”. ’Pretend to get some papers, the old men need to be a bit cheered. Maybe you could spill some coffee.’”

”The worst time was working as a law clerk in a court. I was pregnant and told I was impossible to work with ’as you know how hysterical pregnant women are’, going to the bathroom was commented upon (even after my parental leave – ’you are not pregnant again’?) and I had to convince lay judges that I was really the judge of the court, they would not believe me at first. Male lay judges voted against and overruled me despite clearcut evidentiary basis.”

”My years at the well-known corporate law firm were the worst of my life. I totally lost my footing. In my work I was to stand up for the rights of others, but I had no rights at all.”

”At my department all male law clerks were invited for a luncheon when they were leaving, by older male judges, to Sällskapet (the companionship) – a gentleman’s club in town where women are not allowed. This as the event of the semester and no male law clerk ever spoke out against it or declined to participate. They enjoyed having an opportunity to network without women and I know some had job offers afterwards, aided by the judges. Making jokes about it was legion and it all happened with the blessing of the judges. The exclusion of women was obviously a major part of the charm of this luncheon. We learned quickly to laugh indulgently when it was brought up. To call it out would have been considered fussiness and a sign of taking oneself too seriously.”

”The atmosphere at the corporate law firm was similar to many other firms, which was also reflected in the organisation. A whole army of young girls as law clerks, who gradually left. All the partners were men. I especially remember one occasion at an office party where a more senior lawyer grabbed me and tried to make out with me. I pushed him away from me and he laughed it off. Later he told me that ’you look like someone who is fucking great at sucking dick’. I can’t remember what I said, probably nothing at all since there was no point. His behaviour was common knowledge at the law firm. Today he is one of the partners.”

”Even back when I was doing service as a law clerk I felt that as a single mother I didn’t fit in. A judge was of the opinion that it made me unsuitable, and that I wouldn’t be able to connect to other law clerks among other things. I dropped out of my service as a law clerk as a consequence. The same thing happened when I started at a new law firm in Stockholm. It was said that I wouldn’t be able to work as late, that I didn’t fit in in the office, I could never be right. Some of the partners criticised me for having a high-pitched voice, my posture, if I sounded angry and so on – things that weren’t related to my performance. One of them accused me of being an alcoholic since I was always tired. They loudly, in front of me, discussed what size I was (a partner and another lawyer). Finally I was off on sick leave. When I returned they continued.”

”I was doing internship at a human rights organisation that is often in the news. I had a connection with the chief legal adviser and joked around a lot at work so I didn’t think it strange at first when he added me on Facebook and messaged me from time to time until he started writing late at night every day, commenting on what tight fitting clothes I had been wearing during the thay and how hot I was, he also tried to talk about sex and ask me what I liked and when I asked him to stop he only told me to stop being ridiculous. When he went on work trips he wrote from his hotel bed saying he wished I was there and reminded me not to tell anyone about what we were talking about. I tried to joke it off and talk about something else and once when I put my foot down he made me feel stupid and uptight. He asked me to come in one day and we worked late one evening just the two of us and when I was locking up my computer he was suddenly behind me and grabbed by ass and said that he couldn’t help himself since I was so hot. I was still a student and I needed the job reference, I also felt loyalty toward the organisation so I had to bite the bullet. It’s not possible to do a good job when you know that the person you will do a presentation for is only thinking about what you look like naked. I feel nauseous and upset when he talks about the importance of legal protection for individuals in the media and is generally acclaimed while I feel dirty, stupid and uptight.”

The goal of this petition is not to name and shame people. We are standing up for the rule of law and want to safeguard a trust in legal staff. We are proud of our profession, we have worked hard in order to get here and do not want to change our line of work. Instead we want to change the legal profession and create a working environment where women do not have to be afraid and do not have to protect themselves.

Leaders and representatives for Sweden’s legal system have allowed the abuse to continue. The number of employee surveys do not matter unless they result in a follow up, even if the efforts may be honourable. To start another women’s network is missing the target. Furthermore, it is not meaningful or honest to claim that the problems depend on conditions outside of the control of those in power. Even if many are willing to admit to the existence of prejudice and discrimination in society as a whole, few are willing to admit it in their own workplace, in their own sector.

There is a worry that public confidence in the legal sector may be undermined if abuse within it come to light. But to raise the issues will rather strengthen the confidence and make it worthy of a functioning state governed by law. Fears about a crisis of confidence contribute to the preserving of the culture of silence that now prevails.

We have taken it upon ourselves to inform you about the state of affairs. Now it is up to others to take action.

We demand an immediate end to sexualisation, marginalisation, patronising and exploitation of women in the legal sector.

We demand that those of you in positions of power in the legal sector – partners at law firms, chief judges, director-generals of government bodies amongst other – take your responsibility. That you start acting with care, stop turning a blind eye to abuse and hold those responsible to account.

We want both women and men to be encouraged to break the culture of silence at the workplace. The one who dares to speak out should not be punished.

Our courage makes a difference. Together we will change a sector that constitutes a linchpin a society governed by law. What started as a conversation was has been put together as an ’appeal’ and is here referred to as an ’appeal’ but should not be summarised as anything but a collective ROAR.

We will no longer remain silent.

5 965 women in the legal sector have in less than 24 hours signed this petition. We speak in a single voice and will not comment the contents in this article any further.

To be a signatory of the petition does not mean one has been the vitctim of abuse.


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