As more stories of sexual harassment by one of the nation’s most prominent criminal barristers continue to emerge – some dating back almost a decade – one of Australia’s top universities has found itself in the firing line for failing to ban his job ads. Nina Funnell and Chris Graham report.
Student representatives have lashed out at the University of New South Wales for failing to protect students after the University would not commit to cease advertising positions at Charles Waterstreet’s chambers.
Last week New Matilda published allegations that a former UNSW law student, Genevieve Wilks, was sexually harassed by the prominent Sydney barrister after responding to a job advertisement she saw promoted through the UNSW Law school.
Ms Wilks answered the ad in 2014 and was subsequently offered a job with Mr Waterstreet. She alleges she endured almost a year of extreme sexual harassment at the hands of Mr Waterstreet, one of Sydney’s most prominent criminal barristers and the man on which the hit ABC drama Rake is loosely based.
Since then, more women have come forward to New Matilda alleging inappropriate sexualised behaviour during job interviews with Mr Waterstreet.
A spokesperson for UNSW did not respond to a question from New Matilda about whether or not future job ads from Mr Waterstreet would be banned, saying the university had no knowledge of “advertisements by Charles Waterstreet or his office on our Jobs Board currently or previously”.
But emails obtained by New Matilda show otherwise – Ms Wilks’ applied to work with Mr Waterstreet after reading a job advertisement on the UNSW careers website.
Ms Wilks says she is “disappointed” UNSW would not make a commitment to ban employment ads from Charles Waterstreet.
“I knew my law school to be a place where student welfare was taken seriously and where harassment was not tolerated,” Ms Wilks told New Matilda.
“I would sincerely urge UNSW Law to be an ally of women and students in the profession and stand up to someone who has serially taken advantage of young, keen law students.”
Mr Waterstreet has previously taught law at UNSW, and bragged about sleeping with students during his time as their lecturer.
“I made a pledge with myself not to sleep with any students until the graduate course,” he said in a 2012 interview with Honi Soit.
“Then I took them two at a time.”
In a joint statement released by UNSW SRC President, Aislinn Stein-Magee and Lizzie Butterworth, the UNSW Women’s Officer, the students said it was “extremely disappointing” that “there is still a cover-up culture permeating the upper echelons of UNSW”, particularly in light of recent commitments and policy changes fought for by survivors and advocates at the university.
“Universities have a duty of care over students and that jurisdiction extends into internships and course related employment. [Sexual harassment] is an endemic problem in universities and this is another aspect where it needs to be addressed,” read the statement.
“The SRC and women’s collective will continue to fight to make sure that universities are safer for staff and students, and ensure that students experience safe transitions to the workplace.”
Abby Stapleton, the National Union of Students Women’s Officer has also called on all Australian universities to cease advertising jobs with Mr Waterstreet.
“Employers [accused of sexual harassing students]should not be given a platform to gain access to young undergraduate students who are desperate to get a foot in the door,” Ms Stapleton said.
“[The Law] is an extremely competitive industry and female law students can easily be exploited because of it.”
Last month, the University of Sydney agreed to cease advertising jobs at Mr Waterstreet’s chambers after students protested in the wake of revelations published by New Matilda that Sydney University law student Tina Huang had been sexually harassed during her brief employment with Mr Waterstreet.
According to her sworn statement Ms Huang was shown a masturbation video on Mr Waterstreet’s phone during her job interview, and was asked about her sexuality. She won the paralegal job, but lasted just three hours, after Mr Waterstreet showed her multiple images of naked women, and asked her to organise online dates for him.
USYD committed to ban all advertising associated with Mr Waterstreet. A spokesperson for USYD said “the personal safety of our students is of primary concern”.
Since publishing Ms Huang’s allegations, New Matilda has been contacted by four other women – including Ms Wilks – who allege they experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment during job interviews with Mr Waterstreet, spanning almost a decade.
One woman, Lisa* says that when she went for a job interview in 2009, she was “shocked” when Mr Waterstreet casually dropped into conversation that “everyone would assume we were sleeping together if I went to work for him”.
Another woman, Sophie* who was interviewed for a job in 2013 says that a lot of the conversation revolved around personal issues including private relationships. At one point Mr Waterstreet suggestively “joked” that the job would also involve “massages”.
A third woman, Anita*, has previously old New Matilda Mr Waterstreet produced a sex toy during the interview, and tried to show her pornographic images on her computer.
Mr Waterstreet has admitted giving Ms Wilks a book of nude images on her first day of work – which included nude images of himself – but has strongly denied the majority of the allegations published in New Matilda, or dismissed them as a routine part of his work as a criminal barrister.
He told The Daily Telegraph that he believes he is being “victimised” by Ms Huang, before tweeting a lengthy statement from his personal Twitter account condemning the reporting of New Matilda.
New Matilda gave me till 9oclock tomorrow morning to answer questions concerned with their ridiculous ‘investigation’ here are my answers – pic.twitter.com/yJKE0PgPir
— Charles Waterstreet (@CCWaterstreet) October 30, 2017
Sydney University student and protest organiser, Anna Hush, said that UNSW should follow USYD’s lead and ban all advertising of jobs with Mr Waterstreet.
“UNSW has an ethical obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students,” she said, adding that it would be “dangerous for the university to continue to promote jobs at Mr Waterstreet’s chambers”.
A spokesperson for UNSW responded to a media inquiry by New Matilda saying “the issue of student wellbeing, safety and respectful treatment while on any University-related work experience is an absolute priority for the UNSW Law Faculty”.
The university is currently drafting a university-wide statement of advice for students engaging in work-integrated learning and internships. The notice is expected to be finalised shortly.
“In the meantime, students who wish to report inappropriate, harassing or threatening behaviour during an external work experience placement or internship are encouraged to contact the Faculty directly” said the university spokesperson.
• If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault or harassment support is available by calling 1800 424 017 and speaking to a qualified trauma counsellor at the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.
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