"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."

British novelist L.P. Hartley's words are often used to explain archaic attitudes, actions and situations - and excuse and sanction some appalling and criminal behaviour.

They have been used to excuse the actions of monarchs and cultural icons in centuries gone by, to explain decades of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Jimmy Savile's predation in the corridors of the BBC and, it turns out, right up until the end of last year, it was all right for one Harvey Weinstein, protected by a powerful elite, to expect a return on his investment from actors and actresses wanting to make the A-list.

Sexual harassment doesn't occur in a vacuum, in some other country, in some other century, in some war zone, to some other people born into the wrong place and time. It happens in Hollywood in 2017. And the highest echelons of New Zealand society in 2018.


The allegations - which surfaced last week of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards Victoria University law interns at top legal firm Russell McVeagh - are upsetting. The incidents are alleged to have occurred at work functions two years ago, and two staff involved reportedly left the firm after an internal inquiry. But the sad truth is, for every case that does make the headlines, countless won't.

That is because it takes immense courage to stand up to abuse of any form - to call out friends, whanau, colleagues or bosses. And it is that much more difficult when there is a significant power imbalance - often the case in the workplace.

The momentum of the #MeToo and #Time'sUp movements has empowered victims to speak out and New Zealand can expect to hear more complaints from victims. The Government is taking the issue seriously and, from July, will start collecting data about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, sending an important message from the top. But we all have a role to play, too.

We should all examine our attitudes and actions. Consider whether our behaviour is appropriate for the workplace, within a family, around friends. We have a duty to question and call out inappropriate behaviour in others, and to demand our role models are worthy.

There can be no excuses for sexual coercion, assault, rape, manipulation or any abuse of power wherever - and whenever - it happens.

Victims of "historic" abuse cases don't leave their experience behind in time. They live with it daily.

We condemn our children to more of the same as they go out into the world, into schools and workplaces and relationships, if we refuse to acknowledge the ongoing damage done by those committing, enabling and excusing abuse.

We are all culpable if we turn a blind eye and don't work towards changing attitudes and actions, by calling Time's Up.


Do you need help? If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111. To find a support centre near you, visit rpe.co.nz