Former lawyer recounts harassment by client

Ms Corinna Lim kept silent for three decades on the sexual harassment she had faced at work.
Ms Corinna Lim kept silent for three decades on the sexual harassment she had faced at work. PHOTO: JEANNIE HO PHOTOGRAPHY

For three decades, Ms Corinna Lim kept silent on the sexual harassment she faced at work - even as she helped many others in similar situations as Aware's executive director.

It had happened when she was a young lawyer in her first year of work, during a private lunch with a "well-known accountant" who was a client.

He had insisted they go for a two-hour lunchtime cruise, during which he talked about his "bad sex with his wife".

Then, he started asking about her preferred sex positions.

"Initially I was just so shocked, and I was very unsure since he talked quite softly," Ms Lim, 54, told The Straits Times, the first time she was sharing her story with the media.

She tried changing the topic multiple times, but he would return to it each time.

Shocked and uncomfortable, Ms Lim constantly excused herself to go to the washroom.

Thankfully, he stopped harassing her after that lunch, said Ms Lim.

If he had continued the harassment, she would have been at a loss as to what to do, she admitted.

"We were a 40-lawyer firm, and there were no policies whatsoever (against harassment), so I didn't tell anyone," she added.

She was disappointed and angry with herself for not standing up to the client.

"I felt I had let myself down. Here I was, a lawyer that trained to defend others, but I couldn't even defend myself - I felt very ashamed. At that time, I did not understand power dynamics and the silencing effect that it may have."

It was not until the #MeToo movement that she was encouraged to speak up about her ordeal, in the hope that it will spur others to do so too.

The former lawyer now strongly advocates a clear-cut policy against sexual harassment .

"Policies are not just important to deter harassment," she said.

"A lot of this can be solved with minimal grief if the survivors were empowered by policies and training to say 'stop it, this is unacceptable, this is unprofessional', and if it stops there, that is ideal."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2018, with the headline Former lawyer recounts harassment by client. Subscribe