Despite groundbreaking gains made by the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements over the last three years, the vast majority of workers in the entertainment industry still don’t believe that those in positions of power will be held accountable for sexual harassment, according to a first-of-its-kind industry-wide worker survey conducted by the Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Harassment and Advancing Equality. Based on the results of the survey, the Commission is launching several initiatives to make it easier to identify and report offenders, including a repeat offender platform and bystander intervention training.
“For too long in Hollywood, there have been ‘open secrets’ about the harassment perpetrated on workers by powerful people who are able to successfully evade accountability for their actions,” said Anita Hill, chair of the Hollywood Commission. “With this survey, we have identified the most vulnerable workers in Hollywood and the resources and systems that will provide support and a safety net for them. Our expectation is that these tools will be the foundation to build a new era of transparency and accountability for all workers in the entertainment industry.”
Anita Hill-Led Hollywood Anti-Harassment Commission Says 'Pandemics Can Further Stack The Deck' Against Industry’s Most Vulnerable
“Workers in the entertainment industry are clear,” the Commission’s report states. “They lack confidence in accountability – the belief and confidence that the process protects victims and strives to eliminate harassment.”
See the full report here.
“The 2017 #MeToo coverage primarily featured reports about high-profile individuals in entertainment perpetrating particularly egregious cases of sexual assault and coercion,” the report says. “But sexual harassment is not a simple problem of individual behavior. It’s also a problem of climate – the role entertainment organizations play in facilitating and enabling harassment. In fact, perceived tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the strongest predictors of sexual harassment.”
The Commission examined several factors that characterize a permissive climate towards sexual harassment, including the lack of sanctions against offenders, the perception that complaints will not be taken seriously and the perceived risk to victims and witnesses for reporting harassment. “Workers in the entertainment industry are clear,” the report says. “They lack confidence in accountability – the belief and confidence that the process protects victims and strives to eliminate harassment.”
The Commission’s nationwide, anonymous survey was conducted online over a three-month period – from November 20 through February 24. More than 9,600 people who self-identified that they were currently working, pursuing work, or had previously worked in the entertainment industry, responded to the survey.
Today’s report deals only with accountability, but the Commission will issue four more reports in the next few weeks on bias; bullying; sexual harassment and sexual assault, and a final report with recommendations in October. “We started with accountability,” Hill told Deadline, “because we realized that that’s what’s keeping us, in many ways, from moving forward.”
“Generally, in terms of accountability, there are three things that we learned from our participants,” Hill said. “First of all, they don’t think their issues will be taken seriously, whether they’re made to a manager or to HR, or to a supervisor on set. The second thing is that they don’t feel that anyone’s going to be held accountable for it. And the third reason that people are not stepping up and reporting is that they feel that they will face retaliation. That’s really the basis of our findings.”
The survey asked respondents how likely they believe it is that that a person in a position of significant authority or status – such as a high-profile producer, writer, actor, agent or musician – would be held accountable for harassing someone with less authority or status, such as an assistant.
“The response was startling,” the report says, finding that only 7% of respondents believe that it is “very likely” that a harasser will be held accountable, while 28% said they thought it’s “somewhat likely.” The rest – 65% – felt that it’s not very likely at all. “This dim view was consistent across industry sectors, with those working in talent representation having the most negative view,” the report says. “Among those working in production, the view was also consistent regardless of whether the respondent had worked primarily on large, studio-financed projects or small, independently-financed projects. However, non-union members had a far bleaker view of accountability than union members.”
The survey found that men are much more likely to believe that harassers will be held accountable than do women – 45% to 28% – and that Hispanic women are the least likely to believe that harassers will be to account – only 23%.
The survey also found that “power inequities perpetuate the lack of accountability,” with less than half (48%) of respondents saying that they’ve seen progress in addressing power abuse since the MeToo movement began in October 2017 in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Respondents said that the primary offenders in Hollywood are in powerful positions to influence who gets hired (55%); who gets to keep a job (59%), and those who are in positions to damage the reputations of those who complain about abuse (59%).
“One thing that really struck me is that people consistently said of those in charge that you cannot demand or implement accountability and be exempt from it,” said Commission co-founder Nina Shaw, an entertainment attorney who’s also a co-founder of Time’s Up. “So, there was a real call for leadership and culture to change; a real desire for there to be accountability across the board; that no one could be exempt if there was going to be real change. And that is certainly consistent with what we’ve always read and understood and been told, which is that culture changes from the top.”
“This has to be a challenge that is taken on industry-wide,” Hill said. “It has to be taken on by the leadership and by people throughout the industry. It must be collaborative, and the sense of urgency that exists has to be kept throughout in order for it to really be effective.”
Shaw and producer Kathleen Kennedy co-founded the Hollywood Commission in December 2017 and brought Hill in to lead it. Shaw and Hill, who have been friends since their college days – at separate universities – for more than 40 years, spoke to Deadline recently via Zoom. The Commission’s members include representatives from the film and television academies; all the Hollywood guilds and unions; management’s AMPTP; the major studios, networks and streaming services; the Association of Talent Agencies and the Big Four talent agencies, and the recording academy and many of the top record labels.
“We did find that some progress has been made,” Hill told Deadline, “but even with the people who said, ‘Yes, progress has been made,’ everyone said the progress hasn’t been enough. They do realize that some changes have been made. They do realize that some work has been done, especially in the last year or so, but not enough progress has happened, and we’re realistic. We know that change is slow to come; that these are issues that we have been dealing with for eons. We’ve begun to work, mainly in the last 20 or 30 years, to really try to change, but what we realized was, whether when we look at Black Lives Matter or whether it’s #MeToo, or the efforts for diversity and inclusion, that we haven’t gotten there yet. In fact, we’re far from it, and so we have to continue to work, and we have to try new ideas and redouble our efforts.”
The report found that fear of retaliation is a major reason that victims and witnesses don’t report harassment. “Respondents saw significant risks in reporting – including the powerful positions the offenders occupied and the possibility of damage to their careers,” the report states. “The primary offenders are in powerful positions to influence who gets hired, who gets to keep a job, and to damage the reputations of those who complain. Victims also were concerned they would be retaliated against. Witnesses were reticent to report and said that they didn’t believe any action would be taken and were even more fearful of retaliation than victims. This fear of retaliation is not unfounded, with approximately two-fifths of survey respondents (41%) reporting that they experienced some type of retaliatory behavior.”
“The power structure in this industry makes it impossible for victims to come forward,” said one respondent. “There are still too many victims that will be blackballed if they report – or believe they will be,” said another. “If I ever reported anything about someone I worked for I would be blacklisted,” said another. “That’s just how it is.” Still another said that “Just because a few famous offenders are being held accountable when reported by the most famous victims does not mean anything has changed for the rest of us.”
Many assistants feel especially vulnerable to bullying, harassment and retaliation. “Assistants live in fear, are perpetually stressed, overworked and are the backbone of the entire industry,” an assistant wrote. “We are the cogs in a machine that doesn’t compensate or appreciate us. Being paid more is essential. Being treated as human is a necessity we barely even acknowledge.”
“I know so many assistants who are in therapy and have diagnosed PTSD and anxiety disorders because of the abuse they endure on a daily basis,” said another respondent said. “The power dynamics are horrible and it is accepted ‘Hollywood’ behavior to manipulate and abuse assistants.”
The report found that “when organizations fail to hold offenders accountable or worse – retaliate – people don’t report. And victims and witnesses in entertainment are remaining silent. Among those in our sample who reported gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion as the worst or most serious experience, only 36% reported to one or more people within their company who could take action. Respondents saw significant risks in reporting – including the powerful positions the offenders occupied, and the possibility of damage to their careers.”
The report found that “power inequities perpetuate the lack of accountability,” with less than half (48%) of workers seeing progress in addressing power abuse since the MeToo resurgence in October 2017. “The primary offenders in Hollywood are in powerful positions to influence who gets hired (55%) and who gets to keep a job (59%), and to damage the reputations of those who complain about abuse (59%).”
The report also found that “One of the biggest challenges to accountability is trust – and victims and witnesses in entertainment are remaining silent. Few victims of sexually harassing behaviors shared their experiences with a supervisor (23%), Human Resources (9%), or legal department (4%). Workers who experience sexual coercion don’t report predominately because they do not believe anything will be done.”
The entertainment industry is one of the most unionized workforces in the nation, but not everyone is belongs to one, leaving them among the least protected and the most vulnerable to harassment. “One of the specific charges of the Hollywood Commission was to find out who are the most vulnerable people,” Hill said, “and what we found is that there are two kinds of vulnerability. First, there’s the vulnerability that comes from just not being covered by a system – people who weren’t a part of a guild or a union, or who weren’t consistently covered by one of the big studios; people who moved from job to job, and that includes a lot of people in our industry. But there’s also a vulnerability that comes with identity, and those are the traditionally marginalized groups of people. They include women, but they also include sexual identity minorities, gender minorities, people of color, and different ethnic groups. And we are very attuned to both types of vulnerability.
“So, we want to make sure that we set up systems for people who fall through the cracks of systems because they don’t fit in a category of people who are always covered by a formal process for bringing complaints. That’s something that we have been thinking about: how can we best serve those people who may not even get the right information; may not understand the processes that exist out there; how they can be a part of them, may not even be eligible for those processes?”
When asked to choose from a menu of possible approaches to combat harassment in the workplace, 95% of respondents asked for resources to help them understand their reporting options; 94% asked for a helpline/hotline for reporting harassment; 93% wanted technology for victims to create time-stamped records of their abuse; 92% wanted to see consistent standards and definitions of prohibited behavior, and 91% called or bystander intervention training.
“While the survey is important because it provides the kind of data-driven responses that give us a good sense of the issues, responsiveness is also important,” Shaw said. “People want accountability, and we know that they want solutions. So we’re looking at tech-supported reporting systems, as well as bystander training, and real answers to real problems.”
To that end, based on the survey data and the participants’ narrative responses, the Commission said that it is launching a repeat offender platform and bystander intervention training.
“Multiple complaints about the same person are frequent,” the report states. “Research tells us that if someone acts in an abusive, aggressive way, they are likely to do so more than once. The Commission gathered individuals throughout the industry to review technology that allows repeat offender identification and was tailored to the entertainment industry. The new platform will launch in Q1 2021, with participating organizations announced at a later date. The platform gives workers who feel they have experienced sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, bullying or micro-aggressions the ability to share it anonymously. Workers may choose to report immediately or to file a conditional report. If a worker makes a conditional report, if (and only if) other people in the organization also file complaints about the same aggressor, they will be notified and can decide whether to release their identity and participate in an investigation. Other components of the platform include two-way anonymous messaging, which workers can use to raise any concern and ask questions about process and instructions on how to create a time-stamped record.”
As for bystander intervention training, the Commission said that “Many respondents who reported experiencing an incident of workplace misconduct reported that more than one person was present at the time of the event. One critical way to combat the culture of silence around reporting and to prevent incidents from happening at all is to train workers how to intervene. Bystander training may play a significant role in reducing rates of violence, empowering communities and increasing the likelihood of reporting and intervention in entertainment. The Hollywood Commission is piloting bystander training with 450 entertainment workers. The pilots will include a virtual reality training, a web-based training, and six workshops tailored to the entertainment industry.”
The survey was conducted by the Hollywood Commission under the auspices of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative, an independent nonprofit organization. Demographics of respondents was 57% female, 42% male, 0.5% non-binary/third gender and 0.4% preferring to self-describe. By race and ethnicity, 82% identified as white; 9% Latin, Hispanic or of Spanish origin; 7% Black; 5% South/East Asian or Pacific Islander; 2% Middle Eastern and North African; 2% bi- or multi-racial; 1% Native American, and 1% unknown. 16% identified as LGBTQIA+ and 1% as transgender. Some 4% identified as individuals with a disability.
The age range of respondents was 18-23 (1%), 24-29 (10%), 30-39 (23%), 40-49 (24%), 50-64 (31%), 64-74 (9%) and 75 or older (2%). Their primary area of work was: film and television (78%); corporate (6%); commercials (4%); live theater (4%); talent representation — manager, agent or lawyer — (3%); broadcast/news (1%); public relations (1%); music (1%); other (3%).
More than a third of those who took the survey also provided narrative responses. “It was satisfying to see the response, as disheartening as some of the responses were, because it really pointed out how important these issues are,” Shaw said. “Anita and I have devoted a lot of time to this process, and to advancing and advocating for change. I guess you could say we’re in ‘Good trouble’ here, because this is the work that needs to be done.”
Here is a sampling of statements written by the survey’s respondents:
• “What we have now is an environment where everyone jumps on the bandwagon after an abuser has been outed, which creates the illusion that they are not tolerated. That makes for the occasional good PR but doesn’t change anything.”
• “Any perceived progress that has been made in Hollywood has been a smokescreen. If someone is powerful enough, they are untouchable, no matter the abuse. Nothing about this has changed. Indeed, the few harassers who have been taken out of power (for now) has caused a backlash within the industry by other men, who are now suspicious of women in their midst. Accountability is the most important thing and right now, there is essentially none for those with any notable amount of power.”
• “The industry tolerates bad behavior by powerful people. Producers, actors, and above-the-line individuals are rarely held accountable for tyrannical behavior. A production works at the whims of those in power, and those below-the-line have very little recourse to complain or to have their complaints addressed. I have seen people relocated, fired or pushed out rather than have the powerful aggressor censured.”
• “I feel that all too frequently, people in very powerful positions are not taken to task appropriately for their misdeeds. They are only fired after multiple victims come forward and/or contact the media, and even if they are fired they are rarely prosecuted or held accountable.”
• “A lot of higher ups push education/learning about diversity, inclusion, sexual harassment training, etc., yet they are the biggest offenders. It’s disheartening to take the time to learn about prevention and becoming aware of unconscious bias, yet I see the high up executives at the company not practicing it. Especially when they are the ones encouraging these initiatives. There is no accountability for upper management, and the lower levels are held to the standard.”
• “The culture of entitlement and power that exists for producers, directors, production managers and other above-the-line people trickles down. Sexual harassment is part of the bullying, lack of consideration and general bad behavior that these people believe is their due to dole out because they believe they can, and that they are masters of the universe.”
• “People need to be held accountable for their actions. Many times high level folks get huge paydays to leave – seems like they’re rewarded for bad behavior. #MeToo seems to have stalled while offenders are still at it.”
• “Problems around harassment and bullying remain systemic and institutional. Serial abusers who generate revenue continue to be protected from the consequences of their actions. All the harassment training and hotlines in the world aren’t going to move the needle until the powers that be are willing to make the well-being of the people creating their media a priority.”
• “I still find the industry, while making great strides in diversity and inclusion, is still bound by the power of the dollar. Without any outside intervention or regular HR, it seems nearly impossible to get to the high-ranking individuals who are regular offenders. Without some sort of regulating set of definitions and regulating body who not only reports but also investigates accusations, it still appears to be a lawless landscape that allows for the big dollar investors and influential decision-makers to carry on without worry of culpability.”
• “All I can say is that in our industry if you rock the boat you get silenced and you don’t get hired anymore.”
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