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What to Do About Sexual Harassment

A reader who would like to remain anonymous writes in–

Actually, you know what? To preserve this reader’s anonymity, I’m not going to copy-and-paste the email, like I normally would. There’s too great a chance of somebody figuring it out.

Everyone with more than a couple years’ under their belt has experienced some sexual harassment.1 For me, it’s mostly been of the old-man-set-in-his-ways variety, and occasionally the meant-as-a-joke-but-really-isn’t kind.

But this reader’s issues are far more serious:

  • She2 was accused of sleeping with one of the producers, and another producer attempted to fire her over it. While that didn’t happen, the false rumor spread throughout the set, anyway.
  • A different crew member was likewise accused of sleeping around with her co-workers. This person wrote a formal letter stating that this was unprofessional behavior; the producers stated they would never work with her again.
  • Another young woman was made to sit still while the producers drew a penis on her forehead with a sharpie, as a prank. She doesn’t want to report them, for fear of being blacklisted.

I literally don’t know what to say. This is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. So, I reached out to some fellow anonymous film crew to see what advice they had. Since they’re both smarter and more articulate than I, I’ll just share what they wrote in its entirety.

Mystery Grip has this to say:

That is horrible.

1) The courage to come forward – This is something everyone must weigh for themselves. The sad truth is that, there will be some blowback. I think that is almost completely unavoidable. Did I invest three years with the particular abusive person because at the end of it I will gain X? And is it worth it for me to endure the abuse? For me, at my age and experience level, no it is not. Life is too short and there are too many other people in Hollywood to put all your eggs in one abusive basket. To me, my dignity, self-respect and peace of mind is better than any job. I do know, young grips, who have worked for EXTREMELY abusive Keys. Both verbally and physically. Just because they were big time Keys doing big movies. So I’ve seen the mindset firsthand. Everyone has a different breaking point.

2) There are MANY good producers, directors, LPs, ADs, UPMs, etc that know exactly what went down if someone comes to them and says “Don’t hire X because she caused problems for me on the last show.” They will see through that for the bullshit that it is. And not only that, but they can call legit references on the person in question’s resume. There is no “BLACKBALL”. Sure the abusive person may cost them a job or two. That is a real consequence that may occur. But, shut you out of everything forever? No. Not going to happen. I think a lot of people new to the business are easily bullied into thinking that this can happen.

3) Who do you go to? Take for example, if it was a grip harassing you. The unofficial way would be to talk the Grip in question and try to resolve between the two of you. If you can’t do that you go to the Best Boy Grip. If you can’t do that you go to one of the ADs. You continue up the chain until you get a result which may be the Producer. Now if NONE of these people will help or if the Producer, like in these examples, is the one who is doing the harassing then if it is a Studio show or a show bankrolled by a Studio you can contact H.R. A case will be opened and investigated. At first informally and then it will escalate depending on level of harassment, evidence discovered, responses from the accused, etc.

So if you are on One Time Productions, LLC that was formed to shoot one movie, but it is part of Sony, for example. Then you’d call Sony H.R.

You could also contact the E.E.O.C. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm

Or the California Department that handles it http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Publications_StatLaws_SexHarrass.htm

Both of these are mentioned here: http://www.calaborlaw.com/sexual-harassment-in-california/

Again, the sad fact is, there is some effort to maintain anonymity, but more often than not, the identity of whoever brings the claim will come out. I hate that, in 2015, we’re still dealing with shit like this, but we are. And I think if more people, statistically speaking, women, reported this abuse it would help to curtail it somewhat. If men know they’ll be punished they won’t do it.

Trust me, when there’s a big sexual harassment case, we ALL hear about it. Anything big has ripples. It won’t stop an asshole from being an asshole, but it might give him pause from doing it at work.

Also, and I don’t recommend this route, but if say the person being harassed is a PA and they are being harassed by an AD, they could anonymously call the DGA. Or the Local that covers that particular abuser. Again, every Local will handle this differently and some will handle it poorly. But, it is something to consider. It’s like pulling the pin on a grenade, tossing it into the room and shutting the door. You have no idea what’s going to happen. So if they go that route, WHICH I DON’T RECOMMEND, make sure they do it SUPER ANONYMOUSLY. Like call from a payphone and disguise your voice. Some Locals such as mine or the Teamsters can be VERY archaic.

But if they are IN a Union they can call their Union rep. But, same rules apply. Every Local is different and some handle things VERY poorly.

Best bet is to try to handle it with the abuser. If you can’t and I understand if you can’t then go above that person. If you can’t and I understand how that happens then you’re better off with the EEOC, CA Dept of Fair Employment, call HR, and if they’re able obtain lawyer.

I want to clarify something to less experienced readers– unlike most businesses, you don’t go to the human resources department to get hired on a film. You get hired directly by the department head.

There’s a bunch of paperwork you’ll have to fill out, and most of that eventually makes its way to the studio HR, but you rarely deal with them. At the beginning of a show, there’s probably a sexual harassment meeting,3 but that’s about it.

If you’re talking to HR, something bad has happened.

Mystery Line Producer also had a lot of useful input–

Unfortunately there is no good answer to this question – or at least not an answer that would allow your reader to maintain her anonymity while exposing the names & professional affiliations of her harassers. There is no faceless online vigilante group waiting to take down disreputable producers. Social media has power, but anonymity is actually a disadvantage in cases like this as it removes the weight of the accusations.

Fighting quietly does not work. Women have been politely enduring all types of harassment and intimidation for decades and have made remarkably little progress in claiming an uncontested place within the industry. Silence is is how we become complicit in maintaining the constructs that degrade and discriminate against us.

If she’s serious about addressing these concerns, she should consult a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment cases and get a professional assessment of her options. Regardless of the culture of the industry, sexual harassment is a crime and cases that result in mental anguish and/or loss of work can (and should) be prosecuted.

Many producers use the spectre of “blacklisting” to keep people scared and silent, but it’s not as serious a threat as they would have you believe. Standing up for yourself, whether it’s against harassment or discrimination or poor wages, is not automatically an end to your career. Yes, this industry operates largely on word of mouth and networking and it is likely that you’ll be shunned by the group with whom you’ve done your last several jobs, but screw those people. Those people are assholes.

There are thousands of movies, television shows, and digital series being made every single day. There is plenty of work. You might feel adrift for a little while, you might have a few doors slammed in your face at first, but you’ll build a new network… hopefully one full of people who don’t spread vile rumors or assault their peers. The good/bad thing about this industry is that there will always be work available for people who do their jobs well. Anita Sarkeesian is working more now that she’s at the center of the GamerGate harassment, not less. Roman Polanski still makes movies for god’s sake and he’s both a rapist and a fugitive.

Taking a stand against harassment is hard. It requires courage and resolve and skin as thick as a rhinoceros, but facing it head on is the only way to change it. Anything else is just perpetuating the system.

Your reader might be surprised how much support she finds if she decided to take the bull by the proverbial horns. Look at what’s happened with Bill Cosby’s accusers – each woman who came forward gave strength to other women who would likely have remained silent.

I wish I had better news, but sadly, I don’t. I hope this helps.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Yes, even men, although it’s usually of a different sort and generally less pervasive.
  2. I assume the reader is a “she,” but never expressly states so in the email.
  3. And someone always makes the joke, “Why do I have to go to this meeting? I already know how to harass people!
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8 Responses

  1. I would strongly caution the advice to confront your abuser because it could put you in a more perilous situation. I was sexually assaulted as a PA on a well-known show by a crew member years ago, I was terrified and angry and didn’t know who could help me. The crew that was present/witnessed the attack were literally afraid of retaliation and kept their mouth shut. Alas, in my anger I got the courage to confront my attacker who not only said it wasn’t a big deal, but began spread rumors around the set that he had slept with me – it hadn’t even occurred to me that he would think to escalate the situation. What was already causing anguish and humiliation was amplified significantly. Again, please consider other options, confronting your abuser could be a high-risk option and your safety is the most important thing. Report it to the chain of command, HR, lawyer, etc. Stay safe. There will be more work.

  2. Yeah, people have worked way too hard to gain the freedoms that we have today. No P.A. job is worth being bullied. No P.A. job is worth being harassed. I’ve worked on a ton of P.A. jobs, and really – – there’s a difference between working with a good team and working with a group of people who are abusing their power, sometimes in an illegal manner. You should always tell someone if you’re dealing with these circumstances: Your family. Your peers (even if they’re on different shows.) A kind A.D. (yes, some do exist.) I mean, $100+ dollars a day is never worth putting up with this type of harassment and abuse. I dealt with variable levels of it for a really long time, and now I know how to ask for help. Sure, by talking about this stuff, people might try to cross my name off of a list or something. (But honestly, how can they possibly make the deletion if they don’t have a black Sharpie in their back pocket? Right??) …Seriously though, sometimes organizations that you call for help, will actually help you work through ways to deal with these issues. P.A.’s may not have unions, but they do work in states and under a nation that does have rules. As a P.A., use these resources. Call those people. Speak up and tell someone.

    (You are always worth it.)

  3. Jess you read my mind. I had written a response comment a while ago but found out it didn’t post. Actually this is probably the tipping point for me (for working in this business.) If I EVER saw or heard about anything like this happening to a young lady or anyone for that matter; THIS CLOWN WOULD BE COLLECTING HIS TEETH OFF OF THE PAVEMENT. Yes, I’m a dude, but I’m not about to be a part of this fucked up Hollywood patriarchal misogynist society…and I refuse to be! I do feel that the message of this post is somewhat, and unintentionally more on the side of “keep your mouth shut if you want to work.” Fuck That! Life is too short. Work for awesome people.

  4. No one left a comment to this entry? This person’s story is horrendous! I can’t even believe it happened, and yet I know it has because this can be the most vile and childish industry. She/he just sat there while they drew a penis? Then again, what would I do? Seriously, what would I do in this shitty situation?

    Please, to the person who has experienced this, please up and leave this job. The poster mentioned another crew member experienced something and wrote a letter. What are the other PAs experiencing? Support each other and just leave. Jobs are only for a few weeks anyways. It might seem like a financial nightmare to go without work, but at the cost of what?

    “You will never work in this town again” is the most over rated and hollow saying. You will work again, but just not for these assholes and that should be by your choice.

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