One in seven actors and crew sexually assaulted, survey finds

Around one in seven people working in live theatre in has been sexually assaulted, and the perpetrator is usually a fellow cast member, according to the findings of a survey set to be released by the actors’ union Equity next week.

The startling figures were revealed on Tuesday by the union’s executive director, Zoe Angus, at a forum organised by film and television industry groups in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal.

The Safer Workplace Strategies Forum, held in Sydney and streamed around the country via Facebook live, heard that the industry was sorely lacking in procedures and strategies for combating sexual harassment, assault and bullying in the workplace, in large part because so many of its participants were sole practitioners.

But things will need to change, and fast, if they hope to receive government support, Screen chief operating officer Fiona Cameron said.

“The Screen board has instructed us to develop a code of conduct that obliges those applying for production support to take a pro-active stance,” she said.

“I envisage a code that sets out zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace, that identifies a suitably qualified and experienced sexual harassment contact officer, that clearly spells out what constitutes sexual harassment, that sets out the employer and employees’ rights and responsibilities, that is readily available to all employees, that is talked about on and off set, that is published on and off set, and finally that requires a formal report back.”

Such a code would not be merely box-ticking, she insisted.

“It has to be a genuine process of education, information and changed behaviour.”

And the sting in the tail: “If the code is breached, the government should have the right to refuse further support [no more funding].”

The Screen Producers Association, which represents around 450 independent producers and production companies, is also developing a code of conduct for its members.

SPA’s Mark Donaldson said the work on a workplace safety code began in the wake of the death of stuntman Johann Ofner???, who was fatally shot in the chest while working on a film clip for Bliss N Eso in January, “but we later realised sexual harassment, assault and bullying needed to be included in it. That has now risen to the top.”

It was the Equity figures, though, that best highlighted the scale of the problem.

“The data is compelling,” said Ms Angus.

The survey, which drew an unprecedented 1200 responses, was carried out in the area of live performance “because that’s where we were hearing most reporting and rumours and anecdotal stories, but those themes are also well and truly prevalent in screen,” she said.

The survey found that almost half of all respondents had had “first-hand, often multiple” experiences of sexual harassment, including unwanted familiarity, leering, or unwanted jokes of an overtly sexual nature.

The figures on what she called “the hard face of crime” are stark, she added. “Nine per cent have experienced indecent exposure, 10 per cent have experienced being stalked by someone at work, 11 per cent are talking about physical assault, and 14 per cent sexual assault.”

The current focus on the issue represented a “once in a generation” opportunity for change, noted Ms Cameron.

“The behaviour you tolerate is the behaviour you consolidate,” she said. “It’s time to consolidate a new culture of mutual respect.”

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