Sexual harassment is rampant in Hollywood — a systemic issue that goes beyond the celebrity power players felled by accusations of sexual misconduct in recent months.
In response, USA TODAY sponsored an industry-wide survey to quantify how pervasive the problem is in entertainment. The results are staggering: 94% of women surveyed say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault over the course of their careers.
The survey set out to quantify the problem that thus far has been told in harrowing anecdotes from A-listers such as Uma Thurman and Gwyneth Paltrow and provide a safe forum for women without a public platform or who do not feel empowered to share their stories. The results will be used to tell where and how change needs to be enacted.
The Creative Coalition, a premiere arts advocacy non-profit, and Women in Film and Television, which advocates for and advances the careers of women working in the screen industries, became official partners in the project. They distributed the survey to their members, who hold a wide range of roles.
Surveys of self-selected respondents should be treated with more caution than surveys in which the sample population is scientifically selected and thus more representative of the population being surveyed. But experts in workplace sexual harassment say the results of the USA TODAY survey are credible.
“It’s believable that even if you had a scientifically representative sample, 94% would have experienced this (some form of harassment or abuse),” says Anita Raj, director of the Center for Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego’s medical school, which studies the emotional, mental and physical consequences of sexual harassment on women and their workplace productivity.
Raj says the USA TODAY survey shows that a substantially higher number of self-selected respondents experienced harassment or abuse in Hollywood than women in other kinds of industries and workplaces. She says that could be attributed in part to the particulars of entertainment workplaces, where the “casting couch” is a longstanding fact of life and where it’s “normal” that “part of one’s job could include kissing someone with whom you are not having a romantic relationship.”
USA TODAY also partnered with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), which consulted on the construction of survey questions so as not to re-traumatize victims but get accurate responses.
In writing the survey, one crucial suggestion from NSVRC was to be cognizant of terminology. “Terminology tends to be a barrier for self-disclosure, since these experiences are so often minimized,” NSVRC communications director Laura Palumbo says.
Meaning: If sexual harassment is not defined in a survey, respondents are significantly less likely to report that they have experienced it.
USA TODAY began with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition of sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. We also referenced the United Nations’ breakdown of examples, as well as similar surveys conducted by federal agencies and universities. In our query, we listed nine types of sexual harassment, with the option to select whether respondents have never experienced it, experienced it once or experienced it more than once.
- Having someone make unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures about you.
- Being shown sexy or sexual pictures without your consent.
- Witnessing others experience unwanted sexual comments, advances, physical contact or other form of sexual harassment.
- Being touched (slap, pinch, brush, etc.) in an unwelcome sexual way.
- Witnessing others advance professionally as a result of personal, sexual relationships with employers/managers.
- Being propositioned for a sexual act or relationship in an unwelcome way.
- Having someone flash or expose themselves to you.
- Being forced to do something sexual.
- Being forced to appear naked unexpectedly for auditions or otherwise in the course of professional work.
The encrypted survey was anonymous, and 861 industry professionals completed the survey, including 843 women. Results were tallied based on female responses, as respondents who identified as male and transgender did not represent a statistically significant sample. The survey was active from Dec. 4, 2017, through Jan. 14.
The age breakdown of respondents was fairly even, spanning 18 to 60-plus: 18- to 29-year-olds accounted for 16% of respondents; 30- to 39-year-olds, the largest group, accounted for 29%; 40-49 for 21%; 50-59 for 19%; and 60-plus for 16%.
Professionals polled included directors, producers, executive (and associate) producers, actors, writers and editors. Of the aforementioned group, 87% said someone had made unwelcome comments, jokes or gestures about them at work, 69% were touched in an unwelcome sexual way and 64% were propositioned for an unwelcome sexual act or relationship.
Contributing: Alison Maxwell, Kim Willis, Charlie Helt, Sunnev Terrell, Peter Cook and Judy Vogel
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