Harassment victims in UK film and TV face backlash after #MeToo, study finds

Victims of sexual harassment in film and TV experience the “worst of both worlds” because they are encouraged to speak out but face a backlash for doing so, a study has found.

Some women said the industry was more dangerous since the #MeToo movement because victims felt under pressure to disclose their abuse but were then punished or victimised, according to the research.

The report, Safe to Speak Up? Sexual harassment in the UK film and television industry since #MeToo, found formal measures to hold perpetrators to account were still not in place and there was a lack of proper support for victims.

The study’s author, Dr Anna Bull, a senior lecturer at York University, said the backlash that victims face ranged from inappropriate jokes about #MeToo to being blacklisted.

In some cases, men became aggressive because they were angry they could no longer enjoy the sexualised working environment to which they felt entitled, she added. “That is turning into misogynistic resentment or gendered bullying and humiliation.”

Bull, who has previously researched sexual misconduct in universities and in classical music, said sexism and sexual misconduct was far more blatant in the film and TV industry, with high-profile actors and presenters among the worst offenders.

“It does seem that there’s a culture where indecent exposure is something that’s done for attention-seeking purposes, to shock people, and to have power over people,” she said.

Although Bull found that some, particularly younger, men in the industry were more aware of what constitutes sexually inappropriate behaviour, misogynistic attitudes remained widespread among male leaders.

The report draws on interviews with 18 people in the industry, working across prestige drama, documentary, reality TV and journalism, who have experienced or spoken out about sexual violence and harassment since December 2017. The 17 women and one man include producers, researchers, runners, journalists and an actor.

Five interviewees were subjected to sexual violence, including indecent exposure, sexual assault and rape. Interviewees described being groped, forcibly kissed, and touched in sexualised ways while at work or work-related events. One interviewee was raped after a work event by someone she had met there. Particularly risky environments were work social events, filming on location and industry events.

Several interviewees raised concerns about the blurred boundaries between work and social life, especially given that networking is regarded as essential to success. Some reported incidents where their production company had provided free alcohol and then sexual harassment or an assault took place.

“Alcohol and class A drugs were normalised and sexualised jokes were very common,” Bull added.

One woman in the report, referred to as Sienna, who was raped by a man at an industry festival abroad last year, said: “There’s thousands of people in this space with a lot of booze and pent-up desire to network, but also very little rules or accountability. Every event I’m at, do I have to be really careful to not get raped or spiked or assaulted?”

The woman, who is in her mid-20s, said: “It has got better and it has got worse. I don’t think there has been a watershed like #MeToo and post #MeToo. Loads of really problematic behaviours are still dormant and being protected from years ago.”

Several interviewees said they had not come across any mechanisms or initiatives to tackle sexual misconduct in the companies they had worked for in the past six years.

One of them, Vanessa, quit her career as a broadcast journalist after sexual harassment from a senior male colleague. She felt that the company’s handling of the harassment was inadequate.

She only felt able to make an informal complaint after leaving, having earlier found out that another woman in the company had also been subjected to inappropriate behaviour from the same man.

“For a long time I definitely felt that I was filling a vacuum of responsibility that should have been filled by people a lot more senior than me,” Vanessa said. “That translated to people putting pressure on me to speak out. I think general attitudes have changed towards sexual misconduct and the nuances of it, massively. I don’t think it’s reflected in the beliefs of senior management, though.”

Dawn Elrick, the founder of the Instagram account Shit Men in TV Have Said to Me, which has received hundreds of anonymous submissions detailing sexual harassment of women in the industry, agreed that little progress had been made in tackling the problem.

“Men who have had several serious complaints raised against them, whether anecdotally, officially or [as] open secrets, are still employed by our major broadcasters at the top level,” she said. “They have perpetrated against, for the most part, young female researchers who have just entered the industry.”

Elrick, a TV director and producer, said there was a pressure on women to name and report perpetrators but it was still unclear where to turn to get action taken.

“I’ve raised complaints with [the trade union] Bectu, to the BBC. But I’ve been told: ‘Well, if it’s anonymous, we can’t do anything about it.’ So the onus is on me, and the people who’ve been at the receiving end of sexism [to deal with it].”