Sexual harassment is still rife in UK film and screen industry, report finds

A new study has found sexual harassment is still rife in the UK film and TV industry and that individuals frequently face backlash when they do report incidents.

The report, conducted by an academic at the University of York, centred around interviews with 18 individuals working in the industry across a variety of roles and fields who experienced and/or reported sexual harassment and violence at work.

The incidents all occurred from December 2017 onwards and the growth of the #MeToo movement. They included sexualised comments, having unsolicited sexual images shared with them, unwanted sexual approaches, indecent exposure and sexual assault.

Out of the 22 incidents described, most had happened since 2020 with work social events, filming on location and international industry events identified as the riskiest settings.

Some individuals also revealed they were punished or victimised when they spoke up about their experiences, even when they had been encouraged to do so.

The interviewees, 17 of which identified as female and one male, worked across high-end TV and film, drama, documentary, factual, unscripted, and journalism, in a variety of roles including pre- and post-production, crew, producers, runners, researchers, and an actor.
Safe To Speak Up?

The report, titled ‘Safe To Speak Up?’, found that people who experienced sexual harassment and abuse suffered a loss in career opportunities, especially when they reported it, as well as feelings of shame, self-doubt and panic attacks.

Many workplaces are also still not meeting the legal minimum requirements to address issues. One interviewee recalled: “I look back and I realise probably even that informal phone call to [my bosses to raise concerns] was a mistake because they turned around to me and said, “Oh look, it would be very bruising if you raised this formally. You know that, right?” And I said, “Oh okay,” and I kind of read between the lines, [and] didn’t raise it formally [at that point].”

Earlier this year, the UK’s Film and TV Charity published the results of its latest Looking Glass survey which found that 45% of those in managerial positions did not feel equipped to deal with complaints of harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Anna Bull, who led the research, recommended that more regulatory oversight be put in place to encourage broadcasters and commissioners to take more responsibility for commissioned productions.

The report follows last month’s revelations that the BBC, Channel 4 and Banijay UK were launching investigations after actor and presenter Russell Brand was accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse by four women between 2006 and 2013. Brand denies the allegations.

“Sexual harassment can occur in many different workplaces, but it is more prevalent where there are greater levels of inequality between staff,” Bull said. ”The screen industry has high levels of gender inequality, with more men in positions of power, as well as a steep workplace hierarchy.

“An obvious example of this is in the treatment of “the talent” (a term which refers to actors and presenters) who are given higher status and protections compared to others on set.”

On people who report incidents of harassment and abuse, Bull said: ”I’ve uncovered evidence of some of the worst – but also the best – responses from employers that I’ve ever seen. This range of responses shows that while there is good work happening in some parts of the industry, there’s still a lot of work to be done. My hope is that this research – and the industry and policy briefings that accompany it – will contribute to making the screen industries safer and more equal places for everyone.”