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TUC 2018 Creating a space safe from harassment

After #MeToo, actors and models must make clear rules and boundaries to protect each other from sexual abuse, writes CHRISTINE PAYNE

THERE is often a sexual element — sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle — in the work Equity members do. Clear boundaries that should be present in these situations are not always recognised and at worst are ignored.

This is a problem that can extend to audiences, which sometimes fail to differentiate between a performer and the fictional character they are portraying.

Like all unions, we believe that no-one should be made to feel unsafe in their workplace. Our members — men and women working not just as actors but also directors, stunt performers, comedians, singers, stage managers, designers and all the other entertainment workers we represent — deserve the same respect as any other worker in any other sector.

For too long standards and expectations of behaviour in the entertainment industry have been too low.

Following #MeToo and 2017’s disturbing spate of revelations, Equity formed a working group of members and officials. Its aim was simple, to figure out how to address our industry’s sexual harassment crisis.

The working group conducted a members’ survey and took evidence from a wide range of interested parties including other unions, trade bodies and vocational training providers. A number of our members also came forward and confidentially shared their experiences of harassment and sexual violence with working party members. This work produced nearly 200 ideas.

These ideas formed the basis of the union’s Agenda for Change report. This document explains how everyone in the industry must work together to create an environment where our members and future members will not have to endure or observe sexual harassment and where perpetrators understand there is nowhere to hide.

Equity’s Safe Spaces campaign is one of the products of this report.

The campaign seeks to give members the confidence to challenge and report inappropriate behaviour, knowing the union is always behind them.

We have created a statement for a cast or crew member to read aloud at the beginning of a production’s rehearsal period. By doing this, a company demonstrates its commitment to creating safe spaces “free of bullying and harassment.”

We are also a developing a step-by-step guide that will offer clarity on unacceptable behaviour and good practice as well as advice on what members should do if they are the victim or observer of sexual harassment or assault.

The nature of work in the creative sector, including insecurity of employment and, often, low pay, is the backdrop to the sexual harassment crisis.

That’s why we are also demanding legal and legislative changes to redress power imbalances and promote a culture of respect and create better working conditions for all, including the return of questionnaires and recognition of self-employed workers in the Equality Act 2010.

The government must also extend the time limit for lodging a tribunal claim in cases of sexual harassment to six months. This should be done as part of a wider review of the time limit in all discrimination cases.

The entertainment industry desperately needs to have an open conversation on the scope and purpose of non-disclosure agreements (NDA). The signing of an NDA at any stage — or any other agreement, including release forms signed by models — should not have the unintended consequence of creating a safe haven for bullies and harassers.

The continuing momentum of sexual harassment campaigning that has emerged in that last 12 months creates an opportunity to stamp out sexual harassment for good. It is an opportunity we must all seize.

Members can report incidents or concerns to Equity’s Harassment Helpline on (020) 7670-0268 or email

Christine Payne is general secretary of Equity.


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