Sexual Harassment Remains Persistent in Hollywood for Men and Women After #MeToo, Survey Finds

Elizabeth Wagmeister
·4-min read

Three years after the #MeToo movement garnered mainstream attention in Hollywood, sexual harassment in the workplace remains a persistent problem in the entertainment biz, according to new research from an industry-wide study.

The survey findings come from the Hollywood Commission, which is led by Anita Hill, who publicly took a stand against workplace sexual harassment in 1991 when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas, now the most senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court, during his Senate confirmation.

The survey showed 69% of participants stated they have seen progress in preventing harassment since the #MeToo movement began in October 2017, but those individuals said harassment still remains a pervasive problem in the industry.

The national survey was conducted online between November 2019 and February 2020 with nearly 10,000 participants, both male and female. Perhaps surprisingly, both men and women stated that they experience some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. One key finding of the study is that male victims are often left out of the #MeToo conversation, rarely being recognized as fellow survivors.

“As an industry, Hollywood has an extremely sexualized culture — for both men and women,” Hill tells Variety. “When there are power imbalances, people with influence tend to abuse their power regardless of gender.”

An anonymous survey participant said, “I hope #MeToo has brought a lot of positive change to the industry and how it treats women. But I wish someone of higher-profile would speak up for male victims. It’s not just women who have been harassed and I think there’s this idea that it only happens to women. I know plenty of men who have had to put up with sexual harassment and no one talks about it or it gets swept under the rug.”

Women are far more likely to experience all forms of sexually harassing behavior, including sexual assault. But a high rate of men said they have experienced gender harassment, with 62% of males (in comparison to 67% of females) stating they have experienced insulting, crude and degrading comments and attitudes, which is often excused as “locker room talk.”

Men were about half as likely as women to have experienced other forms of harassment, including unwanted sexual advances, coercion and assault.

In the survey, when asked about behaviors experienced over the year leading up to the survey, 42% of women said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention, such as unwanted touching, hugging, stroking or persistent requests for dates or sexual behavior, despite discouragement. Additionally, 20% of women said they have experienced sexual coercion, which is defined as the promise of career advancement, under the condition of agreeing to sexual cooperation, and 5% of women said they have been sexually assaulted.

When asked about experiencing sexual assault in the workplace over the course of their lifetime, one in five females (20%) and one in ten males (10%) reported that they have been assaulted in the workplace.

“I have had men in positions of power make comments on my body, touch my breasts, reach up my skirt, expose themselves to me. All uninvited,” an anonymous employee shared. “I have stopped taking one-on-one drinks or business dinners with male colleagues as too often they try to turn it into a date.”

The more productions jobs an employee has had, the more often they encountered sexually harassing behaviors, the survey found. This finding showcases an imbalanced power dynamic, as new workers are perceived as having less power than those who are comfortable in their workplace, over a period of time.

By end of 2020, the Hollywood Commission will publish several resources, including a code of conduct, a production field manual and an online guide to harassment, discrimination and retaliation. The resources are in response to 95% of survey participants agreeing that a hotline or website would be helpful to understand how to define sexual harassment and then report such behavior.

Aside from providing data on sexual harassment and assault, the groundbreaking survey also researched accountability, bullying and diversity and inclusion.

Hill says she is hopeful that the findings will help inform leaders and companies across the entertainment industry because although a progressive conversation has been sparked by the #MeToo movement, bulletproof numbers are necessary to fully understand what needs to change to achieve real progress.

“The majority of workers surveyed believe that there has been moderate to a lot of progress made in promoting respect since the #MeToo movement and there has certainly been increased awareness of the issue,” Hill says. “That said, the numbers reported here are extremely high and concerning…And when you consider these numbers in combination with the prevalence of bias, bullying and lack of accountability found in our previous three reports, you see how unsafe the entertainment workplace still is for many workers. Certainly, all efforts to eliminate harassment should be applauded, but we cannot be satisfied with the level of improvement as long as anyone in the industry is at risk in industry workplaces.”

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