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Victims of sexual abuse need regulations with teeth — no more silence

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged rapes and decades of sexual harassment, I appreciate that one victim is condemning her industry’s culture of silence and revealing a lack of support from her unions.

Canadian actor Mia Kirshner revealed in an Oct. 14 opinion piece in The Globe and Mail that after Weinstein promised her work “in exchange for being his disposable orifice,” managers and agents told her to forget about the incident. Her own reps did nothing. She writes, “Their silence spoke volumes about power and fear within the film industry.”

She acknowledges that she was “far too quiet.” She warned her peers about Weinstein and that’s it. She declares that both her unions, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) offered inadequate policies and procedures even if she had launched a complaint. She states, “It is still not safe to speak against sexual harassment and abuse in the film industry.”

Weinstein is only one very public face of a problem that continues across the movie/TV industry. Until we openly challenge sexual harassment and abuse and deal with it seriously and legally, things won’t change. Kirshner says actors have little recourse if they experience sexual harassment or abuse. She suggests that to protect their members, unions need to offer tangible forms of support:

  • Enforce a rule of “No work-related meetings held in hotel rooms”
  • Investigate allegations of wrongdoing using an independent third-party. Currently, following a complaint of alleged abuse, SAG will write a letter and ask a studio or production house to do its own investigation. The fox manages the hen house, so to speak.
  • Maintain a data base that monitors blacklisting activities. If an alleged perpetrator stops hiring an actor after s/he speaks out, the union should impose penalties.

Kirshner says, “Any effort to blacklist an actor who refuses sexual advances . . . should trigger real consequences against the offender. But again, how can the unions produce evidence of blacklisting if no monitoring is in place?”

I am glad that police in New York City and London are investigating the charges of some of Weinstein’s victims. But we all know that the rate of conviction in such cases is tiny. Even if Weinstein ends up in prison, how will that change long-embedded attitudes within the industry?

In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, it was clear that his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tolerated and maintained the atmosphere of sexual harassment that Ghomeshi created, despite complaints to the union of employees.

We need to get beyond the headlines and do-gooder talk of anti-harassment policies, and implement new rules and laws with teeth. Perpetrators need to see that their actions will have tough consequences. Victims need to feel supported. We need to educate judges, lawmakers, the public, and employers, to recognize and condemn when sexual harassment and abuse occur — and take action against it.

Last year, I worked part-time in the Mentors in Violence Prevention program run by the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society. This program, started in Boston decades ago, uses exercises to teach high school students what is inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment etc. The overriding message is that silence is not an option. The program advocates: Be more than a bystander. Each one of us must speak out in some form and tell others. We must demand that regulations and laws change. No more silence.

As I wrote in a letter to the editor years ago to The Vancouver Sun: “Our society shows more official outrage and legal condemnation over the maltreatment of pets at home than the sexual abuse of women on the job.”

October 16, 2017 at 8:46 am
1 comment »
  • October 17, 2017 at 9:44 amJack Stein

    Thanks Heather, well said I entered my mail address but was informed it needed Email address.

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