Bectu calls on creative industries to get behind independent standards authority as 9 in 10 creative workers say they have been sexually harassed at work

30 May 2024

Please be aware that the below article contains descriptions of sexual harassment and assault and may be upsetting for some readers.

Bectu, the UK’s union for creative industry workers, has called on broadcasters, studios, streamers, production companies and other creative industry bodies and employers to financially back the newly-established Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority – as 84% of industry workers say the sector needs an independent body to investigate, report and prevent harassment.

  • One in five working in the UK’s creative industries have experienced a serious sexual assault while at work.
  • Of those who have reported an incident to their employer, just 9% thought that it was dealt with appropriately.
  • 92% agree that the creative industries allows a dynamic where those in power can too easily abuse their status.
  • Bectu trade union has launched a helpline for members who experience sexual harassment at work.

This comes as new research from the union reveals that a shocking 92% of the workforce has witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment on grounds of their sex or gender in the workplace. The research also points to a lack of adequate and trusted reporting mechanisms, with just 13% of UK creative workers confident that the industry is taking effective action to deter unwanted behaviours at work.

The survey of workers across the UK’s creative industries – including film and TV, theatre, live events, broadcasting and cinema – found that six in ten creative workers had experienced unwanted and/or inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing; and a quarter have witnessed the circulation of pornography in the workplace.

85 per cent of those surveyed had experienced or witnessed an incident of sexual harassment in their place of work (85%), and for half of those surveyed, incidents had occurred at a work-related social event.

For the majority, the perpetrator was a colleague (64%) or multiple colleagues (37%), and most likely someone senior (55%) or the person’s manager or head of department (26%). For those working in theatre, live events and cinemas, perpetrators were more likely to be attending events or members of the public.

Worryingly, respondents felt that high-profile cases, such as the allegations against Russell Brand, have done little to shift the dial; only 14% say that high-profile cases have improved employers’ responses to sexual harassment in the creative sector.

Reporting systems broken; toxic environments allowed to fester

The survey found that reporting systems across the creative industries are not fit for purpose, with many driven to leave their job rather than reporting sexual harassment, for fear of reprisal. This disproportionately affects the freelance workforce – of those who left their job, 31% were in full time employment and 69% were freelancers.

83% of respondents felt that behaviours that would be considered toxic and inappropriate in public life are often tolerated in the creative sector, and just a third of respondents (and less than a quarter of freelancers) felt confident about how to report an incident of sexual harassment at work.

More than 60% chose not to report an incident because they were worried it would negatively impact their career.

Freelancers even more exposed

The precarity of freelancing alongside a lack of employee support structures means that freelancers working in the creative industries face even more challenges when dealing with sexual harassment at work.

84% of respondents believe it is harder to report incidents of sexual harassment as a freelancer.

More than half of freelancers did not report incidents because they were worried that it might lose them work (59%) or that it would negatively impact their career (71% compared to 30% of full time employees).

Many respondents talked about the power imbalances and that they felt disposable compared to performers or ‘talent’ that they worked with.

Need for decisive industry action is clear

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs discussed the need for more decisive action from the screen industries on bullying and harassment in an evidence session for the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into film and high-end television.

Bectu previously wrote to UK broadcasters and the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) following the allegations of rape and sexual assault levelled against Russel Brand last year.

The union also launched its ‘six demands’ in late 2021 to help prevent and address all forms of harassment and bullying across the sector.

Union launches new Sexual Harassment Support Service

Bectu has launched a helpline for members who experience sexual harassment at work.

Members can use the service to record their experiences and so help the union to track problem areas. They also have the option of talking to a trained staff member and, if they wish, discussing any next steps they may wish to take, for example raising the issue formally.

Bectu is rolling the service out across its membership after a successful trial in its freelance areas.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“It’s no secret that sexual harassment remains a scourge on the creative industries. While we hear lots of warm words and well-meaning policies and procedures abound, it is clear that a radical step-change is needed for the sector to meaningfully tackle this issue.

“Everyone should be able to do their job free from the threat of any form of harassment. In a sector where power imbalances are particularly extreme, it’s critical that victims can have confidence that their allegations will be taken seriously, investigated and dealt with swiftly, and perpetrators held to account.

“While it’s been pleasing to see organisations from across the sector signal their support for the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority, this needs to now be backed up by meeting CIISA’s financial ask of no more than 0.1% of organisations’ annual UK turnover. This will be critical to ensure the authority moves from its development to operational phase.

“The mental toll and wide-reaching impacts of workplace sexual harassment can be absolutely devastating. Employers across the creative industries must take a much more proactive, leading role in ensuring the sector is a safe, mentally healthy and respectful place to work for everyone, including freelancers and behind the scenes workers.”

Accounts from the survey include:

“I have been raped on a film by the director…Been shown pornography by a presenter. Many inappropriate comments. Lost work due to being a woman. Seeing a man from the crew masturbating in the compound women’s loos. Unwanted touching.” Film and TV freelancer

“My manager constantly makes inappropriate comments. But our company is a struggling indie cinema and I know he is one of the people keeping the place going, and jeopardising his job would mean jeopardising the company and the jobs of my other colleagues and friends, so I don’t say anything.” Cinema worker

“There is a systemic problem with micro aggressions – at my original place of work, I couldn’t stretch, lean across the sound desk or pick up something from the floor without being ogled by my supervisor.” Theatre and live events freelancer

“A senior manager witnessed another colleague forcibly kissing me during a work social event. The next day I spoke to other senior managers about the incident and how uncomfortable it made me. I left at the end of my contract. This company gave this person a full-time position. He was a known offender.” Unscripted TV freelancer

“Those who complain about bullying/harassment, or make waves, will just quietly find that their contract is not renewed or they are not rehired next time around. With so many out of work it’s far easier to hire the person who will not make a fuss. We have zero rights, or stability, so we can complain but our complaints just make us an unnecessary pain in an already stretched production. It’s easier for them to hire those who are quiet and get on with the usually difficult and taxing job at hand without making waves.” TV freelancer

“My manager constantly makes inappropriate comments. But our company is a struggling indie cinema and I know he is one of the people keeping the place going, and jeopardising his job would mean jeopardising the company and the jobs of my other colleagues and friends, so I don’t say anything.” Cinema worker

Bectu members can report incidents to our specially trained team of staff. Find out how you can contact them.

Want to know more about our sexual harassment support service?
Find out more here.

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