SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, speaking tonight in New York at a panel discussion on sexual harassment, said that the union and its members will play a key role in changing not only the industry’s attitudes about harassment and abuse but the global culture’s as well.

SAG-AFTRA

“This is an important conversation, and it is a conversation that we at SAG-AFTRA are going to be having on a regular basis,” she said at the event sponsored by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. “This is not an issue of our industry; this is systemic within our culture and on a global level. We must empower our members, not only to be able to protect themselves when something is happening and to give them voice and take them out of the isolation and that feeling of shame but how do we go and protect our members and so they have voice to prevent things from happening.

“This is an ongoing night of empowerment as we move through this process,” Carteris added. “We are changing within our industry. We have to be able to speak of what is happening so that we can change our culture. … I look forward to us changing the culture, because that’s what we must do if we want to change things for the better.”

This is the second time this week that Carteris has introduced a panel on the issue. On Wednesday, she said sounded a similar theme, saying, “By working together, we can absolutely change our culture.”

Attorney Laura Schnell said that the EEOC and the federal courts recognize that “sexual harassment is a kind of sex discrimination in employment,” and that there are two types of sexual harassment.

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The first type, she said, is quid pro quo – “You sleep with me and you get the job, or you don’t sleep with me and you don’t get the job.”

The second type, she said, involves unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is “severe or pervasive” and creates a hostile work environment.

“We are in crisis mode,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East, who noted that some of those who have been accused are members of the guild. “These are not garden-variety grievance situations. This is a situation that can be extremely complicated emotionally, and let’s be honest with ourselves: It can be a member who is involved.”

WGA East

The guild, he said, is looking at the broader issue of sexual harassment “from the perspective of what is it that the members expect and need, and what are the members themselves willing to do. Our first step is to talk extensively with our members. We are going to do a survey of our members; we are going to have meetings with our members. The second thing we’re going to do is make sure our staff is trained, as we will be making resources available to our members.”

Lydia Pilcher, the Producers Guild’s national vp, motion pictures, said the images that Hollywood creates have contributed to a culture of discrimination, harassment and abuse.

“We do know that our culture resides in the realm of ideas and images and stories and it is really the narrative that we live in every day,” she said. “So the idea that the normalization of hypersexualized female images, roles [and] stories on screen is very much connected to discrimination and sexual abuse. It is real.”

Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s national director of EEO and diversity, noted that sexual harassment and abuse is “societal” and not limited to the entertainment industry but that it is “certainly the most visible.”

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“People see these [actors] and see these stories,” he said. “They’re in our homes, and you grow up with these people and there’s a connection that doesn’t happen in other workplace situations that are closed to folks in that visible way.”

Because of that, he said, “there is a special obligation for those in this industry to really recognize that there is a leadership role to be played, to not only let people know what is available to them in terms of recourse and recovery from the trauma that they experience but also to try to have that culture shift – to use the work that we are all a part of — to really change the narrative, to give people alternative examples about normative relationships, what’s OK and what’s not.”

Lillian Gallina, social work supervisor at the Actors Fund, said that the Fund and its resources are available to anyone in the industry who has experienced sexual harassment or abuse.