EXCLUSIVE: A survey of more than 2,000 WGA West members has found that 64% of female writers say they’ve experienced sexual harassment sometime in their careers, and that “a significant amount of the harassment writers experience occurs in the writers’ room.”
In a recent communique to members, the guild said survey also found that 11% of male writers said that they too had experienced sexual harassment on the job, and that “many more writers have witnessed harassment.” Responses to the survey, in which about a fifth of the guild’s active members participated, “have given us a sobering, first-person insight into the conditions that make addressing the issue both essential and urgent,” the guild said.
The survey was sent to the guild’s members in February, with WGA leaders saying it would help them “understand how well or badly our employers are doing, or have done in the past, in dealing with complaints.”
In January, the guild issued a Statement of Principles on Sexual Harassment that it said will “form the basis of our policies and actions going forward” and serve “as our starting point toward meaningful change in our industry’s treatment of sexual harassment and discrimination.”
To further address the issue, the guild said it’s “exploring the possibility of a series of member conversations about standards for a successful writing room. By proscribing sexual and other harassment among writers, these standards would enable all the writers in the room to fully participate, rather than being alienated by treatment no one should have to experience. These conversations would also address situations that arise for screenwriters, MOW writers and series writers in professional meeting settings.”
The guild said the survey responses “are serving the vital purpose of informing and motivating our search for ways to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, and, indeed, harassment of all types, from the professional lives of writers and those who work with them. For those of you who have experienced harassment, but did not share an account, be assured that the many stories we have received represent a broad array of experiences.”
The guild also noted that many respondents reported that the Friends sexual harassment decision handed down by the California Supreme Court in 2006 “is mistakenly used to justify inappropriate behavior in the workplace.”
The case was brought by a female writers’ assistant on the NBC show who claimed that crude jokes made in the writers’ room was tantamount to sexual harassment. In a unanimous decision, however, the court ruled state law “does not outlaw sexually coarse and vulgar language or conduct that merely offends.”
That decision, the guild said, “acknowledges that the creative environment of a writers’ room may come with crude talk. However, the decision does not permit such talk to be aimed at an individual in the room. Indeed, it acknowledges that objectionable talk may, in some circumstances, be enough to create a hostile work environment.”
The guild said that its “guiding principle” with respect to harassment is to “ensure a respectful culture with zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and assault; we want a culture which enables victims to speak up in a safe way that takes their experiences seriously. Your employer should investigate such claims thoroughly and with transparency. There should be due process for alleged offenders, and proportionate consequences for guilty offenders. The reality is that this problem is too difficult, too long-standing, and too deeply rooted to yield a quick fix. Be assured that we are working every day to determine and implement a full array of responses that will be necessary to eradicate bullying, harassment, and assault in the writing workplace in Hollywood.”
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