Attorney Gloria Allred, in her opening remarks at the union’s James Cagney Boardroom, asked the overflow crowd if they’d experienced sexual harassment first hand. More than half raised their hands.
She asked how many had experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. Again, more than half raised their hands,.
She asked how many had been subjected to verbal abuse of a sexual nature. Again, more than half raised their hands.
She asked how many had been subjected to unwanted touching or sexual assault. Again, more than half.
She asked how many had been retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, and only about a quarter raised their hands. But when she asked how many had not filed complains because of the fear of retaliation, more than half again raised their hands.
Allred’s unscientific survey didn’t distinguish between industry and non-industry workplaces where the harassment and assault occurred, but the responses from the crowd offered more evidence of what SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris called an “epidemic.”
Carteris, however, noted in her opening remarks that “this is not just a Hollywood situation — this is systemic throughout our culture…And this is not just in our culture, it’s global.”
Carteris said that the panel discussion, titled “Beyond the Headlines: A Conversation on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in the Entertainment Industry,” is just the first in a series the union will be holding.
She also suggested that the union and its high-profile members could play a major roll in changing the culture of abuse. “By working together,” she said, “we can absolutely change our culture.”
Panelist Lisa Vidal recalled that when she was 19, she was sent to an audition where the only thing in the room was a mattress. She got out of there fast and told her agent to never put her in that kind of dangerous situation again.
From tonight’s show of hands, most of the women in the room could tell a similar — or worse — story.