One in five UK creative industry workers experience sexual assault at work

A survey by UK union Bectu covered workers across film, TV, theatre, live events, broadcasting and cinema.


By Mona Tabbara 3 Jun 2024

One in five UK creative industry workers experience sexual assault at work
Cr: Unsplash

One in five people working in the UK’s creative industries have experienced a serious sexual assault while at work, according to a survey from UK union Bectu.

The survey has been conducted throughout May of 225 workers across the creative industries – including film and TV, theatre, live events, broadcasting and cinema.

Findings include 92% of the workforce has witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment on grounds of their sex or gender in the workplace.

Six in 10 creative workers had experienced unwanted and/or inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing.

A quarter has witnessed the circulation of pornography at work.

Of the 56 film workers who responded, 98% said they had witnessed bullying or harassment on grounds of sex or gender in the workplace.

High-profile cases, such as the allegations against Russell Brand, have done little to improve the situation. Only 14% of the total respondents say such cases have improved employers’ responses to sexual harassment in the creative sector.

Allegations of rape and sexual assault against UK comedian, TV presenter and actor Brand were first made by four women in a joint investigation by UK broadsheet The Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in September of last year, with further allegations coming to light in the following months. Brand continues to deny the allegations.

Bectu 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.

The survey revealed 85% of workers had experienced or witnessed an incident of sexual harassment in their place of work, and for half of those surveyed, incidents had occurred at a work-related social event.

For 64%, the perpetrator was a colleague 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.

Breakdown in reporting

The survey found that reporting systems across the creative industries are not fit for purpose, with many driven to leave a job rather than reporting sexual harassment, for fear of reprisal. Of those who had 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 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, while 84% of respondents believe it is harder to report incidents of sexual harassment as a freelancer.

In response, Bectu is launching a new helpline for members who experience sexual harassment at work. Members can use the service to record their experiences and help the union to track problem areas. They also have the option of talking to a trained staff member and have the option of raising the issue formally.

“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,” said Philippa Childs, head of Bectu.

“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.”

This story originally appeared on our sister site Screen

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