Before I start discussing this extremely heated topic I would like to make a disclaimer. I promise I have not shared any information that has not been carefully researched and verified by reliable sources. This article is to inform actors of their legal rights, what steps they should take to protect themselves and hopefully win their case, and what resources are available to you to get help. If you need help there is a phone number you can call from the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline from rainn.org. The number is 800-656-HOPE (4673). A highly trained representative from your area will assist you, with confidentiality, in letting you know the steps you need to take and what laws you need to pay attention to for your area. I am not a professional so this is why I have sources. Some of this might seem like common sense but it's still worth a read.
Enough is enough.
It is not news to any of you that there is a reckoning happening in our society all over the world. Women and men are done being afraid of powerful people using their power over others (whether it's physical power or ranking power) to gain sex.
Because that is what sexual harassment and assault is about. The abuse of power.
As an actor in the DFW area I had the privilege to attend a town hall meeting for the theatre industry. Our community has recently been devastated to hear reports emerge of assault at multiple theatres in our community. The meeting was productive and encouraging and steps will start to be taken for theatres to adopt practices to protect actors and employees from predatory behavior. However we did not have enough time to go into detail about what legal precautions a student and actor can take to protect themselves if legal action is taken. I hope that this will at least inform some of you what steps an actor (whether student or professional) needs to take if that is indeed the course you need to take to gain justice.
Education and Title IX for Student Actors.
There is nothing more devastating than hearing about vulnerable students being harassed and abused at a place that is supposed to be considered safe. But as we have seen from the horrific stories of Baylor University and more educational institutions clearly we need to talk about it. These Institutions are some of the most powerful companies in the country. If something bad should happen to you on these campuses, do not be naïve and assume they are going to do the right thing. From personal experience, it appears they rarely do. Always assume that it is you against them protecting they're company. Be smart. Now that we have that out of the way let's go into it. If you are a student and have been assaulted or harassed by anyone, the first thing you need to do is report it to someone. Period. This does not mean that there will be legal action taken. It means it is legally recorded. According to the Title IX website, schools are legally required to address, respond, and remedy hostile educational environments and failure to do so is a violation that means a school could risk losing it's federal funding. This includes both private and public. All are protected. Employees are legally required to make an official report and most will if they want to be protected legally. Every student and parent needs to go to knowyourix.org and read the 2017 Interim Guidance. Below are the steps a student should take to report and protect yourself legally if an incident occurs at school.
1. Find your Title IX Representative: Even if nothing has happened to you, find your Title IX Representative for your district, school or university. Know their email.
2. Write and Record Immediately: If there was an exchange that made you feel uncomfortable, write it down, record it, and date it. Get your facts straight and time stamp it. This can especially be helpful when asked when and where things happened if the situation escalates. Take pictures
3. Tell Someone: Someone you really trust. Some employees including counselors, advisors, and nurses are bound by confidentiality agreements, so choose who you tell carefully.
4. Have the Title IX representative present if a meeting is held with HR. I have heard of some schools having only Human Resources present for meetings. The reason this concerns me is that Human Resources wants to protect the company, not the student necessarily. Title IX however knows the rights of the student and is more aware of what the school is legally required to do to protect the student to avoid losing Federal Funding. More importantly they will help your case. Record the meetings just in case.
5. This is a big deal, so don't stop pestering them for action. It baffles me how many times I hear that a school put people off or won't respond to victims. Do not stop demanding that action be taken. Do not think you are annoying them. Sexual harassment is not a joke. This is the kind of thing that can ruin people's lives. So do not let them blow you off. I don't care if you have to threaten to sue. Make them listen to you.
Advice on Sexual Assault for ALL Actors
Let me make this very clear. Unwanted touch is sexual assault. It doesn't matter where. If you think the person may receive a warning that their touching is inappropriate then tell them because they might not know. If you are a student, repeat Steps 1-5 above if it is not rape. If it is rape, please see a doctor as soon as possible and report it. You must go to a doctor to prove to a court that you were in fact raped. Tell your friends and family. Have a plan in place before this happens. Having a set plan will make the decision process easier through the shock. I know this is hard to talk about, but we have to start having plans for tragedies like this. You have a plan for a fire emergency, this is no different. Have the doctor write a report for the police and tell law enforcement as soon as you are able to. Have your support system around you because no one should be alone in this. And hear me when I say this: It is never your fault. You are important. There are people who will defend you.
Actors in the Union
The Actos Equity Association in my opinion could do more to protect actors from sexual violence and harassment. After all their sister union, Screen Actors Guild, in my opinion can take some of blame for the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It's not like people didn't know, he was a union member and yet nothing was done but settlements. But I digress. According to AEA they are training their Equity Business Representatives to handle sexual harassment and assault cases with better and stricter efficiency. If you are a union member then please take all concerns to these representatives. Record. Email so that it is documented forever. Document every single detail. This will help and strengthen your case. If a representative does not handle the situation, take it directly to AEA and report it. If the actor or employee who is harassing or assaulting is Equity, you can also report them to AEA. They can take action against that individual. Go through every single avenue you can. As stated above, do not let them blow you off. Persist. Be annoying. Do whatever you can for them to take action. It is not just for your safety, it is for the safety of more employees to come who have to work with this person. Remember AEA is legally required to take action as a union, if they do not they could face serious legal implications. I believe after these scandals, they will act faster with these accusations.
Sexual Harassment Laws for Free Lance Actors
Okay I am not going to lie this part sucks. There really is not a lot of legal protection from harassment if you are non-union or if the theatre is non-union. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Department (EEOC) freelance actors are not protected under the EEOC because we are not at the theatre long enough to be considered a part time employee. Yeah. I know. It really sucks. But there is hope. Now theatres are still taking action from reports especially now that it is a big deal. First go to your stage manager. It is their job to take care of the cast. They will go to the director and hopefully action can be taken from there. If they do not take action go straight to where the money is. The Board of Directors. Again, this is where you are perfectly allowed to be annoying. If that doesn't work, get the word out. If this person is not safe to work with and no one is listening to you, then make them listen. Recently a young girl caught the DFW theatre community's attention by filming and posting her own story about a heinous act that was done to her and a cast member. Did people listen? Oh yes they did. Maybe the theatre will listen to your concerns if their reputation is on the line. If you are a minor and you are not in the union, you still have protection from inappropriate behavior. Tell an adult immediately.
This blog could have been a lot longer and I thought about typing more and more information, but you have all the tools you need to take to learn more about this. The law can only protect you if you know it. Plain and simple. Read every law, every handbook and every contract regarding inappropriate sexual behavior. Talk to your friends and family about a plan to make sure that no one falls through the cracks. This movement will be for nothing if something does not change.