How to Fight Harassment Amid Blurred Lines of the Entertainment Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Entertainment Workplace -Illustration by Hanna Barczyk-SPLASH-2017
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

THR spoke with experts to define some axioms for working in Hollywood, where hotel suite meetings are normal, but attending in a bathrobe is not.

Hollywood's unique workplace environment has, for some, blurred the lines of what constitutes sexual harassment. "A request for a massage doesn't seem as weird as it would in a bank," says UCLA lecturer Kim Elsesser, author of Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That's Dividing the Workplace. THR spoke with experts to define some axioms for working in entertainment:

Sexual content is not an invitation to be sexual outside of work. Lena Dunham was sexually harassed in 2016 by a director who told her, "You would show anything. Even your asshole." But "being sexually frank in their work is very different from giving consent to verbal or physical sexual activity," says psychologist Debra Borys, who notes a double standard in respecting boundaries of sexually frank men versus women.

Stick to the script — literally. Any discussion of sexual experience "has to be narrowly tailored to a specific role," says employment lawyer Ann Fromholz. There's also never a legal reason for a producer to ask to see someone nude in a general meeting — or to demonstrate a sex act, ever.

Professional standards apply outside the office. Hollywood conducts business in hotel suites during film festivals and at afterparties, but "that doesn't mean all bets are off," says Fromholz, adding that the bed should be avoided and bathrobes are never OK.

With power comes responsibility. In the power differential between a successful producer and an aspiring actor, the law is intended to protect the latter, who could be considered a job applicant. Says Fromholz: "It's up to the person in the position of power to govern their conduct." Adds RAINN vp consulting services Kati Lake: "It's incredibly important to think about power dynamics. There doesn't have to be a weapon for someone to feel coerced."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.