Anita Hill-Led Hollywood Commission Details Sexual Harassment Claims in Industry Workplaces

Anita Hill
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Anita Hill

"Telling people jokes that are based on gender, that is a gateway to other behavior," the chair of the industry organization says.

In its latest survey, the Hollywood Commission, an organization chaired by Anita Hill, found that gender harassment, or offensive workplace talk, is the most common type of harassment in the entertainment industry.

The survey revealed that gender harassment is experienced virtually equally across Hollywood, by 62 percent of male respondents and 67 percent of women surveyed, and especially younger women. The commission's anonymous survey of 9,630 Hollywood workers was completed between November 2019 and February 2020.

According to survey respondents, the experience of crude and gendered language in the workplace is followed by less common instances of harassment including unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion and sexual assault.

Hill, a professor at Brandeis University who brought national exposure to the issue of sexual harassment during the 1991 Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, says offensive or demeaning jokes about someone's gender need to be addressed precisely because they encourage worse behavior that she and her commission have been working to eliminate in Hollywood.

"Telling people jokes that are based on gender, that is a gateway to other behavior. And our evidence shows these kinds of behavior do escalate to worse behavior," Hill tells The Hollywood Reporter. The latest commission survey and its findings point to Hollywood mostly ignoring gender harassment in the workplace as it focuses on investigating and tackling sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

"Gender harassment is far more common than other types of sexual harassment. Yet to date, most institutions have focused on investigating and preventing the more dramatic, sexualized types (sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention), with less attention paid to the more common gender harassment (consisting of sexist hostility and crude behavior)," the report states.

"Because we understand this is happening to young people entering the entertainment industry workplace, as people become acculturated to it, that sets off expectations of behavior based on gender, and that sets the tone for people believing if you want to get a job, if you want to work in this industry, you have to put up with this kind of behavior," Hill notes.

By tackling gender harassment, the Commission hopes to stop the ripple effects that lead to worse offenses, from unwanted sexual attention to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"We're hoping that not only do we identify behavior that's happening, sexual harassment of all forms, but that we can work to prevent the most egregious forms by addressing and calling out gender harassment and alerting people to the harm of this behavior," Hill adds.

The survey found women aged between 24 and 39 years were most likely to report gender harassment.  The next most common industry harassment, according to the latest landmark industry survey, is unwanted sexual attention, with 42 percent of women, and younger women especially, indicating they experienced awkward hugs or touching and persistent requests for dates.

Twenty percent of women surveyed said they faced sexual coercion as a condition of continued employment or possible career advancement, while 5 percent of women said they experienced a sexual assault, from unwanted kissing to "non-consensual sexual intercourse."

The commission, funded by the industry, came together in 2017 to introduce protections against sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood’s workplaces in the wake of the #MeToo campaign. The earlier three reports on workplace bias also warned that unfair and inappropriate behavior had cost industry workers in terms of productivity and career advancement opportunities.

The latest report goes further in answering where, when and to whom unwanted harassment and other offending experiences are most likely to occur. The industry findings not surprisingly conclude men in high places, with power and privilege, "are the most common perpetrators of sexual coercion and sexual assault among females who said coercion and assault were the worst conduct they experienced." Co-workers and peers "more often commit gender harassment and unwanted sexual attention than do those with power and influence."

At the same time, powerful women in Hollywood remain abusers as well, the survey found. "Among men who identified sexual coercion as the most serious experience, 40 percent of offenders were female. And for those who said unwanted sexual attention was the most serious experience, 47 percent of the offenders were female," the commission's report reads.

In December, the commission expects to unveil "several responsive resources" to help Hollywood workers tackle all forms of harassment, including online guides, a code of conduct and a production field manual for those working outside office settings.

"There's a consensus about needing more information, needing consistent standards, needing transparency in terms of policies and procedures, and understanding how to navigate different systems so, when people do want to come forward, they know how to do it and they may have a variety of options for coming forward," Hill says.