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Releasing the first results from a long-gestating industry survey, the Hollywood Commission — chaired by Anita Hill — has shared grimly unsurprising findings, including that fewer than half of those who participated believe the industry has made progress in addressing power abuses since the #MeToo movement began three years ago.
“People feel there is a lack of accountability for misbehavior,” Hill says. “As many as 64 percent of our sample said they thought people in power or authority would not be held accountable for harassment that was found to exist.”
As a first step toward addressing the industry’s intractable cultural problems, the commission — in conjunction with its member organizations, including the major entertainment companies, agencies and guilds — is creating a cross-industry anonymous reporting platform that will help identify abusers, with plans to start rolling it out in the first quarter of 2021. Ninety-one percent of respondents to the survey expressed a need for such a reporting platform, Hill says, adding, “People are clamoring for accountability.”
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 the reporting platform will help identify repeat offenders, which is especially important in an industry in which many workers are transient and production entities spring into and out of existence.
“People move from job to job,” Hill says. “It is very difficult to trace employment history and perhaps history of abuse and inappropriateness. It allows us to see people who may be serial abusers who might not otherwise be found out.”
The participation of member organizations ensures “they directly receive information relevant to their work environment,” says attorney Nina Shaw, a founder of the commission along with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and others.
While the commission does not investigate allegations and has no enforcement mechanisms, the platform will allow anonymous two-way online messaging so individuals can ask questions and learn about resources. Multiple reports on the same individual will be reported to that person’s employer or guild, which will then decide what action to take.
The platform will offer two options: An individual will be able to report misconduct, anonymously or not. That person can seek immediate action, in which case the information will be sent — including the name of the alleged offender — to an employer or guild. Another option is to report “conditionally,” meaning a report will be released only if another person reports the same individual. In that case, the employer or the guild will be able to contact the first person who reported — without having access to that person’s identity — to ask if she or he would come forward and participate in an investigation. Should the employer fail to take any action, the commission would not be notified.
“We work with all our partner organizations to establish standards and protocols for how complaints should be handled,” Hill says. “Every company handles their own investigations and they make their own decisions. That’s consistent with what the workers seem to want. They want to know that the organizations that they are working with and associating with are handling these cases appropriately.”
While alleged abusers may work for companies that exist short-term, Shaw says productions “are typically funded by major media companies, and if those major media companies have bought into the survey, then they are going to receive this information. … This allows a much, much greater ability for a company to have a sense of what exactly is going on.” The alleged behavior might also be reported to a guild.
The commission announced the survey, which ultimately collected data from some 9,600 respondents, in November 2019, hoping to collect responses in four weeks. That process took longer than anticipated, and responses were collected through the end of February 2020. The commission began analyzing the data in late July. But the commission only has two full-time staffers and it must then convey its plans to more than two dozen entities that have signed on to participate.
The survey found that only 28 percent of women believed a powerful harasser would be held accountable while men took a somewhat more optimistic view: 45 percent believed someone in power would be held accountable. The majority of respondents said they did not report abuses because they believed nothing would be done. Witnesses were also reluctant to report for fear of retaliation.
The new platform will allow workers to create time-stamped records of their reports that could be used to document complaints in case an individual makes a subsequent legal claim or reports to an enforcement agency. The platform will be “a huge resource,” Hill says.
The commission is also working on bystander training programs to combat the culture of silence in the industry. “Both victims and bystanders indicated to us at the rate of 70 percent or so that they believe reporting is too risky. They fear retaliation. … This is an important start in instilling some confidence and trust in the system. It’s not the end of what we will be doing, but it is a start.”
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