Just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most U.S. cities and states, disgraced Hollywood producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein was sentenced on March 11 to 23 years behind bars, a landmark moment for survivors of sexual assault.
Yet, almost three years after the Me Too movement catalyzed a sea change in societal awareness of sexual misconduct and abuse, a new report from a commission chaired by Anita Hill shows how that change has been more limited when it comes to systemic reforms and accountability.
Last fall, the Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality conducted a survey of nearly 10,000 workers in various parts of the entertainment industry. The findings, released Tuesday, demonstrate that many are skeptical that Hollywood has made significant strides in addressing sexual misconduct.
Just 35% of the survey’s respondents said they believed “a powerful individual” would “somewhat likely” or “very likely” face accountability for harassing someone in a less powerful position. Only 48% said they “saw progress since the #MeToo movement in addressing power abuses” and the inequity between perpetrator and accuser.
“Many times high level folks get huge paydays to leave — seems like they’re rewarded for bad behavior,” one respondent wrote. “#MeToo seems to have stalled while offenders are still at it.”
And only 28% of respondents who said they had experienced workplace sexual misconduct felt comfortable reporting it. Many respondents cited a fear of not being believed, or a fear of retaliation or professional consequences, such as being labeled “difficult to work with” or being forced out of the industry altogether.
“We might report something to a supervisor, or even tell the harasser off, but if they’re somebody who’s talented or otherwise valuable, or they bring in a lot of revenue, they have staying power,” one respondent wrote. “Instead word goes around that the little guy (victim) is the problem.”
Formed in 2017, the commission involves various entertainment industry leaders and institutions, including studios, networks, unions and talent agencies. It is led by Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University and a scholar on workplace sexual harassment and gender inequality. Hill’s 1991 Senate testimony against now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas helped bring national attention to these issues.
In addition to the study, the commission plans to create resources based on its findings and recommendations. The first is a new digital platform for reporting “sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, bullying or microaggressions,” launching in 2021. The platform will notify both users and participating organizations if more than one report is filed involving the same perpetrator, since perpetrators of sexual misconduct are often serial abusers.
Phillip Faraone via Getty Images Anita Hill leads the Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, which plans to create resources based on the findings and recommendations of its recent survey.
Progress has also been mixed on the legislative front, according to a separate report released Tuesday by the National Women’s Law Center. Many lawmakers on the national, state and local levels had pledged to pass new laws to reform practices involving sexual misconduct, such as making it easier for individuals to report incidents or leveling the power differential between the perpetrator and accuser. The researchers found that since October 2017, more than 230 such bills have been introduced across the country, and 19 states have passed some form of legislation.
For example, 15 states now limit or bar companies from making employees sign nondisclosure agreements. Such legal documents are often used to force sexual assault accusers into silence, sometimes by paying them private settlements. Similarly, seven states now limit companies from using forced arbitration, which reduces transparency by forcing accusers to settle their cases privately and restricting their legal options.
Moreover, 11 states and New York City now mandate or recommend that employers hold anti-harassment and anti-discrimination trainings, and six states now allow independent contractors and/or interns to be covered under workplace harassment protections.
But in many other states, progress has been much slower. Crucially, many reforms on workplace sexual misconduct have not reached those who are most vulnerable and marginalized, such as workers of color and low-income workers in low-wage jobs, where the power differential between perpetrator and accuser is often even wider.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
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