February 6, 2017
5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Re: Recommendations for SAG-AFTRA to Strengthen Protections of Members from Workplace Sexual Harassment and Assault
Dear SAG-AFTRA Leadership; Elected and Staff:
We write as members of SAG-AFTRA, with substantial input from many other members, who share our serious concern about sexual harassment and violence and other forms of exploitation in our industry and SAG-AFTRA’s ineffective response to date. This letter articulates these concerns, and also offers some concrete recommendations for the union, which were informed by our conversations with legal and policy experts. We feel it is incumbent upon us, as prominent actors in the industry, to stand for other members most vulnerable to abuse. These include union members who generously and courageously allowed us to include their stories here in the hopes that the union would take swift and meaningful action. It is our intention to provide protections for women, children, men, and all of our LGBTQIA members who may be vulnerable to sexual assault.
We call upon the union to (1) convene immediately a meeting to discuss these concerns and recommendations with members; and (2) develop a transparent process to form a timely and responsive action plan implementing these and other recommendations that includes members and persons with expertise in sexual harassment law from a worker’s perspective.
Our concerns and recommendations fall into these categories:
1. Handling of Sexual Harassment in SAG-AFTRA Constitution
2. Unresponsiveness by SAG-AFTRA to Complaints of Harassment and Abuse
3. Inadequate and Ineffectual Handling of Complaints by Union
4. Need for Stronger Whistle-blower Protections
5. Rampant On-Set Member Abuse
6. Misappropriation/Exploitation of Union Members
7. Disclosure to Members About Repeat Predators
8. Abuse of Child Performers
9. Casting Meeting Abuse
These next actions revolve around the concept of mutual agreements with our employers, agents and the other Above the Line unions. There are arguments for and against doing this:
Argument for: Strength in numbers. And buy-in from the Industry as a whole.
Argument against: Regulations get watered down. We lose control of our own concepts.
- Immediate Contract Standing Committee Meetings with The AMPTP and JPC to Discuss Mutually Agreed Upon Regulations. Transparent to Membership with input from members who have been victims of sexual assault and guidance from professional victim advocates. These meetings should be entered into outside of regular contractual negotiations immediately, and should not in any way be used for contract leveraging.
- Immediate Meetings With The DGA and WGA To Explore Mutually Agreed Upon Regulations. Transparent to Membership with input from members who have been victims of sexual assault and guidance from professional victim advocates. These meetings should be entered into outside of regular contractual negotiations immediately, and should not in any way be used for contract leveraging.
- Immediate Meetings With The ATA To Explore Mutually Agreed Upon Regulations. Transparent to Membership with input from members who have been victims of sexual assault and guidance from professional victim advocates. These meetings should be entered into outside of regular contractual negotiations immediately, and should not in any way be used for contract leveraging.
1. SAG-AFTRA’s Duty of Fair Representation and Changes to the Constitution Post-Merger
As members of SAG-AFTRA, we have a right to fair representation with all the protections and safeguards membership guarantees. Our Union must take active measures to protect our membership from sexual harassment and other matters that may relate to sexual coercion, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. Failure to provide such protections exposes the Union and its current leadership significantly.
Unfortunately, the Union has contributed to an environment in which sexual harassment is neither taken seriously nor remedied. It begins with the SAG-AFTRA Constitution. It is confounding that nearly six years ago, after the SAG-AFTRA merger, the Constitution of the newly merged Union no longer contained the words “sexual harassment” as “conduct unbecoming a member”. Those terms were inexplicably removed from the new Constitutional language.
This is shocking not just because of recent events splashed across headlines; it is deeply disturbing because incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been occurring for as long as there has been a Union. It is not acceptable that the Union would remove language intended to provide protections for sexual assault victims and the mechanisms to discipline members who perpetrate sexual assault. Indeed, as the sole Union representing performer-members, SAG-AFTRA has the power to create (and should create) more protections to combat sexual harassment and violence which all members are vulnerable to, but disproportionately impacts women members. Failure to do so not only violates theUnion’s duty of fair representation to the members, it sends a message to would-be predators in the industry that thisUnion gives them a free pass. This is not acceptable.
*We are including attachments to the old SAG Constitution and the new post merger SAG-AFTRA Constitution language below.
Call to Action:
We call upon the Union to immediately address the issue of sexual harassment and abuse by members by including strong and unequivocal language in the SAG-AFTRA Constitution prohibiting such conduct as a condition of membership. In other words, such conduct would call for immediate investigation, and if found guilty, a penalty and expulsion would be the punishment.
2. Union’s Dismissiveness and Unresponsiveness to Complaints of Sexual Harassment and Abuse
Enclosed as an attachment with this letter are victim accounts entitled "Harassment Stories from Sets and Auditions...” compiled by Frances Fisher. They are being provided in response to President Carteris’ request that members share anonymous stories of sexual harassment and abuse with the SAG-AFTRA lawyers in order to help these lawyers understand what they need to create a Code of Conduct.
In providing the stories, we want to make clear that we are offended by the request and consider it discriminatory. It suggests that the Union was previously unaware of rampant sexual harassment and abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, on a recent call to the hotline, the Union rep said that they have been flooded with calls. Why should victims have to re-experience trauma to prove to the Union what it already knows?
The record is clear that the Union has been aware of the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse for decades, yet unresponsive and dismissive. We are concerned that the Union’s history of unresponsiveness has chilled the willingness of Union members to step forward now with complaints and risk industry retaliation.
For example, three years ago Meissa Hampton, a highly acclaimed and awarded actor, writer, and filmmaker, authored a petition to Union leaders on 6/16/15 addressing some of these issues. She has written that the Union was dismissive and hostile:
As Meissa Hampton writes – “Three years ago, with the input and support of my peers, I authored a petition to the union asking that they address the gender inequities that fuel the culture of sexual abuse that pervades our industry. We asked that they commission a targeted committee to tackle the issues of discrimination, harassment and assault, and the gender inequities that affect our workplace. Our plea included a list of actionable suggestions for the role the union might take in moving us forward. The union was unresponsive. I met with leaders of the union’s women’s committee, and though they clearly acknowledged that women were victimized, their response was dismissive, even hostile.”
*We have attachments below to Meissa Hampton's letter/petition of 6/16/15 as well as an attachment to her follow up Letter of Recommendations to the Women’s Committee dated 3/23/16.
Call to Action:
We think it is critical the Union right this wrong and contact Ms. Hampton and ask for her suggestions again. We also call upon the Union to develop clear and transparent requirements of Union staff and leadership to investigate and respond to member complaints about sexual harassment and abuse. We detail these recommendations below.
3. Inadequate and Ineffectual Union Complaint Procedures
Past Practice: For decades, the Union used an ineffective and insensitive system for reporting sexual assault cases. In the past, reporting instances of sexual assault entailed calling the Union with a grievance at which point the victim was required to give their name and the name of the production they were working on. Without an assurance of anonymity, callers often hung up before lodging their complaint.
Currently, the Union has a helpline, which needs substantial improvements to adequately support victims of sexual assault, as follows:
First, the Union has neither developed nor communicated to membership (or Union staff) clear and concise reporting steps. The Union’s website lists multiple phone numbers for reporting, which is confusing. One of our members recently called one of the phone numbers listed on the website to lodge a sexual harassment complaint and the staff member who answered the phone indicated that it was the “diversity” line. The staff member did not acknowledge that s/he was supposed to be taking sexual assault complaints. Instead, Union staff encourages victims to fill out an online report. However, the website is void of any instruction to members of how to find the online report.
Second, the Union has not developed or communicated to membership or Union staff that reports may be lodged anonymously. While there is an option for anonymous reporting on the website intake form, a caller to the phone hotline must ask the Union staff member if it is possible to report anonymously. This should be offered as an option in the initial intake.
Third, Union staff members are not adequately trained on complaint procedures or on how to handle victim intake calls.
Fourth, there is no transparency of the follow-up process after a report of sexual assault has been made. Victims who have made a report need to have full transparency regarding what steps have been taken to address the claim.
Call to Action:
We encourage the Union to contact appropriate third party organizations that specialize in sexual assault reporting processes and victim support and have developed best practices for these kinds of cases. This would inform the action needed to improve the current reporting system.
At a minimum, we recommend that the Union immediately:
· Develop and distribute to membership and post online steps by which members can report sexual harassment and abuse. The website’s front page should reflect the correct helpline number and reporting steps. The Union should staff the helplines it advertises and train staff to conduct intakes. It must provide clear instructions for online forms.
· Allow members to make anonymous reports and advise members of that option.
· Engage expert advice and employ staff experienced to conduct trauma-informed intakes.
· Provide assistance that educates members about resources for therapeutic support, as well as their rights to criminal and civil actions. We urge the Union to employ staff with experience handling harassment and violence at intersectional identities, across sex, sexual orientation, disability, race and age. We are profoundly concerned about the Union response to abuse of child performers (see also below).
· Establish a protocol for follow up which is clear for the sexual assault victim upon reporting so they understand the next steps and a deadline for accountability.
We ask that the union engage membership in developing a stronger intake and investigation system within the next three months. Members should be given an opportunity to vet the new system. We recommend that the Union survey members and complainants quarterly to get feedback about its system and that it share its findings with membership via quarterly reports. The reports should include data on the number of complaints reported and what the final outcome was of reported incidents. These findings should be presented to the Union membership quarterly. Transparency with Union membership will encourage improvement of the efficacy of the program.
The union should conduct ongoing audits of the procedures with input from the membership and report to the membership the amount of sexual assaults recorded each year. Transparency is critical to changing the norms.
4. Whistle Blower Protections
As we all know, Harvey Weinstein, a titan producer in the industry, has been accused of sexually assaulting 76 women as of now. Allegations include rape. It has long been believed that Weinstein blackballed victims to potential employers. As an example, Peter Jackson was told not to hire two of Harvey Weinstein’s victims, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, claiming they were a “nightmare”.
While there are laws in place to protect whistleblowers, Hollywood does not seem to care to adhere to them. Currently, there is no internal mechanism in place to protect whistleblowers from industry wide retaliation. This is a problem as most actors know that studios keep lists of actors they find “difficult”.
Call to Action:
We recommend an agreement be made between SAG-AFTRA and sister Unions i.e. the Producers Guild and Directors Guild regarding whistleblower protections for people reporting instances of sexual assault.
It is immaterial that the Union does not have signatory deals in place with agencies and managers.
This should be an industry wide agreement that is separate from any other contractual understandings between parties. The union needs to ensure that actors who are standing up for their basic human rights are not blackballed. Producers, directors, studio executives, agents, managers, and everyone else working in our business need to be reminded that retaliation for reporting instances of sexual assault by putting actors on “lists” to avoid is illegal.
California Whistle Blower Protections-
5. Sexual Assault & On Set Support
Many instances reported were experienced at the hands of producers or directors. Often times it seems coercion is used as a tactic in the workplace. There seems to be a pattern of abuse that is especially prominent during love or sex scenes. The Union should not tolerate coercion that is created by out-of-balance power dynamics. Actors need support in these situations.
Actors are often in difficult circumstances during love scenes when the agreed upon script is changed or discarded. Often times, actors report having agreed to a love scene that entailed no nudity to then be confronted by superiors who demand unreasonable changes. Often the pressure of slowing down work or holding up productions while an actor is trying to renegotiate on set is used as a weapon in the out of balance power dynamic. There is the implied and at times verbalized threat that the actor is “being difficult.”
Call to Action:
The Union needs to take swift remedial measures to prevent this from continuing.
We recommend the Union insist upon the presence of trained same sex advocates for actors during the filming of love scenes. Actor advocates would know the terms of the contractual agreement as they apply to nudity and sex scenes. Any changes requested by production should be privately communicated to the actor through the actor advocate. Actors must be informed they are not required to agree to these requested changes and cannot be compelled to do so. The actor advocates should also inform the director and producer that the actor cannot be penalized for non-participation in any requested change. The Producers’ Guild recently put out anti-sexual harassment guidelines which includes-
QUID PRO QUO HARASSMENT
When a job, promotion or other professional benefit is conditioned on the recipient’s submission to sexual advances or other conduct based on sex, or such benefits are denied to an individual because they refused to participate in a romantic or sexual activity.
Examples: Producer agrees to cast actor/actress only if s/he submits to sexual request(s); Financier threatens to pull funding from project because an individual refuses to submit to sexual request(s).
The Union should pay actor advocates and the production should reimburse the Union for those costs. It should be clear that the actor advocate works for the Union not the production. Productions find the funds to budget for a fire marshal when fire is present, an animal wrangler when animals are working, and for special staff when children are working. There is no reason productions cannot also reimburse the Union the costs associated with actor advocates guaranteeing the safety of actors as it relates to sexual assault.
Some actors have achieved a level of success that allows them to negotiate for more protections than those actors who have achieved less success. This is not acceptable. All actors should have the same protections as it relates to sexual assault, harassment and bullying.
When shooting love scenes there should be limited monitors and closed sets during love scenes and no smart phones where people can record the love scene from monitors. There is no intention of limiting creativity in any of these recommendations. Instead the purpose of these protections are to ensure that professional and personal boundaries are respected.
6. Large-scale Misappropriation/Exploitation of Union Members
There has been a glut of pornography sites that use actors’ love scenes and their nudity as content on their sites. They are repurposing actors’ work and monetizing it. The actor is neither consulted nor paid for this use. Sometimes these websites use the content of actual scenes from a movie that contain nudity and other times the actor’s face is added to another persons' body to create the illusion that the actor is participating in even more explicit sex acts, as was reported by SAG member Jennifer Esposito. This emerging technology is called “DeepFakes”.
It is often young actors who don’t have and can’t afford legal counsel. Actors agree to love scenes as part of their character’s arc and part of the story line. A character’s sexuality is only part of the character they agreed to play. It is only part of the story they agreed to tell. When their actual body and work are used to sell pornographic content it is not consistent with the agreement the actor made with the producer or studio. Perhaps films could have an amendment in the credits stating that love scenes or scenes including nudity are not part of fair use and are not allowed to be used by any outside source. When actors find themselves on these pornographic websites they feel sexually violated. This is not a condition they agreed to and the Union must take steps to prevent it.
As reported in a recent article:
Porn performer Grace Evangeline told us over Twitter direct messages that porn stars are used to having their work spread around free to tube sites like SendVid, where the Gal Gadot fake is uploaded, without their permission. But she said that this was different. She’d never seen anything like this.
“One important thing that always needs to happen is consent,” Evangeline said. “Consent in private life as well as consent on film. Creating fake sex scenes of celebrities takes away their consent. It’s wrong.”
Even for people whose livelihoods involve getting in front of a camera, the violation of personal boundaries is troubling. "I showed Alia Janine, a retired porn performer who was in the sex industry for 15 years, the video of Gadot.” “It’s really disturbing,” she told me over the phone. “It kind of shows how some men basically only see women as objects that they can manipulate and be forced to do anything they want... It just shows a complete lack of respect for the porn performers in the movie, and also the female actresses.”
Call to Action:
The Union needs to look into legal protections and send out cease and desist letters to these sites. The Union should also work with legislatures to create laws to protect actors from misappropriation and exploitation.
7. Expanded Disclosure of Predator Complaints
Furthermore, there is an industry wide mechanism in place that harbors habitual offenders. There is no transparency regarding predators who may have paid off victims of sexual assault in exchange for Non-Disclosure Agreements or about whom there have been multiple complaints. It was widely reported that employers and agencies and management companies were well aware of habitual offenders and did nothing to inform potential employees. In many cases actors have been told that if they reported an incident of sexual assault involving a producer, they would never work again or that their agency wouldn’t take a stand in support of the actor because the relationship between the agency and the producer was too valuable to jeopardize.
Some performers were even harassed by their own management company when they complained about inappropriate behavior of highly paid clients of the same management company. How can we as an industry start to dismantle this?
Call to Action:
SAG-AFTRA could lead the pack by launching an industry wide pledge for transparency. The Union cannot do it alone and it must have the goodwill of all of Hollywood and its many branches including managers, agencies, studios, casting directors, publicists, production companies and subsidiaries. All parties must come to the table to ensure a safe workplace where sexual assault becomes a thing of the past. It would be a pledge to be more effective allies for change and to commit to eradicating sexual harassment in Hollywood. The pledge could be unveiled publicly at a press conference and ask the industry that if a person has received two or more sexual assault complaints the Union and the proper authorities should be informed. Of course everyone has the right to due process but workers also should have every protection guaranteeing a safe workplace. It is our hope the Union could explore protections with legislatures to enact wider reaching legal protections from exposure to habitual offenders. Perhaps if the production insists on using this person while the claim is being investigated the Union should require it to hire a minder or supervisor who is trained in appropriate workplace behavior to work in tandem with the offending party to make sure that they do not victimize further. We understand the agencies are not signatories but it would be a PR nightmare for some of these entities to refuse to sign on to the pledge. It could be an instance of shaming the industry into better practices. With or without sister Unions and partners the Union must take a proactive approach and can have a press conference where they reiterate whistleblower protections and the reporting laws already in place for sexual assault under current laws and put Hollywood on notice that we as an industry will no longer be complicit.
There should be more transparency. It should also be mandatory to have a posted sign with a hotline number to report sexual assault complaints on the set that is clearly visible. In every restroom, at craft services, in the hair & makeup trailer, in the Production Office, etc...
Louis C.K. Scandal Leads to Scrutiny of The Comedy world Power Of His Manager Dave Becky-
8. Proper Vetting and Protection for Minors
Young actors have time and time again been put in unsafe hands when there was no disclosure of past sexual assault complaints. There is also a mechanism in place that leaves young actors particularly vulnerable. It is more desirable in Hollywood to hire minors who are emancipated from their parents. This leaves children at a higher risk for exploitation. Some children come to Hollywood without parental supervision. It has been reported that several young performers were placed in the hands of guardians - some in the guise of managers - who then sexually assault them. Child performers are also vulnerable because they often have the added pressure to financially support their family, further obstructing reporting.
See these examples:
Stranger Things Actor drops Agent Accused of Sexual Assault
Former Child Actor Reveals Sexual Abuse in Hollywood- Convicted Sex offender continues to work in Hollywood-
Call to Action:
The Union should work with their child actors, child sexual assault advocates and legislatures to further strengthen and bring public awareness to child performer sexual assault federal laws.
The Union of British Columbia Performers has been more proactive in asserting protections for child actors to alert them to possible danger from offenders.
“Director Victor Salva’s plans to film “Jeepers Creepers 3” in Canada has hit a snag. Salva, who was convicted on child molestation charges nearly three decades ago, had posted a casting notice on Breakdown Services for a film that shoots this spring in British Columbia. But when the Union of British Columbia Performers found out about it, they sent an alert to talent agents warning them about his criminal past. Breakdown Services then removed the casting notice from its site.”
9. Casting Meeting Protections
The Union should take action to establish a protocol that ensures a casting director is present at all casting related meetings.
“The casting couch” has been a phrase used in connection with Hollywood since the beginning of our industry. This demonstrates how pervasively workplace meetings and interviews for employment are used as a pretext to perpetrate sexual abuse.
Many instances of sexual assault take place under the pretext of a casting meeting. There are countless stories about this problem. The examples of sexual assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein and James Toback during meetings that were represented to the actor as casting related meetings are just two of the most high profile cases.
It is not uncommon for out of town productions to use hotels for casting meetings and auditions. The Union could take a stand to demand for the protection of our membership hopefully in tandem with the Casting Directors Guild that all meetings in the future take place with a casting director present. It is also unfortunate that the Union did nothing as far as messaging to explain why out of town castings often take place in hotels leaving the victims of sexual assaults to deal with the wrath of the public who then blame the victims for putting themselves in those situations. The membership and the victims amongst them should come first. They should come before the Union's concern about its own standing or the negative publicity the Union or Hollywood could incur. Once again the victims were left alone to deal with the barrage of incriminations with no Union support.
Call to Action:
The English Casting Guild recently put out a Code of Conduct. Amongst the recommendations was “discouraging” one-on-one meetings. This is not strong enough language.
The English Casting Directors Guild has recently put out a code of conduct discouraging one on one casting meetings: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2018/casting-directors-guild-code-conduct-aims-protect-actors/
SAG-AFTRA is one of the most powerful Unions on earth. It is imperative that the Union employs its strength for the greatest good.
In conclusion, we thank you for taking this letter seriously. We urge you to present this at the National Board meeting on February 10, 2018 and to hand it out to every board member. The future of our industry and membership support of the Union depends on it.
Thank you for providing a response within (3) days and confirmation that you received this letter.
~ Representing Numerous SAG-AFTRA Members