Sexual predators: you can hide but you can't run, says actors' union


Sexual predators, harassers and bullies in the entertainment industries who are lying low, hoping that people will forget, must never be allowed to repeat or get away with their behaviour, the actors’ union Equity has said.

On Thursday it published a report titled Agenda for Change, its response to the sexual harassment scandal, with a raft of recommendations covering subjects including safety at work, sex scenes, nudity, casting and gender balance.

Among the main measures is the launch of a “safe space” campaign, which will include posters, a helpline, and productions being encouraged to have a safe space statement read before rehearsals begin. The union is also promising to investigate non-disclosure agreements, which it says potentially protect perpetrators of harassment.

The actor Maureen Beattie, Equity’s vice-president, who led the union’s working group on sexual harassment, said the report was “an opportunity which may not come our way again for many years” to harness the energy released after the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

She said some people were lying low as public interest in the subject continued. “People who have behaved badly are, I suspect, behaving well and hoping that nobody remembers they behaved badly, and slowly but surely what will happen is that the perpetrators will start to think they can do it again. That’s when we will still be there.”

On nudity, Equity said it would reiterate its existing provisions: that people at auditions should not be asked to undress unless a mutually agreed observer is present and that auditions should not include requests to perform simulated sex acts.

There had been reports that the union was considering bringing in more stringent guidelines and backing the use of specialist intimacy directors, but Beattie said not all actors wanted more people involved. The report says the union was “examining the value and role of intimacy direction”.

Beattie said the union had always supported members when it came to harassment and bullying. “But I do believe things have got worse, and this was a chance to look at ourselves and see what we were doing. Were we doing enough? Were we doing it right? What more can we do?”

The safe space campaign would involve posters in rehearsal rooms, TV studios and at stage doors encouraging people to have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

A form of words to be read at the start of every project and production has been drafted and includes a statement on everyone being entitled to work in a space free of fear, bullying and harassment.

Key recommendation of the cross-party group

  • All those who work in the Houses of Parliament should be subject to a new behaviour code.
  • Complaints and grievance should be handled by a new system independent of political parties.
  • Under the proposed system complaints would spark a confidential inquiry by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
  • Sexual harassment and sexual violence should be dealt with by a trained “sexual violence adviser” in a procedure separate from complaints about other forms of inappropriate behaviour.
  • Complaints would be dealt with confidentially to protect the alleged victims’ anonymity. If allegations were proved, perpetrators would be identified and subject to tougher sanctions.
  • On receiving the commissioner’s report, standards committees in the Commons and Lords would be able to recommend the suspension of an MP or peer for a specified period.
  • This could trigger proceedings for recall of an MP – resulting in a new election in their constituency – or the expulsion of a peer. 

The report lists duties of care for people who manage actors and performers. Casting directors should, for example, actively discourage one-to-one meetings in non-professional environments.

Venues are being asked to recognise that audiences can also be the perpetrators of bullying and harassment.

Agents need to have a “clear and robust code of practice” on how to deal with allegations. They also need to ensure that performers are advised in writing about the extent and nature of any nudity in any job. Boards should strive for gender balance, diversity and inclusion in their organisations.



Equity’s report is an opportunity to harness the energy released by Harvey Weinstein scandal, says actor Maureen Beattie. Photograph: Steve Crisp/Reuters

Beattie, who has appeared in Casualty and Doctor Who and will appear in the upcoming Broadway transfer of Yerma with Billie Piper, said she had experienced sexual harassment in her career, both as a victim and bystander. “It is my fervent hope that the work that follows this report will lead to a future where no one has to suffer harassment of any kind ever again.

“When the media has moved on, the reason for the posters, this report, the statement, is … we are not going away. We will be there. We will keep on going until everything shifts.”

The report by Equity, which represents 43,000 people across the entertainment industry, is one of a number that have come out since details of Weinstein’s behaviour emerged. The Royal Court theatre was first off the mark, publishing a code of behaviour in November. In mid-February the BFI published eight “clear and simple” principles to tackle bullying and harassment in the UK’s screen industries”.



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