‘Sexual harassment rife in Swedish theatre’

Every third woman working within Swedish film and theatre has been subjected to sexual harassment, often by those in a supervisory capacity, a new survey by Sveriges Radio published on Monday shows.

'Sexual harassment rife in Swedish theatre'

“I was not supposed to hear it, but I overheard how they discussed who would take me first during the night. I became scared, went to my room and made sure the door was locked. Later that night someone tried to get in both through the door and the window,” was how one female actor described a dinner with colleagues.

The survey sent by SR's Ekot news programme to all the members of the Swedish Union for Theatre, Artists and Media (Teaterförbundet), indicates that the problems are widespread, with female actors being the worst hit, with almost half claiming to have been sexually harassed.

The survey received 1,672 replies and Ekot has looked into 365 cases involving allegations spanning attempted rape, unwelcome approaches, lascivious glances and sexual propositions – including requests for sex in return for being given a role.

Of the cases, 2.5 percent claimed that they had been subject to rape or attempted rape, 46.8 percent cited unwelcome propositions, 49 percent sexual allusions, 67.4 percent inappropriate comments, 15.3 percent unwelcome phone calls, e-mails or text messages, 45.8 percent inappropriate glances or gestures, 67.1 percent physical approaches, and 7.9 percent experienced demands for sexual services.

The Local on Monday spoke to Anna Carlson at the Swedish Union for Theatre, Artists and Media (Teaterförbundet) and asked if the extent of the problem came as a surprise.

“I welcome the report. We did not realize that such a large number of our members felt this way. We needed this review.”

Carlsson added that training and education is at the centre of the union's work to identify and tackle sexual harassment and discrimination in the sector.

“We plan to intensify the work that we have been doing before. We have recently announced (February 11th) a cooperation with employer groups. Education is the key to the preparation for change,” Anna Carlsson told The Local.

Vanja Hermele, a gender expert and a journalist who has published several studies in recent years highlighting the gender imbalances within the sector, argues however that the problems have been known for some time; but that the tools and procedures have been lacking to address it.

“In the course of my work I have heard these allegations from many sources. What is happening now is that a lot more women are ready to talk about it, and have the tools to do so.”

Hermele welcomed the media attention to the report which she argued may help the issue to come out into the open.

“The cork is out of the bottle. Sexual harassment has often been something dealt with in-house, over a coffee. We have to do something about these hidden statistics, about the shame and the silence,” she said.

The survey showed that half of those reporting incidents of sexual harassment stated that the source of the complaint was a supervisor – the head of a theatre, a director or a producer.

Anna Carlsson and Vanja Hermele both agree that the report's findings illustrate a demonstration and abuse of power, arguing that it is a reflection of society in general.

“It may surprise a few people but Sweden today is far from equal, there is still widespread discrimination against women,” Anna Carlsson said.

“People think that there is a high level of tolerance and openness within Swedish theatre and the arts. That is a picture we exposed a long time ago, but it has just been quietened down, explained away,” Vanja Hermele said.


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