In the wake of the recent sexual harassment and abuse allegations that have rocked Hollywood, derailing the careers of such prominent industry players as Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, and Harvey Weinstein (whose tally of alleged victims has now passed 50), more women (and men) have felt confident about speaking up to tell their stories. The #metoo movement has contributed to a shift in the culture at large, giving victims the courage to speak out.
But not everyone. The leaders of the advocacy group Women in Film worry that many victims still fear repercussions—being fired or blackballed, for instance—if they were to accuse a person in power of harassment or abuse. And so the group, with funding from the William Morris Endeavor Agency, has set up a Sexual Harassment Help Line (323-545-0333) that can now be accessed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST from Monday to Friday. A WIF staffer who has a background working with survivors of sexual harassment and assault, including within the entertainment industry, is answering the calls. The staffer will talk to callers and help them determine if they want to join a support group, get individual counseling through a therapist, or talk to a pro bono attorney.
If the caller decides she or he wants to speak with a lawyer, WIF has created a pro-bono legal aid panel of attorneys that is being assembled by litigator Bonnie Eskenazi, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who has experience in the entertainment industry. The attorneys have backgrounds in employment, labor, contractual and civil rights, and will each volunteer a minimum of 10 hours of pro-bono work to the program.
“This plan provides victims of sexual harassment with certain resources to take actions consistent with their level of comfort and gives the victim control over how to address the violation and when,” Eskenazi explained in a press release. “It also decreases concerns about legal costs.”
WIF president Cathy Schulman pointed out that WIF is not “aligned with any particular studio, agency, or company,” meaning that victims won’t have to worry about politics or biases when calling the hotline. She also said that the hope is that callers will think of the hotline as a “safe zone.”
The effort goes beyond simply trying to encourage more victims to come forward. WIF, which was founded 44 years ago and has been a leading advocate of gender parity in Hollywood, is trying to create systemic change that will create more safety nets for women at institutions, agencies, guilds, studios, and networks that, to date, have proven to be inadequate when it comes to protecting women.
Schulman stated that she welcomes “all companies and organizations devoted to ending these practices to contribute their thoughts and expertise to our efforts, as we are all in this together.”