Blog: Urgent action is needed to curb abuse

Blog | 26 Jan 2018

Blog: Urgent action is needed to curb abuse

I've written before of the rank hypocrisy that exists in the theatre industry. While the stories we tell on our stages so often shine a spotlight on society's failings, and celebrate progress, what goes on behind the scenes is often far from exemplary.

The most recent evidence of this comes from The Stage's wide-ranging survey into bullying and sexual harassment, which was published this week. It found that, of over 1,000 respondents who took part, 40% had experienced workplace bullying, while 31% had encountered sexual harassment.

These figures may be alarming. But, for anyone who has worked in this industry for any length of time, they're also far from surprising. I've been sickened by some of the stories I've heard in recent months, some involving figures I previously held in high regard.

A key aspect of The Stage's report is that, despite bad behaviour being thought of as "endemic", respondents said they had "never considered it possible to report what they had experienced". This has got to change.

In some cases, the problem arises that the person who would normally be the recipient of a complaint is also the guilty party. The most obvious example is misconduct by directors - Max Stafford-Clark being a case in point. To whom should his victims, who were mostly but not exclusively actresses in his productions, have turned? Media whistle-blowing must not be the only option.

'No-one can plead ignorance anymore'

It should now be considered a matter of urgency that all venues and theatre companies examine their reporting structures. And, if necessary - as it will be in most cases - implement new ones. This should include proper protection for victims, who often don't speak out for fear of career repercussions, and the early involvement of independent investigators.

But it's not just the reporting that's at fault. It's the very loose boundaries that currently exist in creative organisations that often facilitate misconduct. 

The Royal Court's code of behaviour is a vital blueprint for curbing the kind of conduct and situations that often lead to abuse, and it should be heeded. But there is also the fact that not all instances of abuse occur within in the structure of an organisation. With this in mind it seems the creation of an independent body, dedicated to supporting victims of abuse in the creative industries, is now a necessity.

Whatever the solutions may be, one thing is certain: they must be found. As important and commendable as surveys such as The Stage's may be, they are pointless without responsive action. No-one can plead ignorance anymore. It's time to end the hypocrisy.

- Theo Bosanquet

See Also: Stage manager Natalie Braid on the importance of reporting abuse

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