Mia Kirshner is a Canadian actor and founder of Rosa, a national platform addressing legal rights and protections around workplace sexual harassment.
When I heard that Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape in the third degree and a criminal sex act in the first degree, I should have felt vindicated. Instead, the stories and accounts of sexual violence echoed through my mind. These true stories were told to people in positions of power who should have stopped Mr. Weinstein, but chose not to.
I won’t forget about all the people who knew exactly what he did but did not act: The agents, the managers, the studios, and the unions that are culpable. Many remain in their leadership positions today, silent and unscathed. They represent a useless mass of industry leaders who would prefer to stoke the status quo and resist substantive change.
Those enablers of Mr. Weinstein’s reign have managed to keep their jobs. And in other industries – in the United States and Canada, too – those who hold up the status quo have yet to receive their reckoning.
We need more than a criminal conviction; we need a systemic overhaul of these structures that allowed him and others to thrive for so long.
We have had enough. In my early twenties, sexual harassment seemed part of the job. You just took it. During a meeting that took place in a suite at The Four Seasons hotel, the director walked to the bathroom attached to the living room where we were meeting, exposing himself as he urinated, leaving himself to drip-dry. I told my agent about the incident and she said, “Oh well.”
She also said “forget about it” after I told her about what had happened to me in a hotel room with Mr. Weinstein. I didn’t forget about it. That’s the thing. You don’t forget. I told people what had happened; I had rebuffed him and I was afraid of the repercussions to my career and the film we were working on. The people I told continued to work with him. Agents continued to send their clients to meetings with him, like prey.
But each time a person reveals a story of workplace sexual violence, we begin to chip away at the status quo, moving toward real change around how we are treated at work.
Because of that, there has been an increased cultural awakening to workplace sexual violence and the urgency to eradicate that behaviour.
Yet, in spite of those who are determined to keep the status quo, or perhaps because of them, there have been changes in how the arts industry understands and reacts to workplace sexual violence in Canada. That change is driven by the work force, most of whom don’t have money or hold leadership positions. The survivors, whether they spoke up or not, are united in a shared desire for change.
But we are not where we need to be. In my own industry, written policies and procedures around sexual harassment allegations are still too vague. There’s little articulation on what constitutes a fair and appropriate investigation. Critically, there is no detailed plan on how reprisals are tracked by unions and agents. The use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of workplace sexual violence and harassment must be completely rethought, so that whistleblowers are not punished for protecting others from harm. The current one-year limitation period for reporting to human-rights tribunals needs to be lifted.
Protections around reporting and reprisals must be inclusive and tailored to the particular precarity of both non-union and unionized workers and performing arts must be defined broadly enough to include nude dancers and actors in adult film.
To get to where we need to go, the workforce needs to keep talking about what they need, and keep working to see these changes through.
In early April, in collaboration with The Canadian Women’s Foundation, the organization AfterMeToo will release a national survey to gather data on performing arts and film workers’ experiences related to workplace sexual harassment and violence, and what kind of changes they want to see in their workspaces. The data from the survey will be used to create reform in workplaces.
This survey is part of a larger project called Rosa, a comprehensive digital platform on legal rights for survivors of workplace sexual harassment, what to expect and how to prepare for each legal forum in Canada. Rosa is for everyone. Rosa will also be a resource offering training and education, both digital and in person, to teach all performing artists about their legal rights and best practices for ensuring accountability, should they face workplace sexual violence.
The powerful enablers once built a fortress for their fiefdom, trading deals for pounds of human flesh. And then the fortress began to topple, crushed by the weight of human-rights abuses in workplaces that simply became impossible to ignore.
It is here, in this mess, that we start over. Building what we lost, repairing what we can’t replace, and breaking the status quo by creating substantive, transparent workplace protections rooted in due process and bypassing those who stand in our way.
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