As an unprecedented number of sexual harassment allegations engulfs the creative sectors, a special debate hosted by the Edinburgh International TV Festival and ITN will seek to shine a light on bullying and harassment within British television, and will explore the different ways the industry can tackle this growing issue.
Investigating the shocking extent of the problem, 5 News reporter Tessa Chapman was surprised to find her own buried memory resurfacing:
'I’ll be truthful: I underestimated this subject.
When my editor suggested a series of reports to raise awareness of sexual harassment, I thought it would make an interesting talking point. I didn’t anticipate the response.
Using the hashtag #thatsharassment we launched our campaign, in which three women talked about their own experiences. Brenda recounted the time her married boss cornered her and tried to kiss her. Jane described how it feels to be catcalled on the street on a daily basis. Kate was recently groped at a bar by an acquaintance she hadn’t seen for decades.
I filmed with a group of 15 year olds at a secondary school. One explained, in a matter-of-fact manner, how a classmate would grab her breasts. Another told me how boys she knew would post nude photos of girls online to humiliate them.
When we asked viewers to contact us, they didn’t hold back. They had been followed in the street, touched on public transport, intimidated in the workplace and abused on dating apps.
Everyone seemed to have something to add. My hairdresser was horrified to see a man staring at her while he pleasured himself at a bus stop. My mum texted to tell me that an elderly gentleman had whispered to her in the supermarker that he’d like to “slap her bum”. A male friend said his boss had once implied that flirting with her could help his career.
Apart from being on the receiving end of harassment, what did all these people have in common?
They didn’t report it to anyone. Some didn’t know exactly what to say, or to whom. Most just didn’t think it was worth speaking out.
The main, sad conclusion I’ve drawn from my filming so far is that, in many spheres of live, sexual harassment has been normalised. I’m a case in point. I thought it hadn’t happened to me, until I delved a little deeper into my memory and recalled an incident at work.
When I was a new reporter, an eyewitness to a gas explosion asked if I’d like to see some photographs of the fire. He went on to show me explicit images on his camera. I wonder why he thought that was acceptable? Probably because he thought he could get away with it; and he did, because I laughed uncomfortably and made my excuses to walk away. I hadn’t wanted to cause a scene. He wouldn’t get away so lightly now. With age and experience on my side, I’d shout about it.
The good news is that sexual harassment is in the spotlight. Allegations against powerful figures like Harvey Weinstein do give people more confidence to speak out. And organisations are encouraging us to talk.
I filmed with the British Transport Police who have an excellent initiative called Report It to Stop It. Just this week, I went to a workshop for staff at Imperial College, which has hired a communications expert to give workers an ‘interventions toolkit’. They listened intently as he taught them strategies for dealing with any behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable.
We need to focus on two things to break the cycle of sexual harassment; educating people, and empowering them. Until we do, I fear we’ll hear more and more stories that shock but don’t surprise.'
Tessa Chapman is chief correspondent of 5 News
The Edinburgh International Television Festival along with ITN and supported by 5 News will be hosting a debate on Friday 8th December in London which will seek to shine a light on bullying and harassment within British television, and will explore the different ways the industry can tackle this growing issue.
TV: A Culture of Abuse? Friday 8 December, 09.30 -11.30am at Soho Theatre
You can book tickets here: https://goo.gl/Aa7bPG
The Festival are also conducting an anonymous survey to help understand the prevalence of the issue and how we can tackle it. The survey closes on Thursday 30th November.
Survey Link: https://goo.gl/Bs74D9