Right now, the news and social media are full of reports about sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry. Last week, the teens in my acting classes were discussing the news and what they would do in uncomfortable situations. It can be a scary issue, both for young actors and their parents.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a real issue, primarily when people in power use their authority to prey on the young or less powerful. Predators can lurk in all settings so it’s wise for parents to help their children—male and female—know how to recognize and respond to unwanted advances.
When I was a new talent rep in my twenties, I had a parent of an important client who consistently made lewd and inappropriate comments. I told my boss, my husband, and even talked to the parent, but the abuse continued. My choices were to endure his bad behavior or fire his talented son. I didn’t want to lose my job, so I sacrificed my self-esteem and tried to ignore his behavior. That was more than twenty years ago when sexual abuse was not discussed, and few options for help existed.
Thankfully, children today have an environment where speaking up against abuse is encouraged. The Casting Society of America put out a public statement condemning harassment in all forms with the slogan, “If you see something, say something.” SAG- AFTRA urges members who experience or observe harassing or discriminatory behavior to call a 24-hour hotline at (844) 723-3773 or (323) 549-6644. Women in Film has a useful resource for female entertainment professionals.
It is essential for parents to teach and model healthy personal boundaries at home. Begin by explaining what sexual harassment and abuse are, especially these key points.
Sexual harassment and abuse can:
be physical, verbal, or emotional.
happen to boys and girls.
be committed by an adult or peer.
Teach your child to always come to you if they feel uncomfortable or harassed. Their bodies are their own and no one should touch them without consent.
If your child experiences harassment or sexual advances, they should go to someone in charge, such as the studio teacher/child welfare worker, director or assistant director, child wrangler or guardian, stage manager, or their agent or manager. Offer to help your child make this call and participate in any meetings. You can also ask to sit in on any private acting lessons or casting calls if your child feels uncomfortable.
Have a frank discussion with your young actor about the importance of self-respect and personal boundaries. Remind them that no role is more important than their safety. Teach them about manipulation and threats used to keep things secret so they can feel safe speaking up and reporting abusive behavior.
Watch for these red flags:
Your intuition telling you that something isn’t right.
An adult who seems too interested in your child, gives inappropriate gifts, or wants time alone with them.
Threats of blacklisting for lack of cooperation made to either you or your young actor.
Unwillingness to attend callbacks or acting classes without explanation or saying that they don’t want to talk about it.
Parents, take this opportunity to teach your young actors that they don’t need to compromise their boundaries to be successful in acting or any endeavor. It’s never a bad time to talk with your child about safety, boundaries, and how to report any unwanted behavior. Your goal is not to frighten your child, but to educate and pledge your support should they ever need help.
The things you teach your child today about sexual harassment and abuse can offer them protection for their entire lifetimes.