Sex and Harassment in Entertainment Industry

The entertainment industry was a male-dominant industry since its inception. Silent films didn’t use women in lead roles. However, things have moved on even if female representation is still low – females comprised a small 12% of protagonists in 100 top-grossing films of 2014, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, as highlighted by Variety magazine. But even at this point, the $546 billion entertainment industry involves a lot of sexual harassment, sex, and even rape.

First let’s understand what is sexual harassment. Then we’ll move on to know the horrible state of Hollywood, the “struggle” of models, and the state of the TV industry. We’ll also do some interesting talk on prevention and mentality change.

Verbal or sexual remarks without the consent to such a level of frankness is sexual harassment. Unwelcome acts, like the stereotypical boss putting his hand on a female employee’s shoulder and sexually-suggestive displays at workplaces come under the radar of punishment for sexual harassment.


Hollywood, the $10.2 billion industry of glamor, sex, and money, is the biggest propellant of sexual harassment and rape. An article on Log Angeles Times suggests that the primary reason behind this is the nature of Hollywood, its films, and its culture. Hollywood is a place to explicitly discuss sex, finding new ways to sell erotic-natured films, and inventing all sorts of new-age relationship paradigms.

If Hollywood is making money, it’s because people are buying into what they sell. And for that, people responsible for making Hollywood movies openly endorse sex as an integral part of lifestyle. Such an environment isn’t conductive to women respect. The position of the “normal” female is always threatened. She’s made to feel uncomfortable at some point.

It's the work they do at Hollywood that naturally provides for a perverted mindset and the freedom to be explicit. For example, in the movie Little Fockers, this scene of Jessica Alba and Ben Stiller had nothing to do with sex. But an explicit scene was necessary to show a social effect.
It’s the work they do at Hollywood that naturally provides for a perverted mindset and the freedom to be explicit. For example, in the movie Little Fockers, this scene of Jessica Alba and Ben Stiller had nothing to do with sex. But an explicit scene was necessary to show a social effect.

Inevitably, the nature of their work bleeds inside their workplaces and even their ethics. Interestingly, it’ll be worthwhile to analyze the impacts of working in the Hollywood on its workers. Let’s save that idea for another article.

In a brilliant article on BuzzFeed, the entertainment reporter Ariane Lange compiles a list of 11 films that make sexual harassment a joke in movies. The list includes The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie where we laugh when “A man physically assaults two women while they are at work, set to funny music. The women are visibly upset.” She also talks of Superbad, where “In a public place, a man invites two women to pay him for his help in sexual favors. They are uncomfortable” and that’s meant to be taken as humor. I highly recommend you read her article. She finally comes to a conclusion:

Movies routinely push the boundaries of realism, but no matter how otherwise farcical these 11 movies are, the filmmakers behind them decided a world without sexual harassment would be too implausible. In a sense, they’re right, but I wonder how much turning sexual harassment into a throwaway joke in movies contributes to the banality of sexual harassment in real life.

Hollywood can’t be blamed. It’s the work they do that naturally encourages perverted mindset and the freedom to be explicit. However, it doesn’t mean sexual harassment is to be tolerated.

Modeling Perils

The usual perils of the fashion industry aside (an article on Chron, Pressures of the Modeling Industry, elaborates on these perils in depth and is a recommended complimentary read), sexual harassment plagues it too. And evidently, it’s covered in popular media more than the coverage of other industries.

An “anonymous model” (perhaps someone with a first name of Tatiana) gives an account of a 16-year old girl in a touching and highly engaging piece on Jezebel.

The girl rolled with a musician boyfriend who was fucking my friend when she was 16, and she had a [manager] who lived off her earnings, which included at that time $25,000 for a major global campaign. And, said my friend, the teenager had actually just entered rehab in Arizona because the whole time I had known her, she was shooting heroin. The story — with the stage mother, the influence of one of the many dudes who fuck 16-year-olds, the money jobs, the intravenous drug use — all seemed at the time like a giant neon sign flashing Get Out Of This Industry Now. I still can’t believe I didn’t even realize she was strung out. Perhaps that contains a depressing message about the kinds of connections this business fosters between people.

The fashion industry has a lot of teenage girls and this makes it a heaven for the perverted mindset, breeding sexual harassment and rape. Without permanent residences, guardians, and with broke economic situations, these girls are an easy victim. They know that if they want to climb the ladder the right direction, they have to compromise their modesty. This creates an unethical situation.

Most of the behind-the-scenes sexual harassment with aspiring teenagers goes unnoticed. Without any solid support, these girls are an easy victim of the perverted mindset.
Most of the behind-the-scenes sexual harassment with aspiring teenagers goes unnoticed. Without any solid support, these girls are an easy victim of the perverted mindset.

Giving more weight to this situation, Misty Fox also talks about underage girls sleeping with 60-something men for big breaks in an interview to Flare. The problem is too deep-rooted. Photographers, managers, and company agents are constantly found guilty and charged accordingly, but most of the unethical sexual pervasion goes unnoticed.

Louise Gagnon narrates a very disturbing case while talking to the author of an article on The Fashion eZine, Prostitution in the Fashion Industry. It should be enough to make the modeling industry look very dirty:

I was raped regularly. Sometimes multiple times per week. I was depressed all the time and the only thing that made me feel better was the heroin. It didn’t stop when I stopped [modeling] either. I was in some bad relationships with the photographers who I had met years earlier and I was involved with them professionally so I had to ignore my feelings. It was complicated and I became more and more disgusted at myself everyday. I finally decided I needed to quit before I killed myself.

Such people are in powerful positions, while the girls are helpless with big dreams in their eyes. Fashion industry showcases a very elegant and proud face painted with colors of success and popularity. It’s not the fault of aspiring models to be lured in. They want to live the dream and be popular. Amid that, they start getting trapped in networks that pay great benefits in return of sex. Slowly, they’re too deep inside the problem, getting complicated relationships with multiple people and losing their identity. There are a lot of such cases. Here’s a case from UK that implies such powerful people directly make the offer, knowing well enough they could be prosecuted for it. Here, a sleazy model agency boss tells teenager she has to sleep with him ‘to make it’, to use the official title.

Here’s an excerpt from the report of Mirror Online:

The boss of an award-winning [modeling] agency offered to make a teenager famous if she had sex with him. Nicholas Kisirinya told shocked 19-year-old hopeful Lauren James his sleazy demand would send her “up the ladder”. Kisirinya, whose online agency attracts thousands of wannabe teen models a week, told her: “The first thing I will do after we sleep with each other is set up a shoot and get some nice photos of you. “Then I’ll make you priority for few castings this year. In this industry those who take that extra step get further.”


The TV industry is already infamous for exploitation. Hollywood and fashion industry make sense, but it couldn’t be imagined how TV industry could be so infamous.

It’s fairly easy to get inside, and generally praises beautiful faces without disrespecting them. It’s mostly because their main goal isn’t selling faces, or slim bodies. They need all sorts of women for all sorts of purposes.

However, TV industry needs a lot of additional work. Production-related office work, especially, fuels workplace harassment and assaults. A news report on MSNBC highlights a case of a former employee of Ink Master engaging in “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment with a former production assistant.

A newspaper article dating as back as late 1994 can confidently say that a study finds television shows rife with actions prohibited in public life, while citing the results of a national research university, University of Dayton (Ohio) study. “Lewd remarks, suggestive touches and other forms of sexual harassment can trigger lawsuits in the real world. But a research team has found that it’s routine in the world of sitcoms.” it said.

A Thomas Skill of the university remarked as follows:

We were very surprised to discover there is a good deal of sexual harassment on television. More importantly, it is presented in such a way to make it seem acceptable.

If the 90s saw this, the 2000s saw this, and we’re midway into 2010s with no change in the sight, it’s very depressing to think of the TV industry as one of the centers of creative excellence.

Talking of UK again, results of a member survey of WFTS on sexual harassment on 12 November, 2012 at a BAFTA debate revealed as follows: 86% agreed sex discrimination remains an issue, 50% experienced sex discrimination, while 23% experienced sexual harassment.

Prevention and Mentality Change

In an interview to the Guardian, Anne Robinson remarked as follows:

What disappoints me now is that girls leave school and university with decent brains and qualifications, but at no point along the line has anyone taught them a few tricks of the trade, whether it’s negotiating a salary or how to deal with a predatory male.

She continues to explain the state that makes things worse: a powerful boss and your need for the job.

…what women need to learn is to give over a message of: “Don’t mess with me.” I still think it’s difficult … if you’ve got a boss who’s behaving inappropriately, and your job depends upon it. It doesn’t matter how much legislation there is, if they’ve got the power over you and your career depends on it, you are in a very difficult situation.’

In an article titled Gwyneth Paltrow, Sexual Harassment and the Limits of Privilege, The New Agenda author Henrietta comes to three conclusions that need to be known by everybody.

Someone like Gwyneth Paltrow being trapped in all this confirms that no privilege is big enough to shield females from this social evil.
Someone like Gwyneth Paltrow being trapped in all this confirms that no privilege is big enough to shield females from this social evil.

…when you are female, privilege only counts for so much. Economic privilege, status and even racial privilege cannot protect a woman from a host of dangers including rape and sexual harassment.

…the entertainment industry loathes women. [It’s] infamous for preying on young [women] and the fact that it did not stop [its] ugly misogyny in the face of a young woman from a powerful Hollywood family shows the extent of women hatred in the film and television industry. [She’s talking of Gwyneth Paltrow]

…the entertainment industry is lying to themselves when they claim to be progressive. Progressives do not sexually harass women. Progressives do not rape women. Progressives do not delight in the rape, sexual harassment and degradation of women in films and television programs.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I had a low-level job at a TV network in the post-production department (read: riddled with male technicians, editors, etc). Although the admins and producers tended to be women, the engineers, tape ops, etc were all men and since I worked assisting them I was often around what I considered to be a very sexually charged environment. I don’t understand the male sociology that tells them it’s ok to speak/refer to women in such degrading ways -despite the fact that it is ILLEGAL but although it was never targeted at me directly, it was targeted at my co-workers and it was one of the reasons why I eventually left.

  2. The best defense against this kind of thing always starts with knowing your rights.

  3. DClarke

    Great article. I think this a fair look at what we see every day and don’t pay attention to. You have done a great service by writing about it and not “candy coating” it.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Thanks for praising it. It really took a lot of research and time to create this article. I wanted to be totally factual and unbiased in this work.

  4. Aaron Hatch

    A very well written article, and it highlights the big problem with entertainment industry and it’s treatment for women. I wish I could say that we as a society are making progress with women’s rights in he entertainment, but that does not seem to be the case, most of the time.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Thanks Aaron. I agree with you — as long as women continue to be treated as such, we can’t really think of ourselves as progressive in any field, not just entertainment.

  5. This article provides an effective commentary on the seedy underbelly of the film/television industries’ imbalance of power towards women, to say the least. No wonder both films based on, say, the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov never condemn the character of Humbert Humbert for being a sex offender and child abuser just like those very men mentioned here. Why then would Hollywood criticize Humbert when there are already so many powerful men exist there who follow that same sense of justifying their exploitation of girls and women for their own personal benefit/ego? The same surely goes for why most of Hollywood continues to brush off what Roman Polanksy did to that girl he raped (to the point of even asking for Polanski to have all charges dropped despite him evading justice for so long). But again, agreed with the above comments that it’s great your article was so direct with your topic.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Indeed, the male mentality is plagued with such thoughts like they can get their way around any women. They know full well that these things are illegal but that doesn’t seem enough to stop them.

      And thanks for appreciating.

  6. I was glad to see the part about schools and Universities not forewarning or aiding women when it comes to the industry. Even as an actor with a degree I never saw even a discussion on the two-facedness and backroom dealings even community theatres dare commit, let alone Hollywood. It’s very true that the way things are done and have been done is to blame, but also education is key to at least warn of these awful things and help try and put more pressure on the system to change. I wonder too if the rising idea of youtube and online stars may help change things one day, especially in environments where women can reach similar heights without risk of an over-watching businessperson with such unlimited power over them.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      I’m glad you liked that part, but if it wasn’t for the interview of Anne Robinson, I would’ve missed this great point. And I agree with you that education is very important. In fact, I think teaching about these “tricks of trade” will have a much greater impact than any of us can imagine right now.

  7. Excellent post on a tough subject. It’s SO hard to know when a line has been crossed in the entertainment industry, and when it has been crossed, it’s tempting to do/say nothing since connections and reputations can play such a big role in a person’s success (no one wants to be known as “the one who caused all the trouble”). But, I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.

  8. Jamal Garmon

    If you really feel uncomfortable, you should talk to someone. No job is worth being miserable.

  9. Sabrina

    Thanks for this article. I wanted to add that based on the evidence we have from all of the women who have blazed trails in this industry before us, those that choose to debase themselves for their careers have no much more success than those who have validated their own worth and fought to be respected. The question is, which path will you take?

  10. Murillo

    I think discrimination cases are the easiest to prove and win.

  11. Luella Cote

    Employers should train their employees and managers to recognise and avoid sexual harassment and should promptly investigate any harassment charges.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Yes, that’s in fact a very important point when discussing sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. However, today’s corporate mindset isn’t so conductive to this idea and that’s why there’s virtually no training about the treatment of women at workplaces in the biggest of offices. What a shame.

  12. The issue of sexual harassment was big in the early 1990’s. Companies were encouraged to establish a policy on it by having staff meetings. Procedures were put in place to handle it. For the most part what happens is, a person goes to Human Resources with a complaint, and HR arranges a private meeting between the person and the other person. That usually does it. No more incidents occur in 99% of the cases. It’s all off the record at this point. If it occurs again, then letters are sent threatening job loss and/or legal action. It’s an effective system that works.

  13. Rosanna

    Really enjoyed your post! You really covered it!

  14. Porsche

    The definition of harassment may be subjective in some cases though.

  15. Weatherford

    Most women would talk only off the record-because the business world is small, and entertainment gossip is taken seriously.

  16. Really good article on a topic that is still not talked enough about, though people are slowly waking up. Was really glad to see it on the Artifice!

  17. Valeria Sharivker

    A great article. I appreciated the use of factual statistics, and the plethora of examples from the entertainment industry.

  18. ema childers

    This post should be required reading for anyone starting out in Hollywood.

  19. Women in film and tv have always reported widespread sexual harassment, along with their difficulties in dealing with it. Something should be done, now.

  20. YsabelGo

    During school, one of my teachers shared a story about a female student who was doing her internship but was sexually harassed by her employer. He kept saying inappropriate comments, and eventually she left to complete her hours somewhere else.

    It’s terrible that this happens, especially to those who are just new to the industry. Most internships are unpaid, and some people are unsure if they should speak up because they need the experience.

  21. Women in the these industry are more vulnerable to sexual harassment than other industries because Hollywood virtually “sells sex”.

  22. To be successful in this business you have to tolerate things.

  23. Thank you for writing about such an undisclosed topic! Sexual harassment is truly an epidemic in our society. As a woman, I find it reassuring to hear that people are actually talking about the problem and trying to help fix it. I know the problem won’t go away over night, but it’s articles like this one that help to bring about change.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Thank you for praising my work, it really makes me happy. And surely this malaise won’t evaporate overnight. We have to work everyday and it makes me feel good to see that we actually are constantly working on it and are considerate towards this.

  24. Very nice post. It’s always good to know that there are people out there who care, and want to write about heavy subjects that don’t get covered as often as they should.

  25. This article addresses the unfortunate reality that we are in the midst of a rape culture. By the entertainment industry stylizing rape, it is promoted in reality and thus the problem is perpetuated.

  26. Wow! This was a very powerful article! The conclusion, noting that there is this mainstream claim that Television is “progressive” even in the face of statistics and thousands of accounts of sexual harassment, was especially powerful.
    But I do believe that even with all this abuse of young women, and the insensitive portrayal of women’s abuse in TV and movies, there is also a lot of potential to be found within the popular medium. I suppose what I am trying to say is that now that the problem is located, there is an opportunity to find the solution within the place where the problem is manifested.

  27. As for female stars in the silent era, let’s not forget Lillian Gish and Gloria Swanson!

  28. BlueJayy

    Thank you for addressing this issue. As a young woman I cannot tell you how much I begin to dislike a film or TV show once they start sexualizing women. I think a lot of the problem comes from this visual acceptance and normalizing of rape and sexual harassment on TV to the point where it doesn’t bother us as much. That’s where the problem is then taken from the acting on TV to real life situations imitating that issue.

  29. This article does a great job highlighting the ugly face of entertainment. However, the topic is not unfamiliar to the general population. Everyone knows about the “casting couch”, however it seems that talking about this issue and having serious consequences to these actions have not brought about much change at all. Sexual harassment, rape etc. are still happening everyday. The question remains, will we ever get to a place as a society where women are not objectified, used, manipulated and taken advantage of?

  30. lorcan bonda

    The idea that always bothers me in the entertainment industry is when you hear an interview with an actress who is looking for “equal” harassment of their male co-stars. It’s as though they completely miss the grotesque environment — they just want the opportunity to harass males equally.

    • Abhimanyu Shekhar

      Can males be harassed?

      • lorcan bonda

        Yes, of course males can be harassed. If you have any doubt, see Bryan Singer and his twink parties. He and his friends are among a circle of Hollywood insiders who claim that criticism of their abuse is simply homophobia.

        However, my point isn’t that males are equally harassed — it is the twisted goals and mentality of these industries that they believe all things would be good if only males were equally harassed.

        To me, this is akin to slaves asking for equal rights. Despite cries for “equal rights”, I don’t believe the slaves would ever have been satisfied if whites were also made into slaves.

  31. Marcie Waters

    This article is especially relevant now that actresses have begun publicly speaking out about the wage gap. Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, two of today’s most popular actresses, have made statements about the mistreatment they face as women in the entertainment industry.

  32. OrchideousFleur

    I had to watch Anchorman for class. I’m torn between whether works like that allow its audience to be exposed to the problem of sexual harassment or just exacerbates the problem.

  33. Very interesting to read seven years later.

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