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Third of performing arts students sexually harassed – survey

The report highlights a “widespread problem” in the arts. Photo: Shutterstock The report highlights a “widespread problem” in the arts. Photo: Shutterstock
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Almost a third of performing arts students in higher education responding to a new survey said they had experienced sexual harassment.

The poll of 600 drama, music and dance students found that more than half (51%) had experienced inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment or bullying. Nearly two thirds (73%) of those who experienced some sort of incident identified as female.

Of those who experienced an incident:

  • 57% experienced inappropriate behaviour – defined as behaviour considered socially unacceptable.
  • 42% experienced bullying.
  • 36% experienced gender discrimination.
  • 27% experienced sexual harassment.
  • 58% said the perpetrator had been a fellow student.
  • 42% revealed the perpetrator had been a member of staff.

The survey, called Dignity in Study, was carried out jointly by Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians and looked at students in higher education. Of the respondents, 42% attended specialist drama schools.

When asked if they had reported their concerns, 57% who had experienced inappropriate behaviour did not report it. Just 13% did. Of those who did not report concerns, 49% knew how to.

Of those who did not report their concerns:

  • 54% cited the risk of not being taken seriously as their main reason.
  • 47% said they were worried their reputation would be damaged.
  • 47% said they were worried their complaint would not be handled appropriately.
  • 45% felt the behaviour was deemed to be “culturally acceptable”.

Of those who did report concerns, 48% were not satisfied with the outcome, but 43% were.

The survey found that 69% of respondents felt there needed to be “tightened processes in dealing with any incidents of sexual harassment, bullying, inappropriate behaviour and discrimination”.

Last year, The Stage conducted its own investigation into harassment in the sector, in which 43% of the 1,050 respondents said they had experienced bullying, while 31% revealed they had been sexually harassed. Of the current students who took part in the survey, 36% said they had been bullied, with one in five answering that they had suffered sexual harassment.

More than two thirds (67%) of respondents to The Stage’s survey who had experienced inappropriate behaviour did not report it.

The latest findings come as a new code is issued aimed at stamping out abuse in university drama departments.

Guidelines produced to prevent sexual harassment in university drama departments

Students also called for improved awareness of how to report incidents as well as training for students to recognise sexual harassment.

Two thirds (66%) of all respondents could not recall if their higher education institution provided guidance or training on this issue, which the bodies behind the survey said needed to be addressed.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne said: “Equity, alongside the ISM and the Musicians’ Union, is committed to making meaningful change and empowering our student members. We have heard from our members regarding experiences of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in their work. This includes student members, who have raised concerns with us about issues relating to the culture within higher education institutions and a lack of awareness around the policies and procedures in place.”

While she acknowledged some higher education institutions were “doing good work to ensure the safety of their students”, she was it was clear “there are several issues that must be addressed and taken seriously”.

“This report clearly demonstrates a culture of fear that is preventing students from reporting abuse. This is unacceptable and our solutions, as set out in the report, must be considered,” she added.

When broken down by institution type, the main reasons students at specialist drama schools gave for not reporting incidents were: the behaviour seems to be “culturally acceptable” and “fear of the perpetrator”, alongside risk of damaging their reputation.

Most students said they knew how to report incidents.

The survey concluded that “it is vital that the whole creative sector works together to eradicate these issues, from education into the profession”.

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