The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has announced a series of standards and guidelines for crew members who supervise scenes involving sex and nudity in an effort to combat on-set sexual harassment.
KC Wagner, Director of Workplace Issues at Cornell University’s ILR Metro District Office in New York City, is an expert in the prevention of sexual harassment, gender bias, bullying and promoting inclusiveness in the workplace. She says the industry will not be forced to change unless there are repercussions for harassment.
“The guidelines put forward by the SAG-AFTRA are long overdue. For years, actors – both female and male – have suffered in silence for fear of being labeled ‘thin-skinned’ or ‘overly-sensitive,’ but just because sex is involved in a scene doesn’t mean that they need to sacrifice body integrity, respect or safety.
“This is an industry culture that has been allowed to prevail unchecked and these guidelines provide a way to monitor intimate scenes to ensure that they are done in a professional and appropriate way that is agreed upon by all the parties involved.
“This is a great first step, but we cannot expect the industry to change unless there is accountability. The people that are in the position of power and authority need to be held accountable for ensuring that this gets implemented in a way that changes the culture. Actors, as well as the allies – in this case the ‘intimacy coordinators’ – need to be allowed to address problems without the fear of retaliation. Without independent monitoring and accountability at the top there can be no real change.”
Vanessa Bohns, professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, is an expert on social influence and the psychology of compliance and consent. She says the guidelines help give actors more autonomy throughout the entire process.
“These kinds of precautions are necessary because of how difficult it is for people to say ‘no’ to something in the moment, particularly given the power dynamics between directors and actors. These precautions – such as having a pre-shoot meeting and having someone other than the director involved – should help give actors the psychological space to decide what they truly feel comfortable doing—and therefore consent to—as opposed to what they may regretfully feel pressured to agree to in the moment on set.
“Additionally, actors should also not be beholden to agreements they make to do certain things ahead of time, because we often don’t realize how uncomfortable we will be with something until we’re in the moment.”