The amount of high profile cases of sexual harassment and assault emerging from the American film industry has prompted a wider conversation about the culture of sexual harassment. An issue prevalent in most industries and existing outside of news cycles, much of the discussion in Australia is taking place within the arts.

The preliminary findings of an online survey conducted by MEAA Actors Equity suggest that 40 percent of Australian performers have direct experiences of sexual harassment, bullying or misconduct. The survey, which closes on November 17, solicits responses from those in theatre but has also received responses from those working in opera and musicals. Up to 60 percent of respondents said they had witnessed or heard reliable accounts of sexual harassment. Approximately 40 percent of those who said they had experienced harassment reported the incident to the companies.

“However, the majority of those people who report instances of sexual harassment, 60 per cent of them are dissatisfied with the outcome”, Equity director Zoe Angus told The Sydney Morning Herald. “There was either no outcome, or an inadequate reaction. And 30 per cent say that [the harassment] got worse”.

Limelight approached the state orchestras and some of the chamber ensembles for comment about how many incidents of sexual harassment had been reported over the past five years. A spokesperson for the Australian Chamber Orchestra said that it had not received any formal complaints in recent years. “We do say that sexual harassment and abuse in any form is unacceptable. We definitely have policies and procedures [in place], and a culture of sharing so that if anything did happen people would feel safe coming forward. Certainly from our perspective it’s also about making sure you have an environment where people feel they can come forward. I think in a lot of industries and from what we’ve seen in the media lately, clearly that’s not the case”.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra also confirmed that it had not received any reports of sexual harassment in the past five years.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra said that it knew of one documented case of sexual harassment in the past five years, and that this was “successfully managed through the company’s Dispute and Grievances process”.

“WASO has a firm commitment to ensuring the workplace is a safe environment for all staff, and harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment, is not tolerated. WASO has a robust policy pertaining to expected standards of conduct for all employees, volunteers and contractors. This includes the specific processes and procedures that are in place to deal with any breach of policy if it should ever arise. The Company is also committed to providing ongoing training and education for all employees in relation to bullying and harassment including sexual harassment,” said a spokeperson.

A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra said that while it could not provide information about reports of sexual harassment due to privacy legislation and internal confidentiality policies, “the TSO adheres to an Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Policy, which covers all aspects of appropriate behaviour in the workplace and the handling of staff complaints of inappropriate conduct. The TSO undertakes training in all aspects of workplace behaviour and has introduced a Whistle-blower’s Protection Policy to enable confidential reporting of issues or concerns”.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra said it had received “zero complaints of sexual harassment from musicians during the past five years”. Although declining to be quoted as part of this story, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra said that there had not been any reports of sexual harassment over the past five years. Both the Queensland and Melbourne Symphonies said they were not providing comment at this juncture.

The Confederation of Australian State Theatres (CAST) issued a statement earlier this month which said that “sexual harassment and abuse in any form is unacceptable”.

“We offer our unwavering support to the courageous people that have already come forward, and to any victims who have not yet had their stories heard – we are here for you”.

“CAST companies are committed to providing safe theatres and workplaces that are free from harassment and abuse. We are focused on continually improving physical and emotional safety. We feel it is our responsibility to remove the stigma that can be felt by victims, and to encourage them with confidence to initiate formal complaint proceedings, and to seek appropriate counselling services and support”.

“CAST companies are committed to ensuring that our theatres and spaces are safe for everyone. The wellbeing of those who work for us is of utmost importance”.


The MEAA Actors Equity survey closes November 17.

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