2007 - 2021

Scottish Theatre and Sexual Predators

A #ManyVoices article by Rosie Priest as commissioned by Annie George.

Trigger Warning: sexual abuse, r*pe, harassment, bullying

It’s been four years since #MeToo swept across the world, seeing millions of women step up and share their most vulnerable, terrifying and traumatising stories of abuse. After 2017, the UK saw a surge of reports through official channels, calls to organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis rose dramatically and it was clear that #MeToo had encouraged women to step forward, to ask for help, and to attempt to hold their abusers accountable. However, whilst reports to the police rose by 61%, actual conviction rates fell. The system is clearly failing women. I believe #MeToo hasn’t failed though. Women have highlighted how monumental the problem is and how inbuilt and systematic abuse is. Real, genuine work is needed to tackle it, but that work has never started. One of the problems when you call out an issue as systematic and societal, is it shifts the blame to other people, to society. Individuals don’t feel they need to be accountable, because it’s society that’s failing.

The Scottish theatre scene appears to be a mirror image of this. When #MeToo erupted Scottish theatre watched as those in power said they would make dramatic changes to their organisations, that enough was enough, that the sector would look after women. And yet, the story of Kevin Guthrie, and from across the border Noel Clarke, has triggered a wave of #MeToo stories to emerge across the Scottish theatre scene again. What has resulted from the frantic outpourings of stories of abuse is an even more frantic scattergun approach to tackling such a huge problem. Creatives across Scotland are offering free training to make rehearsal rooms safe without any formal training themselves in the issues, organisations are asking how they can do better without providing measurable aims and objectives, women are creating and sharing lists of known problematic men amongst their networks. Artistic Director of The Lyceum Theatre, David Greig, tweeted an enormous thread on his take of the situation, which included providing no quantifiable measurable aims which he could be held accountable to, misinformation about organisations women could contact, and detailing himself as a person women could speak to if they had experienced abuse in his organisation. Expecting a woman to step forward to a man they don’t know and who has done no official training on trauma support is incredibly naïve. I cannot stress enough that this work should have started in 2017 when #MeToo gave David Greig the opportunity, as the Artistic Director of one of the most highly funded theatres in Scotland. Instead, the thread highlights just how out of touch the powers that be in Scottish theatre are from the actual problems. This is not victim centred. This is performance.#

What has emerged over the past few weeks are two separate, but intertwined conversations which are repeatedly treated as one. The first conversation is based on organisations such as Stellar Quines and Persistent and Nasty, who have been working on strategies and best policies to make rehearsal rooms and organisations safe for women, as well as policies and procedures for reporting and seeking support. The work is big, and it is gnarly. It is also being done by organisations with small staff teams and even smaller budgets (in Persistent and Nasty’s case, voluntarily), so it is anticipated this work will take some time. It’s important and much needed, but not much surprise that it is these smaller women run organisations trying to tackle these huge issues. Issues which primarily live within the bigger, higher funded organisations and buildings.

The only problem with developing these policies and procedures is that we will only know that they work, when a report of abuse happens. This means a woman will have to go through something awful and traumatic for us to see the benefits of these systems.

The second conversation is around the predators we know work in Scottish theatre now. Most women working in Scottish theatre will have seen a variation of a list of abusive powerful men at some time or another in their career. The same names and stories arise time and time again. We often find ourselves in the same rooms as these men at sector meet ups, after show drinks or awkward zoom training sessions. One of the problems with building and gathering a list so publicly is, how does it centre those who have experienced abuse and harm? What will happen to the information gathered? Will survivors have to speak to police at some point? Who will be supporting these women legally and financially? Furthermore, we know the impacts of sexual abuse, harassment and bullying have an unpredictable longevity. PTSD, anxiety and other mental health issues can erupt unexpectedly, and these lists which are being so publicly gathered do not ensure women’s mental well-being is centred. These lists have potentially no impact. Or worse, unpredictable and unsafe impacts. Whilst I think it’s very important we maintain our shared knowledge of who to avoid and who is potentially dangerous, there’s a reason this is often done in private, over late-night drinks or in our whatsapp groups. To quote Lord of the Rings, “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.”

As an administrator at a theatre organisation in 2015, I would often welcome board members to meetings. Every time one board member arrived, he would squeeze my hips. At Christmas drinks one evening his hand sat on my knee, his boozy-breath spilling down my neck and I felt the fear a lot of women will know. When I reported to my boss what had happened, he begrudgingly said that I didn’t have to welcome board members anymore, and maybe I avoid sitting next to this man at future meetings.  A few months later when a member of staff flagged that they didn’t feel safe around a freelancer, I had to speak up again. “Women don’t feel safe here” I said, and again begrudgingly, my boss made me feel small and unsafe and expected high praise for simply replacing the dangerous freelancer.

The people in power have failed us time and time again. I do not believe the men in power currently can make those changes we need. Nor are they willing to. David Greig’s twitter thread highlights just how unready leaders are to make meaningful impactful change, whilst centring themselves as being compassionate and kind people. We all know many of the names on the lists we’re given are the names of men in power. We cannot expect them to make changes that may infringe on their power or potentially unveil their past problematic behaviours.

Abuse intersects with BIPOC+, LQBTQIA+, working-class and other marginalised identities in horrific ways. Over the past few weeks several informal accounts have emerged from women of colour in the sector who have experienced bullying and harassment by a well-known white powerful man. Whilst the accounts of what happened are shocking to listen to, they are not unexpected. His name is on the list. We’ve heard of his bullyish and abusive behaviour. We know to avoid him at all costs. We also know the boards he is associated with have heard these stories too, in both informal and formal reports. Just as every board member sitting in the pub with me that night saw that man put his hand on my knee, these board members have stayed silent.

Something needs to shift, and quickly.

I grow flowers in window boxes, and when they have crisped up and turned to black, you must remove them from their stems because it drains energy from the rest of the plant. I think we need to do the same in theatre. It’s time to dead head the powers that be. The organisations have failed us. The leaders who have become stagnant and unable to grow are draining our sector and ensuring it will die. They have failed to safeguard their staff. We need them to do better. We need them to actively listen to the complaints and rumours and to take charge of decluttering this sector.

 

Rosie Priest is an interdisciplinary artist and PhD researcher based in Edinburgh. They will be donating their fee for the article to charity.

 

If you have been impacted by anything in this article, please consider contacting one of the following organisations (from a list created and disseminated by Stellar Quines):

Scottish Women’s Rights Centre

Helpline: 08088 010 789

Women can use the helpline.

www.scottishwomensrightscentre.org.uk

Read their guide: Information & Support for anyone experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.

All genders might find the guide useful.

https://www.scottishwomensrightscentre.org.uk/…/sexual

____

EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Helps workers understand the law and how their employer should respond to their complaint.

Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work – Technical Guide: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/…/sexual_harassment

____

Unions:

Members: contact your local rep for support.

Non-members:

Read the Bectu guide – A workplace guide to dealing with sexual harassment

https://bectu.org.uk/article/sexual-harassment/

____

Theatre Helpline.org (24hr)

0800 915 4617

advice@theatrehelpline.org

The Theatre Helpline is a free, independent and confidential phone and email service that provides support to people working in the theatre industry

https://www.theatrehelpline.org

____

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline

08088 01 03 02

6pm – midnight daily

Emotional support for survivors (all genders) of any form of sexual violence (including sexual harassment).

Support available via text and e-mail too.

www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

____

24 hour support is available from both:

Theatre Helpline

Tel: 0800 915 4617

Samaritans

Tel: 116 123

____

Further support resources:

ACAS (Advisory,Conciliation& Arbitration Service) https://www.acas.org.uk/search?keys=Sexual+Harassment

Counselling Directory UK https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk

Equality,Advisory& Support Service https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com

LGBT Health & Wellbeing Helpline https://www.lgbthealth.org.uk

____

Further support resources:

Revenge Porn Helpline https://swgfl.org.uk/services/revenge-porn-helpline

Suzy Lamplugh Trust (National Stalking Helpline) https://www.suzylamplugh.org

Victim Support Scotland https://victimsupport.scot

____

And finally if you are leader of a company or organisation and are looking for training and policies:

Federation of Scottish Theatre Combatting Abuse page has details: https://www.scottishtheatre.org/sect…/combatting-abuse/

See also The Consent Collective: https://www.consentcollective.com

 

 

 

Comments (9)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    This grave article does the service of puncturing one of the oft-proclaimed myths on Bella that creative industry folks/professional artists are all ‘truth-tellers’. If half of them were truth-tellers, we would not have all these cases of rampant abuse. The points about lack appropriate safeguarding training are alarming (safeguarding training/awareness was a big deal in my workplace several years back), and performance instead of meaningful and effective action equally concerning. I would also expect that non-women humans are also at risk in Scottish theatre, so perhaps a perspective on that would be a useful addition. It seems to me that institutional problems are rarely solved by narratives (especially from trained fictioneers), and systems thinking is required. And indeed the article proposes a systematic solution, with sad echoes of a failure to achieve the thriving culture of Lesley Riddoch’s Blossom.

    1. Ed says:

      Great article
      I totally agree that itsTime theatres stood up and took note of all abuse, and not just
      sexual.

      Its all well and good making policies available and releasing
      statements to look the part but actions speak louder then words.

      Being a Largely freelance industry. people are scared to speak out.
      they worry they wont get to work again. the industry is so small that
      they are worried that if they make complaints in one theatre, word
      will spread and other theatres wont take them on. Im not just talking
      Actors. Its All performers, stage management, technical staff and
      crew.

      the abuse is widely accepted and herein lies the problem. When You
      start to take the verbal abuse personally, (whether it be sexual,
      discriminatory or hurtful in nature) it is laughed off as “banter” but
      there is really only so much you can take. Its very rarely banter.

      Budgets are tight, you often get asked to do things you dont feel
      comfortable doing but you just have to get on with it as you are
      laughed at or abused if you speak out. met with passive aggresion or
      made to feel stupid.

      especially when you start out in the industry, you take the work where
      you can. you love your job but hate the experience as the atmosphere
      is toxic. The full time staff or regular freelancers give the most
      “banter” as they dont want shown up by the young and the keen. The
      young and the keen then try harder to get accepted and the experienced
      then step up on the banter. its a viscious circle. it never gets delt
      with due to the fear of not getting remployed.

      Or on the flip side, you get the managers who cover their incompetency
      or insecurities with the cheeky approach, the flirting with everyone,
      the innapropriate comments.i.e “nice bum” to people up ladders. “need
      help to get it up?” when you need a lift with something. Jokes about
      drugs, sex, Race, sexuality, body shape. it makes for uncomfortable
      listening. if someone does pull them up, again its laughed off as
      “just a Joke”

      But the worse thing is that it is accepted. It happens all the time.
      noone complains and as such nothing is done. Everyone, all the way to
      the top of the chain have heard it happening themselves but dont do
      anything as noone complains and nobody wants deal with the conflict.
      Its easier just to let it happen.

      by the time “the abused” has had enough of “the banter” they will most
      probably have found work somewhere else, new freelancers start and the
      cycle continues.

      It happens all over, everyone knows (or knew) the Unsafe one, the abusive one,, The Grumpy one, the
      Creepy one, the sexist one at the Lyceum, the Drunk
      one at the Kings, the rude one, The shouty one, The Power hungry one, the touchy one or
      the angry one,

      Its having a huge effect of the Mental health of the industry and
      confidence is at an all time low.

      It might be normal but its not right. It bullying in it purest form,
      you just get paid for it.

      Is it any wonder that we have a huge mental health problem in Theatre,
      This negative Banter is really not helpful.

      Again we are all very good at talking the talk, we all have policies
      and procedures about how to deal with this but we are such a small
      closenit community that we are all scared to speak out or speak up.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Ed, good points about those seeking in-group acceptance often exaggerating polarising behaviours associated with the group (a persistent finding in social psychology), and indeed anyone regardless of their professed sexual orientation/identity is capable of sexually abusing, harassing with or without sexual overtones, or plain bullying anyone else, or (as the article says) contributing to that behaviour from others, actively or passively. For some abusers, assessing any vulnerability in a chosen victim seems enough. There are political dimensions to who is protected, and who are left without sufficient protection. I imagine that any star system (in the UK backed up by an exponential salary scale and awards system, and generally skewed in favour of men) compounds the problems. Banter and similar behaviours may also be adopted by those faking it (I recall the barn scene in Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment).

        Is there any way currently for audiences to express their political and economic power to get Scottish theatre to clean up its act? To see behind the scenes?

  2. Wul says:

    Good article Rosie. This problem needs more exposure and the men who abuse women in this way need booted out.

    I could not believe the levels of casual creepiness* that my 20yr old daughter and her friends are exposed to; groped at work, propositioned by driving instructors, being persistently hit on by wannabe “pick up” artists in Glasgow’s streets.

    I am often aware that, sometimes within seconds of meeting, some men are putting out feelers to see how much sexism and misogyny can be gotten away with. The message that they are out of order (and out of a job?) needs to be crystal clear.
    The idea that a person’s career progression could depend on their compliance with their own abuse by more powerful men is abhorrent and needs to end. Decent men need to meet this head on and name and shame when they encounter it.

    * There isn’t even a single word for this creepy, sexist, misogynist, sleazy, corrupt abuse of power in the workplace. That tells us something.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    This is not a flippant question: why does the second line contain the expression “r*pe”, but the word “Rape” appears in full in the title of an organisation to assist victims of this crime?

  4. For very obvious reasons I can’t publish comments that make allegations or inadvertently point to people in the real world. Please consider this in your comments.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Thank you for your reply.

      I accept that “can’t publish comments that make allegations or inadvertently point to people in the real world”, but, I was not asking you to do so. I was asking, sincerely, why the word was written as ‘r*pe’.

      I support the campaigns which people like the author are putting forward, but, I often find the terminology used in articles, quite literally, inaccessible. That does not apply to Ms Pope’s piece, but, it has applied to other pieces which you have published, particularly in respect of the Gender Recognition Act.

      1. I wasn’t replying to you.

      2. rosie Priest says:

        It’s a trigger – so for some women to be presented with that word without forewarning it, but have lived experience of it, it can be re-traumatising. I asterixed it to make it more readable, but also to warn someone with that lived experience that it may come up, without using the word which in itself can be triggering. It’s just good practice in my opinion. x

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