Creating Safer Spaces in the Theatre and Performing Arts Sector in NI

Creating Safer Spaces in the Theatre and Performing Arts Sector in NI

Dear colleagues and members

Following the recent revelations and media coverage of sexual assault and harassment across the film and theatre industries, TheatreNI has compiled the following document to provide guidance for the sector and to those who are victims of, or who witness, harassment.

We believe that this is a vital time for our sector to act against bullying and sexual harassment and to reiterate that this behaviour is totally unacceptable and should not and will not be tolerated. The people who work in theatre and performing arts deserve to be treated with the same respect and protection as others and we believe that no-one should be forced to choose between their personal safety and dignity, and their job.

This is a good time for us all to ensure that we are operating to the highest standards of good practice and make sure our places of work, whether in the office or rehearsal room are equal, respectful and safe for everyone.

Dignity at Work

Everyone is entitled to respect and dignity in their working life. Everyone’s professional life should be free from all forms of bullying and harassment. Where harassment occurs, it can negatively impact on the individual, undermine their experience within the workplace, and potentially result in health issues, absences, and staff resignations. (Amplify Women, 13 Nov 2017)

What is Bullying?

Bullying is very similar to harassment and can be described as repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It can be done by one or more persons and can be aimed at an individual or a group to make them feel inferior to other people. Bullying can take many different forms. It can be verbal bullying, physical bullying or cyber bullying (which is carried out on the internet or mobile phones, through social networking sites, email and texts). As bullying and harassment are so alike, where harassment is referred to in this document it can also be taken to apply to bullying. (Amplify Women, 13 Nov 2017)

What is Harassment?

Harassment occurs when, on the grounds of age, race, disability, gender, marital or family status, sexual orientation, political or religious belief, an employer – or their agent such as another employee or a manager – engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an interrogating, degrading, hostile offensive or humiliating environment for the individual in question.

Such actions can include:

  • Physical conduct;
  • Verbal conduct; and
  • Non-verbal conduct.

In addition, while the conduct must be unwanted by the recipient, it does not necessarily have to be that the harasser has a motive or an intention to harass. So, it is still harassment even if the harasser does not know there is harm caused by their actions.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment includes but is not limited to:

  • Unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendoes or taunting about a person’s body, attire, gender, or sexual orientation,
  • Unwanted touching or any unwanted or inappropriate physical contact such as touching, kissing, patting, hugging or pinching,
  • Unwelcome enquiries, or comments about a person’s sex life or sexual preference,
  • Leering, whistling, or other suggestive or insulting sounds,
  • Inappropriate comments about clothing, physical characteristics or activities, posting or display of materials, articles, or graffiti, etc which is sexually oriented, requests or demands for sexual favours which include, or strongly imply, promises of rewards for complying (e.g., job advancement opportunities, and/or threats of punishment for refusal (e.g., denial of job advancement or opportunities).

Harassment in the Performance Industry

Harassment in the performance industry, in any form, is unacceptable behaviour and will not be permitted or condoned. Sexual, sectarian, racial harassment, as well as harassing a disabled person on account of disability or because of marital or family status, constitute discrimination and are unlawful under sex discrimination, fair employment, race relations, and disability legislation. Harassment may be a civil or a criminal offence, and it may contravene health and safety legislation.

Harassment detracts from a productive working environment and can impact on the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it, including anyone who witnesses or knows about the unwanted behaviour.

For the purposes of this communication the workplace can be defined as the office, theatre, rehearsal room, audition or meeting room and agencies but can also include any environment related to their work e.g. lunches, dinners, meetings, parties etc.

We express our commitment and support for workplaces and practices free from harassment and bullying.

We believe that everyone, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, marital or family status, disability, religious and political beliefs is entitled to work in an environment free from harassment and bullying.

We believe that organisations in the industry should:

  • Uphold these principals and tackle problems immediately where they have been identified.
  • Support victims of harassment and encourage them to report incidents to the appropriate authorities.
  • Agree not to engage or contract anyone with an unspent conviction relating to harassment, who is listed on the sex offenders register or who has been disqualified from trading as an agent.
  • Agree not to discriminate against anyone as a result of them enforcing their rights and protections under equality legislation.
  • Encourage all drama schools and colleges to provide suitable and appropriate training in this area to their students and to promote a healthy and respectful work environment.
  • Encourage all production companies to adopt a suitable policy, to train their staff and provide appropriate reporting mechanisms to deal with incidents. Production companies should make a clear statement, which they should read out at the first company meeting outlining their policy and the procedures to file a complaint. The procedures and related contact numbers should be prominently posted on theatre and venue noticeboards.
  • Encourage all agencies to adopt a suitable policy and to issue a copy of their harassment policy to every new client.

Artists and other workers have the right to be free from:

  • Sexual solicitation or advance made by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement,
  • Reprisal or threat of reprisal for the rejection of a sexual solicitation or advance where the reprisal is made by a person in a position to grant, confer, or deny a benefit or advancement.

Reporting Incidents of Harassment

Incidents of harassment should be reported in all cases, no matter how small or apparently insignificant. Often inappropriate behaviour will manifest itself in small ways. On their own they might not seem significant, but they can have a cumulative effect greater than the sum of their individual parts. Small inappropriate acts can also be an early indicator of a larger problem to arise if not tackled at an early stage.

It should be noted that a person does not have to be a direct target to be adversely affected by a negative environment. It includes conduct or comment that creates and maintains an offensive, hostile, or intimidating climate.

We strongly agree with and would restate the guidance from our colleagues in the Independent Theatre Council (ITC):

“Whilst the encouragement to speak out about abuse is important it is equally important to remember that these cases have to be dealt with in a confidential way following correct employment and legal procedures. Failure to follow correct process could lead to contamination of evidence, possible actions for defamation, loss of opportunity to successfully pursue and win a case. Legal advice and support from trade unions and management associations is essential.” (ITC members email communication, Charlotte Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Independent Theatre Council (ITC), (01/11/2017)

If you are a victim or you witness harassment or inappropriate behaviour you can:

  1. If you work within a company, follow the steps contained within their Harassment and other appropriate policies.
  2. If you are working within a production, speak to the production’s Stage Manager in the first instance.
  3. Confide in a colleague.
  4. Speak to your Equity Representative in Northern Ireland or call Scotland and N. Ireland office: 0141 248 2472. The union has specialist organisers covering the different aspects of the industry, such as TV and Theatre, so please identify the area of work you wish to discuss, and you will be directed to the correct person.
  5. If an agent or agency is involved, report the matter to the Employment and Training Inspectorate Employment Agency Inspector, Employment Agency Inspectorate, Department for the Economy, Adelaide House, 39-49 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8FD, Tel: 028 9025 7581 (ext: 57581)
  6. If you suspect a crime has been committed, have been or are being sexually or physically assaulted, please report to the PSNI. To contact the police – phone 0845 600 8000. However, if you need to escape a dangerous situation or have sustained serious injuries that require immediate medical attention, dial 999.
  7. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, there is help and support for you from a number of organisations that can assist you in recovering from any physical and emotional effects of the assault. We know how difficult it can be to make the first contact. Please see The Rowan, Sexual Assault Referral Centre website at for details on all these organisations.  You can also contact The Rowan directly on their 24-hour Freephone Helpline – Phone 0800 389 4424 (from landlines only). You can also access The Rowan services through another agency as long they have your consent. If you are an adult, you can use their services without making a report to the Police, or they can support you if and when you do want to speak to the Police.
  8. If you are unsure of your equality rights or the law please contact The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Equality House, 7-9 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast BT2 7DP, Tel: 028 90 500 600; Textphone: 028 90 500 589; E: The agency can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.
  9. We would encourage you to review and update your bullying and sexual harassment policies and ensure that they are useful and relevant. Please contact TheatreNI if you require help in designing a bullying and harassment policy and we can provide you with a template or signpost you to an appropriate agency for support.

Member Assistance Programme
You can also access professional and confidential advice and support through our 24/7 counselling service offered directly through Inspire Workplace. Inspire Workplace provide confidential, independent counselling and a range of employee wellbeing support services support to organisations in all sectors across the island.

Through this initiative, as a TheatreNI member, you will be able to access:

  • a 24-hour telephone support line, 7 days a week
  • up to 6 x 1-hour confidential counselling sessions
  • an appointment within 3 working days
  • the service, directly, without needing to be referred
  • counselling in your own time, either over the telephone or face to face at locations throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  • a comprehensive network of qualified therapists across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

This special initiative is supported with funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Click here for information on how to access the programme.

We are also keen to hear your views on what you feel TheatreNI and other organisations can do to in order to make our workplaces more respectful, equal and safe. TheatreNI will be running a number of workshops, in the New Year, which will begin to actively and practically address these issues in our sector. If you have any suggestions for additions to this document, or suggestions for training, please contact Niamh Flanagan, Executive Director by e:; t: 028 90 311 806.