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Survey: Sexual harassment, violence rampant in art industry

  • March 25, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 7:21 p.m.
  • English Press

By Eriko Chiba, staff writer


A female director in her 30s was told by a senior staffer to give a massage and was taken to a hotel room the staff rented. That was where the staffer forced her to perform sexual acts.


A woman in her 50s who works at a cultural facility was asked to kiss the facility’s director in a closed room. The director touched her body. She said, “No.” Then the director began to act differently and lashed out at her. She was ultimately demoted.


These women are not at alone in the art world.


Sexual harassment and violence run rampant in the industry, forcing artists–women and freelancers in particular–to work in hostile environments, a recent report reveals.


A group of artists called Hyogen-no-genba-chosa-dan conducted an online survey, through the help of a general incorporated association, from December 2020 to January this year and released the results on March 24.


The numbers are staggering. According to the survey, out of a total of 1,449 respondents, 1,195 people said they “have experienced a certain type of harassment” in the past 10 years.


While 1,298 people, or about 90 percent of respondents, said they have been victims of power harassment, 1,161, or 80 percent, said they have been sexually harassed. There were 1,042 respondents who said they have experienced gender harassment.


Of the 1,449 respondents, 62 percent are women and 25 percent are men, while the remainder declined to be identified.


About 28 percent of respondents work in the fine arts field, 16 percent work in theater and the performing arts, and 13 percent are in the film and motion pictures industry.


“There are so many harassment cases in the creative world, but it is difficult for (victims) to speak out, and the cases tend to be kept hidden,” said Eri Homma of Kyun-Chome, an artist who was part of the group.


Homma said the survey would “help visualize harassment cases and change the structure of the industry.”


The group collected and made public numerous stories of artists suffering from abuse and harassment at work.


One female manga artist in her 30s said a staff member in the editorial office that publishes adult-themed comic books asked her if she “is still a virgin.”


A female student at an art college in her 20s said a teacher half-jokingly asked her, “Are you new or used?” referring to her sexual experience.


Another female art college student in her 20s said a professor looked at her artwork themed around a naked body and asked her, in front of the class, “Is this model you? Do you look like this when you are naked?”


A female actor in her 30s said a producer told her during a rehearsal, “I went on a spree and had sex with actors on the stage wings.” The producer then said, “Sex is necessary to create a great work,” the woman said.


Male artists have often endured physical and verbal abuse at work as well.


A male film industry worker in his 30s said he was beaten and kicked at work. The assault was taped and later released as a film.


A manga artist in his 30s said an editor repeatedly told him that his work was bad because he has “bad taste in fashion” and is “so geeky.”


More than half of the survey respondents were freelancers. Some said they have been forced to accept low wage jobs and crushing workloads without signing contracts.


A man in his 30s who works in the TV production industry said he used to work for 18 hours a day and could go home only once a week or even less. Yet, his monthly income was only in the tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars) because it was a training period, he was told.


Another man in his 30s in the film industry said he was bound to work for more than three months with no pay. He said staff often “yelled at me and hurled insults that deny my integrity as a human being.”


The group said the fact that men predominantly hold the senior positions in the art world, like the jobs tasked with reviewing and evaluating work and talent, has fostered rampant harassment across the industry.


The lack of legal protection for freelancers is also a factor, the group said.


Emiko Kasahara, a contemporary artist who launched the advocacy group, said the group’s creation is a critical step toward making more people aware of harassment and care more about equal gender representation.


She said they will continue to investigate harassment cases in the industry for the next five years and call for improvements in gender representation and legal protection for freelancers.

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