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SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris: ‘People Are Feeling Empowered’

SAG-AFTRA’s leaders believe the entertainment industry’s sexual harassment scandal is having a profound impact on the union’s 160,000 members.

“People are feeling empowered to speak out and there has been a significant increase in the number of people doing so,” said Gabrielle Carteris in an interview with Variety on the eve of Wednesday’s SAG Awards nominations announcement.
The number of reports of sexual harassment that come into SAG-AFTRA now average at least five a day — far above the level prior to the Oct. 5 bombshell revelations about disgraced executive Harvey Weinstein. Carteris and National Executive Director David White asserted that the surge in reporting reflects a cultural sea change on the entire issue.

“The calls that we are getting are coming in from across the entire spectrum,” White said. “We are aware that the simple act of naming the problem, along with having new tools to protect oneself, definitely helps to empower our members.”

For Carteris, the issue has become a key part of her presidency. She issued a condemnation of Weinstein a few days after the first story broke, headed a panel in Los Angeles on Nov. 14 with Gloria Allred and another three days later in New York. She’s also persuaded the AFL-CIO executive council and the International Federation of Actors to increase their efforts to deal with the problem.

The union has also formed a SAG-AFTRA Blue Ribbon Safety Commission to focus solely on sexual abuse and harassment. The task force is designed specifically to empower  members with information and tools they need to help combat harassment and stay safe.

Carteris admits that she’s been harassed many times. She’s best known for portraying the valedictorian and school newspaper editor Andrea Zuckerman on the long-running series “Beverly Hills 90210” and has also appeared in “Touched by an Angel,” “King of the Hill,” “NYPD Blue,” “JAG,” and “Criminal Minds.”

“When I have experienced sexual harassment, I felt isolated and alone,” she said. “I am surprised at the magnitude of the response since October. It shows that you can break through the isolation when you are being heard.”

White said that one of the reasons why the sexual harassment issue is resonating with SAG-AFTRA members stems from actors needing protection due to the audition process.

“Our membership is unique in that their profession is frequently dependent on their physicality and requires them to engage with others in situations where there can be an unequal balance of power and limited oversight,” he said.

As a result of the cascade of revelations over the past two month, members now expect SAG-AFTRA to amplify its efforts.

“As it relates to sexual harassment, our members expect us to seize this opportunity and go beyond the traditional protections in the workplace,” White said. “They want us to educate and empower them as much as possible to help them navigate all aspects of the industry.

Carteris also stresses that the problem is everywhere.

“Even though actors are more in the public eye than most professions, this is a problem that crosses all industries,” she adds.”We’re learning that there may be additional tools we can use to further support our members when they have incidents to report. We are exploring new technologies and procedures.​

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