How power differentials can make LGBT actors vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault

The power differentials that exist in Hollywood make many people in the entertainment industry vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault or advances — and some say it can put young, gay men especially at risk.

'These kind of offences are more common and less frequently reported,' one advocate says

Actor Anthony Rapp alleged earlier this week that actor Kevin Spacey made sexual advances on him when Rapp was 14. Men and women have been coming forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against multiple power players in Hollywood in recent weeks. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

The entertainment industry is filled with power differentials. Each project has a hierarchy of producer, director, actor and the people in between, which can make many people vulnerable to sexual assault, harassment or advances.

In recent weeks, numerous actresses have come forward with allegations of assault or harassment by power producer Harvey Weinstein (and other high-profile men) — women stayed silent because they were afraid of the impact it would have, especially when the alleged assaults occurred early in their careers.

Allegations raised in the past week against actor Kevin Spacey have added a new focus to the pitfalls of these power differentials: when the target is a young, gay male.

"As LGBTQ people, we face additional barriers and oppressions," Andria Wilson said. "So in many ways that means these kind of offences are more common and less frequently reported."

Wilson, the executive director of Toronto and Ottawa's Inside Out Film Festival, which promotes, produces and shows films by and about LGBT people and other underrepresented groups, says actors are also more vulnerable because their workplace isn't an office cubicle, but a film or theatre set for long hours. And it's common for work events to take place at a bar or hotel, she said.

"It doesn't make any of these acts acceptable," Wilson said.

Anthony Rapp, currently appearing in Star Trek: Discovery, filming in Toronto, says he was 14 and attending a party at the older actor's apartment when Spacey, then 26, entered a bedroom where the teen was watching TV and picked him up, put him on a bed and lay on top of him. It was 1986 and both actors were performing in Broadway plays.

"He was trying to seduce me," Rapp told Buzzfeed on Sunday. "I don't know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually."

Spacey's response to the allegations was widely criticized for his attempted apology and using it to come out as gay.

CBC News Network's Andrew Nichols speaks with Kyle Buchanan, Senior Editor at Vulture about the recent allegations against Kevin Spacey, his response and what it means for the industry. 3:45

In the article, Rapp, who has been openly gay since 1992, says two reasons he stayed quiet were that he wasn't ready to address his sexuality and he was concerned about how the allegations would impact his career.  

Employment civil rights lawyer Toni Jaramilla says Rapp's reasons for staying quiet are not uncommon, especially for same-sex allegations.

"If the male victim is not ready to come forward or is not out as being gay, that's a concern," Jaramilla told CBC News Network.

There's also a concern if the victim isn't gay, Jaramilla said.

"It's this additional fear that they will be outed or that they will be deemed as gay and don't want to be."

'It's not just physical power'

Jaramilla also echoed that the power differential plays a big part in the reluctance of people to come forward.

"It's not just physical power, but also the power that you hold over the victim as far as what you can do for that person's career, what you can do to break that person's career," she said.  

Since Rapp came forward, other accusations against Spacey have been made public.

The recent deluge of allegations have also sparked men to come forward with their experiences with sexual harassment.

Actor Wilson Cruz, who plays Rapp's love interest on Star Trek: Discovery, spoke about being pursued by older men in Hollywood while on the red carpet at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network Respect Awards.

Cruz didn't make allegations about anyone specifically, but referred to "older gentlemen of a certain age who made offers."

'Is this what one does?'

"I did not take them up on it, but it was uncomfortable. I was in my 20s and I thought: 'Is this what one does?' And also: 'Am I going to ruin my career by not doing it?' In the end, I politely said no and kept on my way."

Actor and director Alex Winter, best know for Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, told The Guardian that he was sexually abused as a pre-teen actor.

"I don't know of any boys in any pocket of the entertainment industry that do not encounter some form of predatory behavior. It's really not a safe environment," Winter said.

As a leader in the industry, Inside Out's Wilson said that workspace safety needs to improve and hopes Rapp coming forward encourages others to do the same.

"With these power structures that have always been in place it's heartening he was able to come forward," she said.

"We do still have a long way to go."