The guidelines will establish new, relevant policies for nudity and simulated sex and other hyper-exposed work; define the duties and standards for intimacy coordinators on productions; and specify acceptable training, vetting and qualifications of intimacy coordinators. Intimacy coordinators provide coaching for actors performing intimate scenes and ensure that proper protocols are followed while they are at their most vulnerable.
“Our goal is to normalize and promote the use of intimacy coordinators within our industry,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, adding, “Intimacy coordinators provide an important safety net for our members doing hyper-exposed work. At a time when the industry still needs to make great changes, our initiative will ensure the safety and security of SAG-AFTRA members while they work, and it respects the boundaries of actors.”
Added National Executive Director David White, “These specifically implemented guidelines will allow productions to run more efficiently while the specialized support empowers both cast and crew. We look forward to working with our industry partners and allies to ensure these guidelines work for our members and others on set. Many productions are already using intimacy coordinators, so it is imperative to codify and standardize the work to best benefit SAG-AFTRA members and the industry as a whole.” SAG-AFTRA’s efforts are not just limited to on-set work. The union is committed to defending the rights and dignity of its members on the job, while pursuing work and in the public sphere. It has elevated the conversation on sexual harassment and abuse through its public policy advocacy efforts, including several pieces of legislation and by hosting a groundbreaking panel discussion on image-based sexual abuse, such as “deepfake” non-consensual sex scenes.
The union continues to pursue its goal to change the culture of harassment and abuse in the industry once and for all. Over the past year and a half in particular, SAG-AFTRA has made great strides toward this vision, starting with the rollout last February of the Four Pillars of Change framework for confronting harassment and advancing equity. This comprehensive initiative strengthens protections for members and holds productions to high standards of conduct through new rules and guidelines, enhanced education and resources, and public policy advocacy. Introduced early last year, Code of Conduct Guideline No. 1 calls for an end to professional meetings and auditions in high-risk locations such as hotels and private residences, and encourages members to bring a support peer to auditions and meetings where safety may be a concern. SAG-AFTRA has since codified Code of Conduct Guideline No. 1 into the Netﬂix, Commercials and Network Television Code contracts, along with provisions that provide explicit personal harassment protections.
In collaboration with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and The Actors Fund, SAG-AFTRA has expanded existing intervention tools and survivor support services. At SAG-AFTRA, more than 100 first- and rapid-responder staff have been trained across the organization, including specialized assessment and intervention training for field representatives. Additional experts have been brought on for intake and case management of complaints, and the union’s long-running 24/7 safety hotline has evolved to include a specialized trauma hotline for members who are experiencing, or who have experienced, sexual harassment or assault.
In addition, SAG-AFTRA is leading a proactive legislative agenda at the federal and state levels that expands and strengthens sexual harassment laws, mandates training for nonsupervisory staff, aims to dismantle the legal barriers to reporting misconduct, extends protections to workers outside of a traditional employment relationship, prohibits the use of nondisclosure agreements in employment agreements, and targets image-based sexual abuse and on-set coercion.
In California, for example, SAG-AFTRA supported the passage of Senate Bill 1300, which prohibits an employer from requiring an individual to sign away their rights under the state anti-discrimination and anti-harassment law in exchange for a raise or as a condition of employment. The law also prohibits employers from requiring an employee to sign any documents that deny an employee’s right to disclose information about unlawful acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment.
Senate Bill 224 expanded sexual harassment protections to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in certain business relationships that exist outside of the employer-employee legal structure, and Senate Bill 820 prohibited secrecy provisions in settlement agreements following sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination.
In New York, the union supported the successful passage of several bills over a two-year period. Senate Bill 6577 adjusted the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape from 5 years to 20 and 10 years, respectively; enhanced damages to include punitive damages and attorney fees in employment discrimination cases; and lowered the “severe and pervasive” standard in sexual harassment cases that denies many victims recourse. Senate Bill 4345 made it a second-degree felony to coerce someone to appear nude in a film. New York state and city have both broadened the statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims from one year to three years and have expanded sexual harassment training requirements to nonsupervisors, an essential tool to address the harassment that can occur among co-workers or co-stars.
Together, these victories take on the culture of silence that protects abusers and reﬂect an evolving understanding of workplace harassment and abuse. Yet, despite measurable progress, there is more work to be done.
When it comes to sexually explicit material, performers should control the use of their images. Unfortunately, sophisticated, free digital technology enables creators to depict an individual as engaging in virtually any activity without their consent or participation, including nude performances and realistic sex acts. While this technology is often used to make deepfake porn, mainstream filmmakers have also used it to create digitized performances of actors without their consent. This technology is just one example of the challenges the union faces in protecting performers from image-based sexual abuse.
In May, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, joined SAG-AFTRA for a panel discussion on how deepfake technology can be weaponized to harass and defame individuals, spread misinformation and undermine national security. Moderated by NBC4 anchor Colleen Williams with an introduction by Carteris, the panel featured White, digital forensics expert Hany Farid, law professor Mary Anne Franks, and SAG-AFTRA members and activists Alyssa Milano and Heidi Johanningmeier.
To address the growing threat to members, SAG-AFTRA sponsored California Senate Bill 564, introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva, which would ban the creation and dissemination of nonconsensual digitally created sex scenes and nude performances, including deepfakes. The first of its kind, this legislation would give individuals reasonable time to decide before consenting to a digitized intimate scene and the right to sue creators where no consent was obtained at all. SB 564 passed with unanimous support, only to unfortunately be shelved in the Senate Appropriations Committee a few weeks later. SAG-AFTRA continues to pursue avenues in Sacramento that would ensure these protections for members.
SAG-AFTRA also supports H.R. 2896, known as the SHIELD Act, a federal bipartisan bill that would prohibit the intentional disclosure of intimate images that the subject intended to be private, often referred to as “revenge porn.” Performers, especially women, are frequent targets of this misconduct and are at risk of having their cell phones hacked or sensitive behind-the-scenes footage leaked. The bill was introduced in May by Reps. Jackie Speier and John Katko, with support from Sen. Kamala Harris.
At a press conference that day, SAG-AFTRA member and activist Amber Heard, a survivor of such a nonconsensual disclosure, spoke about the public humiliation she experienced, and White voiced the need for legal remedies.
As the work unfolds, SAG-AFTRA will continue to work with industry stakeholders, subject-matter experts, lawmakers and members to secure the right to work safely and with respect, dignity and integrity.
Photo: From left, NBC4 anchor Colleen Williams, panel moderator; Rep. Adam Schiﬀ; SAG-AFTRA member Alyssa Milano; SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White; and SAG-AFTRA member Heidi Johanningmeier at the May 6 panel discussing the emerging threat of deepfakes.
This story was originally featured in the summer 2019 issue of SAG-AFTRA magazine.