Theresa Tova, president of the Toronto branch of ACTRA, the Canadian actors union, is the industry’s first union leader to acknowledge that she has been sexually assaulted – in her case, four times. She doesn’t say when it happened, or by whom, but she’s gone public with it in a video statement to the union’s members.
“As your president, and as a woman who’s been sexually attacked four times myself, I promise you, I am fiercely committed to fighting this on every front,” she said in the video, posted October 29 but unreported on until now (watch the full video above).
As more Canadian actresses have come forward with accounts of being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped – including at least two who have accused disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein – Tova said she is “disappointed” by how few have brought their complaints to the union until now.
“An alarming number of performers in our own union have started speaking out as well, in the newspapers and online,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of the courageous women, and some men, who have called ACTRA to share their stories or come in to speak to me and to staff about their own experiences here in Toronto. The calls haven’t stopped. And the stories I’m hearing are horrific.”
She noted, however, that before the ongoing sex scandal became international news, few women had come to the union with complaints of being sexually harassed and assaulted.
“But what I personally find more disappointing is how many of us have been abused and how few have filed complaints,” she said. “Is that because we feel we have no voice? Have we become so immune, so used to being harassed, having perpetrators cross the line on set and in the audition process?”
“This is a complicated and nuanced problem,” she said. “Eventually, we’re going to need everyone to come to the table: academics, who are going to help us collect data; government and lawmakers, because I think we’re gonna have to change some laws; and the police, because who you gonna call?”
“But my first instinct was to ask our own industry, that I love so much, to take collective action to ensure that the abuses stops, because no union or guild or agent or performer can do this alone.”
As for a plan of action, she said ACTRA is asking industry partners to “join us to create a gold standard for reporting on and dealing with sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. It is long past time for this industry conversation that will make casting practices reportable, accountable, and a problem for the predator, not for the people they target.”
She said she’s gotten promises from a wide range of industry partners including agents, casting directors, producers, directors, crews, suppliers and many others to take part in an industrywide approach to the problem. “Every organization, union and guild that I’ve talked to, they’re all dealing with the same abuse of their own members, as well. So all the industry stakeholders are now looking at their own internal policies around harassment, and so are we.”
Tova did not return numerous calls for comment.