There are a few men in the Singapore entertainment industry notorious for their sexual misconduct.
Whispers have swirled around them for years, but they are still where they have always been – major players in a business where some women are told that saying “no” will cost them their careers.
These men are said to have pressured women to trade sex for career success.
Following the fall from grace of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein because of allegations of rape and harassment from more than two dozen actresses, awareness of the issue of the sexual exploitation of women in film, television, music, beauty pageants and modelling has never been higher in Singapore.
Weinstein’s downfall came after a New York Times expose earlier this month, alleging his sexual misconduct over three decades.
More women – among them actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie – subsequently came forward to say they had been either assaulted or harassed by Weinstein, or pressured to have sex with him for career advantage.
He was fired from the film production company he founded, The Weinstein Company, and his membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was revoked.
Police departments in New York, Los Angeles and London have opened investigations into Weinstein following allegations of sexual assault from a number of women.
The Sunday Times spoke to a range of women and other experts in the entertainment industry here and came away with the impression that there is no one here as violently predatory as Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault by actresses Rose McGowan and Asia Argento and of other sexual violations by a range of well-known women.
But sexual harassment happens here nonetheless.
— xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) October 15, 2017
Me too https://t.co/ScX67Kmmiy
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) October 15, 2017
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
The Weinstein case in the United States has sparked the #MeToo campaign on social media across the world, including Singapore.
Journalists, presenters and film industry professionals have used the hashtag, though sometimes without giving details or in relation to a traumatic childhood encounter with a family member.
Some women here spoke to The Sunday Times about their experiences after sharing them on Facebook.
In Singapore, sexual predators are not as blatant as Weinstein.
Local men prefer to dangle carrots, such as promises of stardom; or use the stick, by telling the women they will get a reputation for being difficult or unprofessional.
Some might see these power arrangements as consensual – the trading of sex for advancement – but the Association of Women for Action and Research does not share the same view.
Ms Jolene Tan, its head of advocacy and research, says that “bullying behaviour in the workplace – such as shaming employees, belittling them when they reject behaviours they are not comfortable with, or threatening to sabotage their careers – is absolutely a form of workplace harassment”.
She recognises that there is a price to be paid for whistleblowing – an act that might not even lead to punishment for the accused.
Survivors are “vulnerable”, she says, and are left with little choice but to defer to authority.
“Reporting harassment can carry economic, social and psychological costs for the survivor, without necessarily resulting in perpetrator accountability,” she says.
Among the women this reporter interviewed, at least two made complaints to their managers, but these were brushed away.
The others talked about how they feared being labelled unprofessional or attention-seeking.
Mr Samuel Seow, an entertainment lawyer and owner of Beam Artistes, a talent management agency, gives an example of coercive behaviour.
A woman came to him for legal advice after she had been picked for a show, but then was asked to go to a “private audition” by one of the show’s male producers.
“She was a young newbie, but she felt it was weird,” says Mr Seow, 44.
Once she was there, the producer told her she had to make “sacrifices” for her career. She was outraged and left.
Mr Seow advised her that the best option was not a legal one, but to speak out, he says.
He made a Facebook post about the incident and she told her employers about the man, but they preferred to not rock the boat as the producer is a well-established industry figure.
She was dropped from the show.
According to a New Paper report last Thursday, a Mediacorp employee who made “inappropriate remarks” to a Channel NewsAsia producer has been dismissed.
The producer, Ms Park Juwon, had said on social media about how her colleague said she could not be a presenter because she lacked certain bodily assets.
In an e-mailed statement, Mediacorp said the company is “committed to maintaining a workplace that is safe, respectful and energising for all our employees”.
“We embrace the diversity of our workforce and will fight any form of discrimination or harassment that threatens our core values.
“Our code of business conduct and ethics, signed by all employees every year, does not condone any form of harassment.”
There is a new generation of women who will not stand for such behaviour, especially now when so many women have stepped forward to speak about Weinstein’s transgressions, says Mr Seow.
“Younger people are more vocal,” he says.
This article was first published by The Straits Times.