"I literally have never felt so powerless. You don't get to react. You don't get to argue against it. It happens so fast, you don't get to articulate how you feel. You're so shocked."

These are the words of Elizabeth “Liz” Hook, a current USC sophomore who sat down with us to talk about her experiences with sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Hook, a film production major, said she was the victim of sexual misconduct on her first shoot.
Hook hanging out on set in South Africa.
Hook hanging out on set in South Africa.

Her experience is troubling yet unsurprising considering the multitude of allegations against many industry titans over the past few months. What happened to Hook speaks to the vulnerability of women in the industry, as well as the barriers they face in reporting misconduct.

USA Today surveyed 843 women in the entertainment industry, finding that “94 percent say they’ve experienced harassment or assault.” The perpetrators are typically older men in positions of power preying on younger women in less powerful positions.  

The summer before her freshman year at USC, Hook said, she landed a production assistant position for a multimillion-dollar commercial with a multibillion-dollar company. The commercial was filmed in South Africa in the Kalahari Desert, where Hook immediately noticed that, as a woman, she was in a minority.

There were only eight women on a set of 230 people, and that’s including the main actress, her body double and the hand model. Then it was the production designer, the director of photography, myself and two other [production assistants]. Those were the only other females on set — period.”

Though there were so few women, Hook originally did not feel threatened. However, this changed, she recalled, when an older, married camera operator made her do menial tasks and called her pet names like “doll” and  “sweetie.” Hook said that this behavior started after a conversation with him, when he disagreed with her about how she planned to reach her career goals.

Hook ignored this behavior at first, but on the third night of the shoot things took a more aggressive turn, she said. While she and one of the other women on the production were at a bar with co-workers, the camera operator, who had been drinking, came up to Hook while her female colleague was in the restroom.

"He came up to me and was like, 'Hey, Liz, I have a cool trick I can show you. I can make both your tits bounce without touching you.' Before I could even say anything he reaches into my shirt and grabs my breasts," she said.

Many victims of sexual misconduct, whether being the subject of unwanted sexual comments or being forced to commit a sexual act, do not report their perpetrators. According to USA Today, 40 percent of women surveyed said they did not report the misconduct because they did not trust the system to help them, 34 percent said they weren't sure if their experience was extreme enough to constitute sexual misconduct, 32 percent said they didn't think they had enough evidence, and 20 percent felt ashamed.

For Hook, it was a combination of factors that kept her from reporting her assailant.

"After (the incident) I thought about the consequences. … If I reported it and he lost his job, they would have to fire him, send him away, hire a new camera operator, and fly them out to the Kalahari. That would be a huge financial and time problem and a problem for production. I was there on a favor. This was my first job. So I kept it quiet. Or, God forbid, I reported him and he doesn't lose his job, and then I just tried to make a mess and it didn't work."

According to the USA Today survey, women who did report misconduct often did not achieve the desired result. Twenty-four percent said the assailant was only given a warning, 23 percent said reporting resulted in the removal of the assailant, 8 percent said they were fired after reporting the misconduct, and 4 percent reached legal settlements in their cases. Of all the misconduct reported by those surveyed, USA Today said, "zero cases were prosecuted."
Another sophomore film production major at USC, Lauren Collette, remembers an incident that left her feeling uncomfortable while working for a production company her senior year of high school. Collette got the chance to work with a male A-list star on a film, one whom she had always admired.

Collette working on set as a production assistant.
Collette working on set as a production assistant.

"I remember I was at one of the screening parties and my boss specifically told me to watch out for him because I was his type," Collette said. "She said he had a thing for younger girls, especially someone in the industry who knows how things work."

At one point that night, Collette got the chance to speak with the actor about the film they had just completed.

"I was conscious of what my boss had told me," she said. "We were talking and I complimented the movie and told him I was an intern and told him I worked for his friend. … And it was interesting because he didn't really care that I was younger and an intern and was in high school. Immediately his hand went to my lower back and he was definitely flirty. It was weird because even though I had prefaced that I was a high schooler working for his friend, it was not a stopping point for him."

Women in Hollywood are fed up with such treatment. Victims and allies are taking steps to say "enough is enough." Over 300 women in Hollywood banded together to start the Time's Up movement, which aims to change the treatment of women in the entertainment industry through legislation. Big names in Hollywood like Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes have been praised for their commitment to combating the injustice.

Hook is an avid supporter of the ‘Times Up’ movement.
Hook is an avid supporter of the ‘Times Up’ movement.

Hook mentioned that her experience only makes her want to work harder to reach her career goals.

She said, "This experience opened my eyes to the reality of the industry, but in no way discouraged me from pushing forward and kicking ass."

Correction: In a previous version of this story, we misspelled the name of one of our sources as "Elizabeth 'Liz' Hooke." The correct spelling is "Elizabeth 'Liz' Hook."