If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’d probably know how Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein fell from grace following allegations of rape and harassment from more than two dozen actresses.
In South Korea, actress Jang Ja Yeon documented in her suicide note how she had to give sexual favours to 31 people over 100 times. Her agency’s rep and her manager were convicted for their involvement, but there’s no way to say the case has deterred others from requesting for similar services from other celebs.
In fact, it seems similar things are happening in Singapore. 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 Harvey Weinstein case, awareness of the issue of the sexual exploitation of women in film, television, music, beauty pageants and modelling has never been higher in Singapore.
Harry’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company he founded, The Weinstein Company, and his membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was revoked.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 Harry 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.
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.
Other celebrities spoke out against what they experienced in showbiz.
One such celebrity is actress Vanessa Ann Vanderstraaten, 29. She has been in show business for eight years and there is one meeting with a producer she would rather forget.
“He began making remarks that made me very uncomfortable. He said I should do anything I had to do in order to succeed as an actress,” says the artist, who has been seen in local television shows such as Spouse For House and who had a recurring role in Netflix’s Marco Polo (2014).
“He asked me what I would do for a part in a big movie and I told him I would not sleep with someone for it. He asked me, ‘Why not?'”
The meetings began innocently, with others present. But over time, “it was one-on-one meetings at one in the morning”, she says.
When the producer began pestering her sexually, she was glad she had brought along her boyfriend, who was waiting outside.
She did not talk about the incident until much later. “I was embarrassed. I thought, ‘Oh god, how could I have been so stupid?'” she says. She had thought of herself as a savvy person and was angry at herself for being in a vulnerable place for the sake of a job offer.
Host Anita Kapoor, 46, relates incidents such as the time when a technician on set talked openly about her breasts and lifted her skirt when changing batteries on a microphone she was using. She made a complaint, but it was “hushed up”.
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Most of the time, everyone is mindful of boundaries, but such incidents can occur nonetheless, says Anita, who has hosted shows on Discovery, TLC and Channel NewsAsia, among others.
Host and model Sara Ann Krishnamoorthy, who is known professionally as Sara Ann K, talks about a deeply unsettling encounter when she was 22 and new to modelling.
A photographer coerced her into taking off her top during a shoot and used physical force to do so.
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“I had worked with him on a shoot, so I knew him,” says the 38-year-old. In a blog post written years after the incident, she says her mind was “a complete blank” because of the violence of his speech – he berated her for being “unprofessional” in refusing to show her breasts.
She kept her pain a secret until recently because she feared being labelled an attention-seeker.
“When people think you are an attention-seeker, they call your credibility into question,” she says.
Model Vivien Ong-Patenaude, 25, confirms that she and other models can be under intense pressure to reveal more of their bodies than they are comfortable with doing.
The Singapore-born winner of the 2010 The New Paper New Face modelling competition says the psychological pressure on models who refuse to strip is especially intense in Europe, and she speaks about a time in Paris when a photographer bullied her into removing her top.
She was 19 at the time and there were other women in the room, such as hairstylists and make-up artists, who gave her no support.
Vivien, who has been based in New York since 2013, says that in Singapore, the worst form of humiliation she has encountered happens during catwalk shows. “Backstage, everyone is expected to change by the racks. They don’t separate the male and female models.”
That disregard for a model’s right to privacy and to say “no” is rampant in the fashion business because those in power keep the models feeling insecure and disposable. “This behaviour is so normalised. They have a way of making you feel that you cannot do your job well,” she says.
When faced with sexual harassment and assault, never think it’s your fault although people may tell you otherwise. Remember: No one asks or deserves to be sexually harassed or assaulted.
Victims of sexual harassment and assault can call the Sexual Assault Care Centre on 6779-0282 (Mondays to Fridays, 10am to midnight) or find information at www.sacc.sg.
Image: 123RF.com, Vanessa Vanderstraaten’s Instagram
Text: John Lui / The Straits Times / October 2017
For similar stories, visit straitstimes.com.
For more celebrity stories, read Korean Rapper Accused Of Sexually Harassing Red Velvet’s Irene and Singer Paused Show To Call Out Sexual Assault In The Audience.