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AGMA speaks out on sexual harassment and assault

On July 23, 2018, AGMA issued a strong statement detailing what actions they are and have been taking to protect members (and non-members) from sexual harassment and assault. This article is encouragingly linked on the AGMA home page, along with a link to their sexual harassment policy. This is a good step in the right direction. It lets the membership, signatory companies, and others know that the union is serious about upping their game in this arena, and helps empower individuals to take action.

Although AGMA is not responsible for, and cannot be responsible for, the safety of non-members, in the public eye it does to some degree represent all opera singers (both choristers and soloists) as well as stage management and dancers, who are no less susceptible to abuse than singers.  This can help change the culture. It won't happen quickly, but strengthening protections and establishing expectations of safety in AGMA signatories will eventually transfer, to some degree, to non-signatory houses.

This is a timely statement, considering that only a few days before, on July 19,  yet another industry assault story reared its head. Jolie O'Dell, a  West Coast wig and makeup artist who has worked at the San Francisco Opera and Ballet, among others, posted screen shots of a post and texts between herself and bass-baritone Matthew Stump, in which he admitted to having sexually assaulted her as she slept (Stump quickly deleted the post, but not before O'Dell had screenshotted it). The exchanges, with commentary by O'Dell, have been widely shared on social media and the story is detailed in this article from the Twin Cities Arts Reader.  

Statements and more importantly, actions  like AGMA's and those of the other unions, SAG-AFTRA and Equity, are important steps in helping to change the culture of acceptance  of sexual harassment and assault as "business as usual" in our industry. Although she is not represented by AGMA, perhaps artists like Jolie O'Dell will feel more empowered to speak up, knowing that they will find public support instead of suspicion and censure. Incidentally, O'Dell is now reporting on her Facebook page that "the police detective and district attorney are looking over corroborating accounts from the now 5 total women who have been physically and psychologically harmed by Matthew Stump". Perhaps men like Stump, whose promising career has almost certainly been destroyed by the publicity surrounding his actions and statements, will begin to exert some self-discipline and think twice before harassing and assaulting. 

I applaud AGMA for these positive steps and for making this information easily discoverable on their website, and look forward to seeing what strides they make next. Perhaps some work on special protections for young artists --- the most vulnerable among us?  But let's not forget --- we are the union. There is strength in numbers, but that strength avails nothing if we do not all work together towards worthy goals. Let your voices be heard, and back them up with action.