Sexual harassment in the circus sector: Results of the Finnish survey

In 2017 CircusInfo Finland carried out a survey concerning the incidence of sexual and gender-based harassment experienced by Finnish circus professionals in their work. In total 143 people filled in the questionnaire by the deadline. The results show that one third of the respondents (44 persons) had experienced sexual harassment and one fourth of the respondents (35 persons) had experienced gender-based harassment in their work. A little more than 40 percent of respondents did not consider sexual harassment as a problem in circus sector. However, more than half of the respondents did not either answer or responded yes to the question.

The survey was targeted to all Finnish professionals working in circus sector. The questionnaire was also sent out to secondary level and higher education circus students, who usually work actively during their studies. The respondents were not asked to implicate in which country or in what year they had experienced sexual harassment. Circus sector is an international work milieu, thus the results of the survey reflect the working conditions in Finland and abroad in different time periods.

The vast majority, in total 112 respondents were women and 29 men. One of the respondents did not want to report gender and one reported to be transgender. In total 94 respondents indicated that they had not experienced sexual harassment in their work while 44 respondents had been sexually harassed. Also, two of the five persons who were not sure, if they had been sexually harassed, shared their experiences in the open comments section of the questionnaire. Most of the sexually harassed were women but also four men and one transgender had experienced sexual harassment.

The nature of the sexual harassment was usually verbal: obscene comments or regards on one’s body shape or clothing. Also comments or gestures of sexual nature were commonly experienced. Unwanted touching was experienced by 19 respondents.

“ One of the working group members (male in his 40s) touched repeatedly my butt during dance scenes and he also kept getting near to me in hope being able to touch me…I was forced to avoid this person during the whole rehearsal and performance period  in order to do my job well.”

Requests or demands for sexual intercourse or other sexual favours were experienced by 13 respondents. The open comments section revealed that sexual favours were demanded in return for salary rise, job offers, safety at work and preserving good reputation. Eight of the respondents were harassed by messages, phone calls, videos and photos of sexual nature.

Majority of the respondents, 103 persons, had not experienced gender-based harassment in their work. The ones who had experienced gender-based harassment indicated it to have been most often underrating or insulting comments on one’s gender. The capabilities of women were downplayed, in so that they were not believed to go through the rigging, light designing or driving a car for example. Gender-based bullying was experienced by 8 respondents.

“I have experienced gender-based harassment for instance so that I was ruled out from meeting because I am a woman. I was told that my gender brought a different kind of tension to the meeting in comparison to a meeting where only men would be present.”

Also the female body shape was critiziced and one’s suitability to circus profession was called into question because of the shape of the body. In one case the employer had forced a woman to wear revealing clothing on the assumption that those are the kind of clothes women are supposed to wear while performing.

The harasser or was most often stated to be a co-worker (25 mentions) or another colleague (20 mentions). In 19 cases the harasser was the boss. The director was mentioned as harasser 10 times as well as teacher. Also employee, member of the public, producer, pupil, fellow student and a person sharing the same office got a few mentions.

“I have been approached and experienced touching and sexist talk often on behalf of my boss/director. When I was studying, the sexual concession paid off as promises for work or special status. Altogether the atmosphere has often been distressing, and somehow colored and undesirable.”  

When asked whether sexual harassment is a problem in the circus sector, 61 persons answered no and 28 persons yes. A significant proportion of respondents, a total of 54 persons, could not say whether sexual harassment is a problem, which indicates that there has not been enough discussion around the topic yet.

“Even though nothing like this has never happened to me personally, I have heard and witnessed situations where sexual and gender-based harassment has happened. I think these are serious issues which should be addressed directly in the work communities in question. I believe, that in many situations people are afraid to intervene because the sector is so small and people are afraid that it would cost them personally.”

International womens’ circus community with the lead of Women in Circus Network has made #theshowisover petition to end the sexual harassment of women in the circus sector. Get acquainted with the petition here: