Sundance Film Festival tackles sexual assault issues |

Sundance Film Festival tackles sexual assault issues

It is an issue just about everyone is talking about. Sexual assault is in national headlines almost daily. It was the talk of the Golden Globes. The movement against it was even named the person of the year by TIME Magazine. The discussion is also sure to play a starring role at the Sundance Film Festival, the first major film festival since the topic exploded following allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, himself a Sundance mainstay.

The Sundance Institute, a nonprofit that puts on the Sundance Film Festival in Park City each year, will address sexual assault in its panels and conversations during the event, but is also tackling the issue head-on by partnering with local and state law enforcement to increase safety, said Betsy Wallace, CFO and managing director of the institute, in a written statement.

Although, she said, the institute has worked closely with law enforcement in years past, it is expanding its internal reporting mechanisms this year as well as its communication of its code of conduct.

Wade Carpenter, chief of the Park City Police Department, said that the department has been working closely with the Utah Attorney General’s office to create a 24-hour hotline to report incidents. Victims of sexual assault or harassment can call 801-834-1944, and the investigators will help the victim talk through the next steps, depending on whether the incident was a criminal offense or not.

Non-criminal complaints will be routed to Sundance Institute’s internal security team, which will “gather more information and proceed accordingly,” Wallace said.

Punishment of the perpetrator could include the removal of credentials for the remainder of the festival, Carpenter said.

The institute is also making the code of conduct, which Wallace said has always addressed sexual assault and harassment, openly visible to all festival attendees. Plus, staff and volunteers have undergone increased training for how to appropriately respond to such incidents.

Carpenter said that the 24-hour hotline was created in order to help people feel more comfortable reporting cases of sexual harassment or assault, since there is oftentimes shame associated with these incidents.

Christina Sally, an investigator for the Summit County’s Attorney’s Office, said that many people feel like they will not be believed when they admit to being sexually abused. In order to change that, she said there must be a community shift.

“We all have to challenge our assumptions around sexual abuse disclosures and what our visceral reaction might be originally,” she said. “I think sometimes we want to go, ‘That couldn’t have happened,’ because it’s really hard to fathom that something horrible happened to another human being.”

But victims need to feel empowered to come forward, she said.

Wallace said that the effort aligns with the Sundance Institute’s overarching objective of empowering individuals by providing a platform to share their stories, particularly women.

“Real, lasting change happens when more diverse voices are heard, and that is the core of our mission,” she said.

The shame victims feel often leads to a delay in reporting incidents, Sally said. She said that was the casew in several sexual harassment allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, such as a statement from actress and screenwriter Louisette Geiss, who last year came forward about an incident that allegedly took place during the festival in 2008.

The Park City Police Department said at the time of Geiss’ allegations that no report had been filed regarding the incident. The Sundance Institute banned Weinstein from the festival because of the many allegations against the film producer.

Carpenter said that, when public figures are involved in sexual assault or harassment, whether as the victim or the perpetrator, they receive no special treatment.

“It wouldn’t be different from any other victim,” he said. “Unless we really have to do specific things to protect their identity or if they want to remain anonymous, we would respect that.”

He said that the identities of victims are always protected.

As for perpetrators, Carpenter said that they would do a full investigation, no matter who the individual was.

Sally said that during the festival, there are not necessarily more sexual assault cases than the rest of the year, but whenever there are more people in town, there is an upward trend of all illegal behavior. She recommends that, if individuals feel uncomfortable about a situation, they travel in pairs and/or tell someone where they are going. If sexual abuse does take place, she said to call the police and “be with somebody that cares about you and your safety.”

“We want to make sure that people are safe,” Sally said. “No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.”

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