Survivors in Community

I joined WIF as a Help Line Advocate in 2019, a year after getting my Master of Social Work degree. At that point in my life, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a therapist, a community organizer, or leave social work altogether to go into human resources. But when I came across the job posting for the WIF Help Line, I was intrigued. As I was still recovering from my own experience of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, I felt called to use my advocacy and social work skills to support the film and television community. I come from an entertainment family and know the challenges of trying to make it in the industry. I felt that with my personal and professional experience, I could support the WIF community in a meaningful way.

As a Help Line Advocate, I answer calls from people in the industry who are seeking support and referrals after experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault. Through this work, I learned that I had to be there for our callers in a way that was respectful of their own individual processes, which are so much more complicated and nuanced than the discussions that were being had in our society as the “Me Too” movement took off. Access to legal support can be important for a survivor or victim of workplace sexual harassment or assault, but it doesn’t address all of the ramifications of working in abusive and toxic environments. Callers share the deep emotional impact that their experiences have had on their sense of identity and the difficulty of being excluded and overlooked in a male dominated industry. Nearly every caller expresses a desire to change the industry culture, and a hope that others will never have to endure a similar experience.

There is strength in numbers, but only if those numbers form a community. I realized that we needed a place for WIF members and Help Line callers to come together and share the knowledge that we are not alone in our experiences of discrimination and abuse. WIF had already sponsored support groups for industry survivors through our partner organization, Wright Institute of Los Angeles (WILA), but the pandemic made it impossible to conduct support groups like we had in the past. We realized that we could go virtual. As a social worker with past experience leading group therapy, and experience as an anti-racist and social justice organizer, I realized I was in the right place at the right time.

Over the past year and a half I have led three Black Member Support Spaces, which focused on healing from racial trauma, two Coping in Quarantine Support Spaces, which focused on coping with personal and professional stressors during the isolation of the pandemic, and the Survivors in Community Support Space, wrapping this month, with survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry. So often in these groups, one member describes their feelings and everyone else emphatically jumps in with “me too.” In a way, this space is a deepened, more healing continuance of the “me too” dialogues that happened on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet.

In these spaces, we often have discussions about loss of trust, including loss of trust in colleagues, friends and family, and the system at large. But as the groups go on, week by week, members begin to heal that loss by building trusting relationships with each other. Members also share and shape their self-care journeys. Just last week in our Survivors in Community Support Space, we discussed non-traditional self-care activities and we got onto the topic how healing dancing can be. I left the session inspired and spent 15 minutes dancing alone in my living room. Next week, we plan on dancing together with our cameras off. Each session looks different, but every discussion is about figuring out members’ needs and how to meet them.

If you want to challenge isolation, connect to your voice, and build community, join the next Survivors in Community Support Space, starting in March. It is an 8-week group for women and non-binary workers who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct in the screen industries. The group is limited to eight people so that we can give space to each member’s story. To find out more, please fill out the interest form. I look forward to hearing your story.

Ashley Merriman

Ashley Merriman
Help Line Advocate and Support Space Facilitator