Accusations of Sexual Harassment at Ljubljana Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film & Television, Faculty of Arts

By , 02 Feb 2021, 12:54 PM Politics
Mia Skrbinac Mia Skrbinac Screenshot from the interview, with a link at the end of the story

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STA, 2 February 2021 - Mia Skrbinac has become the first Slovenian actress to speak out publicly about sexual harassment as she revealed for TV Slovenija in a programme aired last night she had been sexually harassed for two years by a well-known actor and acting professor during her time as a student at the Ljubljana Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television.

Speaking for the weekly magazine show Tednik, parts of which was also shown on the main evening news on the public broadcaster, the actress gave an account of how she had been subjected to psychological and physical violence from the professor, whom she would not name, during acting classes and outside class between 2014 and 2016.

"He would wait for me outside the toilets, at the Drama [theatre house] bar, and elsewhere," she said. She could not bring herself to speak out about what was happening to her during her study years. A fellow student of hers at the time, Sara Lucu, corroborated the professor's inappropriate behaviour for the programme.

Skrbinac has reported the sexual harassment to the University of Ljubljana, part of which is the academy, known for its acronym AGRFT. She is yet considering whether to bring a complaint against the professor with the police. She would not name the professor because she believes she is not the only one to have experienced harassment.

Other actors appearing on the programme backed her in coming forward. "Abuse of a position of power is a grave form of manipulation and as such morally and ethically unacceptable," said Nataša Barbara Gračner, an actress and AGRFT professor. Actor Saša Tabaković called on the academy "to protect the victims, establish what went on, and punish the professors involved".

AGRFT dean Tomaž Gubenšek announced action, but said the academy had not yet received any complaint. "In any case, the reaction will be sharp. I have zero tolerance to such things, students must be protected to feel safe during their studies," he said on the programme.

Gubenšek told the STA today that in the wake of sexual harassment disclosures in the region of the former Yugoslavia he sent out emails to students on 27 January urging them to report if they were harassed in any way, and promising them to handle every report with due care and discretion, regardless of whether it was anonymous or not.

He said the academy and the university was still waiting for a written statement or complaint from Skrbinac before taking appropriate steps as prescribed. As a first measure to protect the students, the academy will also organise all practical classes, when the coronavirus situation should permit them, so that there will always be two professors with the students.

During the time he has worked at the AGRFT he remembers only one case of sexual harassment being handled by the academy, about 12 or 13 years ago, but this was before his time as dean so he did not know about the details. He did not think any of his predecessors would conceal any such instances or complaints in the past.

The University of Ljubljana expressed regret about such developments, saying they took every complaint extremely seriously. The university has also appointed a taskforce to recognise various forms of violence in the academic space, which TV Slovenija said showed sexual harassment and violence at the colleges were a problem.

A student research group Rezistenca has conducted a survey among 1,500 students in which one in ten reported having faced sexual violence situations. Even those women students who have reported violence to those in charge were not taken seriously enough, the group's representative Rina Pleteršek told TV Slovanija.

She called for a systematic regulation of the matter at the level of the university and the state. "The victims should not suffer an ordeal such as students at the Faculty of Arts have," Pleteršek said.

Owing to allegations of sexual harassment from his women students, Igor Pribac, an associate professor of philosophy at the faculty, failed to be endorsed by the faculty's senate to continue to teach there in October. The senate has recently decided on his appeal, with the decision not made public yet but unofficial information suggests his appeal was denied.

In response to the latter case, the university trade union welcomed "pioneering steps toward consistent and stringent sanctions of sexual harassment in the academia", but regretted they only followed after the student council gave its adverse opinion on the professor's reappointment as a last resort after disciplinary procedures failed to produce appropriate results.

The union lauded the students for exposing themselves. It urged zero tolerance tolerance to harassment, consistent implementation of the measures to protect the dignity of the students and staff, and ending a tradition of "sweeping improprieties under the carpet".

The union finds it unacceptable that confidential material discussed on the faculty senate and containing protected personal data, in particular the victims', should have made its way into the media. "Such abuse of senators' rights [...] triggered politicising where a concrete case will serve as an excuse for attacks on higher education."

Meanwhile, the Association of Audiovisual Actors backed Skrbinac, condemning any abuse of power for any kind of violence in the strongest terms and urging the academy and the university to take a firmer stance on the problem, take sanctions against the professors involved and protect the victims.

Nika Kovač, the head of the NGO Inštitut 8. Marec, said witness testimonies collected as part of the #Metoo campaign in conjunction with the City of Women festival half a year ago suggested sexual harassment in the cultural domain was rather rife with the perpetrators usually figures who enjoyed high public esteem and being in a position of power in relation to the victims.

She believes Skrbinac put herself in a difficult situation by speaking out, but she also believes it will protect future generations of students and will help other students to act differently and come forward.

You can see the interview with Mia Skrbinac here

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