Opinion

A New Reality Show Will Expose Sexual Harassment. Here's Why It Should Never Be Aired

A new reality show putting sexual harassment on display through footage from a hidden camera could inflict real harm on real women

The new format will feature a confrontation at the end of each episode between the harassed women and their harassers.
Getty Images IL

In the current #MeToo era, Israeli reality-show producer Assaf Gil came up with a brilliant idea: the senior producer of many local hit shows has developed a new reality format for the international market, called “The Silence Breaker,” which will be putting cases of sexual harassment in the workplace on display through footage from a hidden camera. The format will feature a confrontation at the end of each episode between the harassed women and their harassers.

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In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Gil also claimed that, unlike the high-profile cases that have been reported up to now and that have involved famous actresses, his program will expose the sexual harassment of "regular" women.  

TV producer Assaf Gil.
Daniel Tchechik

Well, I hope his TV format won't find buyers. The entry of a market force as virulent as reality TV into a field as sensitive and explosive as sexual harassment could inflict real harm on real women. Sexual harassment is a phenomenon that interferes with women's advancement, and can act to extort and paralyze us. The mere idea that all of this would be documented in a reality show that inherently seeks to generate as many tears as possible is shocking.

The emotional well being of reality shows participants was never the editors' and TV executives' main concern. All they can see is dollar signs. And when a format is based on sexual harassment, it can be assumed that the program’s editors will be seeking to create such situations which will be as mortifying as possible – or, as they say in the business, as sexy as possible.

The most galling aspect of his format is probably the promise that at the end of every episode, the victim of harassment will confront her harasser. The first principle that applies in providing assistance to victims of sexual harassment is that they not be confronted with their harassers. For some of the women, the experience of the harassment brings a wave of trauma of much more serious sexual violence to the surface.

Nothing good will come of a confrontation that gives the perpetrator an opportunity to harm the victim further through accusations against her. If a woman is interested in confronting her harasser, she is free to do so, but on a program in which such a confrontation is part of the format, it is the victim who will pay the price.

Sexual harassment pornography

About three years ago I was one of the founders of a non-profit group called Layla Tov (Good Night) set up to combat sexual harassment in Israel’s night life scene. Many times TV channels asked us, sometimes as a condition to their reporting about our work, to provide a victim of sexual harassment or even assault whom they could interview.

These requests are prompted by one thing alone: ratings, the obsessive need on the part of the media to supply the goods to the viewer in illustrative detail. It is sexual harassment pornography, and not a single viewer will have a better understanding of the problem from a graphic description of such physical contact.

That’s because on television in particular, but in our society more generally, sexual violence still attracts advertisers. The new reality show is staking its ratings potential on this and even setting a media standard dictating that if a woman seeks a platform on which to speak about harassment, she must supply her personal story as a kind of merchandise.

Criticism of the #MeToo movement for forgetting about women who are not in the limelight is frequently justified, and it is ordinary women, those who lack the power of publicity, who need support from social networks, not cynical exploitation for commercial gain.

We can only hope that the program will remain without a buyer. I would like to believe that at Israeli television stations at least, they will understand that before they take part in a new sin, they need to cleanse their consciences of their sins of the past. After all, Yoram Zak returned to his job. In the best case, soul-searching on the part of Israeli television is just beginning.