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Emanuel, Schwimmer try to raise public awareness of sexual harassment

In one of the sexual-harassment videos, David Schwimmer plays a boss who, at the end of a long day, insists on giving a young employee (played by Zazie Beetz) at his legal firm a ride home. | Screenshot

Some day, men won’t need to be reminded that sexual harassment is illegal and off-limits. Women won’t need to be encouraged to come forward when men in positions of power cross the line. Bystanders who witness the abhorrent behavior will join them.

But, if the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have proven anything, it’s that we’re not there yet. Not by a long-shot.

Which is why Mayor Rahm Emanuel is joining forces with actor David Schwimmer on a citywide campaign aimed at empowering victims and witnesses to speak truth to power.

Starting Monday, public service announcements created and produced by Schwimmer, the Northwestern University grad of “Friends” fame who also co-founded Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, started appearing on billboards, street furniture and in taxicabs across the city.

Actor David Schwimmer says the city’s interest in his work against sexual harassment stemmed from his appearance on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s podcast. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times
Actor David Schwimmer says the city’s interest in his work against sexual harassment stemmed from his appearance on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s podcast. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The PSAs are aimed at shining the light on “unacceptable” behaviors that have been endured by women and tolerated by their co-workers for too long. By heightening awareness, the campaign aims to end what City Hall calls “institutional silence and complicity.”

The reality-based videos are alternately entitled, “The Boss,” “The Co-Worker” and “The Doctor.”

The PSAs and other information can be found at www.CityofChicago.org/ThatsHarassment.

Emanuel joined Schwimmer at a City Hall news conference Monday where the video in which Schwimmer appeared, “The Boss,” was played.

It showed the good-guy actor complimenting an underling’s earrings, then closing in for a kiss.

“This ad is about awareness. It’s awareness that leads to empowerment and empowerment that leads to action,” Emanuel said.

The mayor added: “This is not a women’s issue. Men must speak up . . . It’s about changing a culture and changing what’s acceptable and unacceptable.”

Emanuel acknowledged it should not be necessary to conduct a public awareness campaign about sexual harassment. They should “get it” by now.

But “when you have something that has a long history that was put to the side, that was not discussed, that was never, ever given any … sense of legitimacy, I do believe we need these ads 100 percent.”

He added: “I’ve had in my career women who have talked to me about how uncomfortable they were in a situation and they feel somehow guilty. Making this and taking it out and putting it in the public arena changes the dynamics of power. By putting it in the public domain, it doesn’t allow one person … to use that power relationship to intimidate.”

Schwimmer noted the PSAs are not only about generating awareness.

“We’re providing actual resources — not only for victims, but bystanders. And a lot of the bystanders are often men. We want to empower these men and keep it in the public consciousness — not just make it a headline that, ‘OK, the most high-profile cases have gone away and now, we can move on to the next issue,'” the actor said.

“The link that’s in every ad will provide … real tools for companies and CEOs to actually reform their work environments. … HR training in this area has really been to protect the companies legally from litigation. This is taking it a step further and trying to create a culture in the work environment in which this is just not acceptable anymore.”

Schwimmer said he has no idea whether the problem of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry has gotten better or worse since allegations against Harvey Weinstein last fall triggered the #MeToo avalanche.

“I’m pretty confident that sexual harassment is happening every day. Probably right now as we have this conference — in every industry,” the actor said.

“There’s more fear and consequences now. So maybe, there’s hope. And now, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it’s certainly shedding a lot more light on the subject. And in time, it’ll be much better.”

The City Council has strengthened the sexual harassment ordinance five times in six months to drive the message home to city employees.

Still, Inspector General Joe Ferguson has accused a “director-level” employee at the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and a construction laborer from the Department of Water Management at the center of a racist and sexist email scandal of engaging in sexual harassment.

Actor David Schwimmer appeared at a news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discuss a series of public-service announcements