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Edinburgh Fringe female performers 'sexually harassed'

By Chris Hemmings and Jessica Furst
BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme

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image captionLizzie said one man "moved his hand, quite forcefully, up my skirt"

Women working on shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have reported facing sexual harassment on a daily basis while out promoting their performances, the BBC has been told.

Some reported being groped, while others said lewd comments had left them feeling vulnerable.

The actors' union Equity said it was receiving reports of "more and more" incidents each year.

Police Scotland said it had not received any reports of harassment.

It said it had an increased police presence.

It is estimated that more than 30,000 male and female artists perform at the Fringe each year, across 3,500 shows.

'Cornered by three men'

Lizzie - whose surname we are not using - said that the sexual harassment she received made her alter her behaviour to try to avoid unwanted attention, while continuing to promote her show.

She told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that while handing out flyers, one man "pretended to brush something off my thigh and then moved his hand, quite forcefully, up my skirt".

She said on another occasion she was "cornered" by three men, who appeared to be twice her age, who said they would "only buy a ticket or take a flyer in exchange for my phone number".

On other occasions, men would make comments about her appearance or "invade" her personal space "so their grope could go unnoticed", she added.

Lizzie said she wished handing out flyers was not necessary, but that it was by far the most effective means of selling tickets for lesser-known productions.

image captionFi said she felt under pressure to "laugh off" harassment

Most of the abuse is thought to take place on the Royal Mile - a busy street at the heart of the city.

Fi said she had felt under pressure to "laugh off" any harassment she endured, such as having her bottom pinched, because she was "trying to get customers".

And one woman, who did not wish to be named, said that while handing out flyers: "A man stopped me on the street and started staring at me. When I asked him if he wanted a flyer he said, 'no, I just want to stare at you'."

Another woman said many like her felt pressured into putting up with the unacceptable behaviour of show reviewers - who can make a great difference in getting more people to watch their performances.

She said: "One reviewer would come up to me while I was flyering every day, being overly complimentary and holding a review over my head for the whole run of the Fringe.

"He made me feel really uncomfortable."

image captionPerformers and showgoers flock to Edinburgh throughout August

Police Scotland said it had set up two mobile police stations for the duration of the month and had increased high-visibility patrols.

It added that it had not received any complaints regarding sexual harassment.

The actors' union, Equity, said many female performers had become accustomed to abuse - but it encouraged them to report all incidents to police.

Its president, Maureen Beattie, said a "slight level of hysteria" at the Fringe "seems to release this kind of underbelly of bad behaviour".

"It is completely and utterly unacceptable.

"We are a workforce, and you must respect us," she added.

image captionMaureen Beattie said Equity had seen "more and more" reports of harassment each year

"Somebody recently had their bum grabbed, and that's supposed to be all right?" she questioned. "Would you do that to anyone else who was out on the street?"

Edinburgh Festival's Fringe Society, which supports the running of the month-long event, said: "Everyone who is part of the Fringe - be they a performer, member of the crew, producer, audience member, critic and so on - has the right to feel safe and supported."

It added that it "takes matters of this nature very seriously" and urged those who experienced inappropriate behaviour to contact police.

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