It has taken the testimony of a number of brave women for the industry to confront a systemic sexual harassment problem.

To date, allegations have largely involved American industry.

This week, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and Dustin Hoffman have become the latest establishment names to become embroiled in allegations of sexual impropriety.

Today, industry executive Daniela Elstner, managing director of Paris-based Doc & Film International and president of French sales agent organisation ADEF, becomes the first executive from the European sales and distribution business to detail her experience of harassment in the industry.

Twenty years ago, while attending a festival for cinema promotion agency UniFrance, Elstner claims she was sexually assaulted by a well-known figure in the French film sector who is still in the industry today.

Elstner has declined to name the culprit but says that she narrowly avoided being raped by him.

Shaken at the time, she confided in a handful of senior colleagues and other members of the industry but was dismayed by their response.

“I can tell you from my own experience that there is nothing worse than being laughed at after someone has tried to rape you,” an emotional Elstner told Screen.

“That haunts you even more than the incident itself.”

“Few people cared”, Elstner recalled about the incident, which took place when she was 26.

“Some people said it was partly my fault and was probably related to how I was dressed, and that there wasn’t anything to say because I hadn’t been raped. They acted like it was a non-event. You begin to doubt yourself. You start to think: is there something wrong with me?”

With her complaints falling on deaf ears and her sense of self-worth rocked, Elstner didn’t take the experience to the police.

The German national, now 46, says she still sees her would-be attacker on the circuit. She ignores him.

While she hasn’t experienced an incident as serious since, she has felt uncomfortable on a number of occasions.

“Since then, I have had other experiences at festivals with guys being inappropriate or where you have to physically defend yourself,” she confides.

Later in her career while at French sales and distribution outfit Les Films Du Losange, Elstner arrived at a hotel for a meeting where a receptionist told her the buyer she was due to meet in the lobby wanted to do the meeting in his room instead. She refused and declined to work with the distributor again.

“My experience made me stronger,” she admits. “I became a lot more cautious.”

Slow progress

Attitudes have progressed to an extent, she says. But not enough.

The executive recently attended a festival with a young colleague and was dismayed to see the way in which the newcomer was “swamped” by male admirers.

Elstner says that talk about incidents of impropriety is still relatively common in the business but that apathy and complacency towards such behaviour is still too frequent.

In recent weeks French actresses Lea Seydoux and Juliette Binoche and Icelandic singer Bjork have also spoken out about their own experiences of harassment.

“This is an industry that deals in seduction in many ways,” says Elstner. “We all play with that. But you can play within safe limits,” she says. “The limits are important.”

Elstner, a respected industry veteran who has sold critical hits including Berlin Golden Bear winner Fire At Sea and Leyla Bouzid’s Venice drama As I Open My Eyes, was speaking to Screen as part of a broader feature on concrete steps the industry can take to combat harassment.

Like others Screen spoke to for that article, Elstner supports the idea of introducing mechanisms such as anonymous hotlines or forums which could provide victims in the industry with a place to express their experiences without those stories potentially hurting their careers.

“Who is going to listen to the story of a junior sales person going forward?” she asks.

Speaking out brings with it a real fear of being marginalised. That goes for people at all levels of the business.

“You don’t want to talk about these things. It’s not easy to talk about them.”

For now, Elstner is telling her story in the hope that it can prove useful to others who have had similar experiences and for the future generations of women and men who want to work in the business without having to go through what she did.

To get in touch with Screen about this story, please email us here or contact us on Twitter.

Read more: Harassment - what concrete steps can the industry take?