Harassment Claims Fuel Debate about Employee Safety at Theme Parks' Halloween Events

October 26, 2015, 10:30 AM · Three women posted over the weekend to a Halloween Horror Nights fan group on Facebook that they were quitting their jobs as scare actors at Universal Orlando's annual Halloween event due to ongoing harassment from guests.

"I'm leaving due to the physical sexual and verbal assault that I experience every single night," one wrote.

"There were psycho guests who went out of their way to intentionally attack and sexually harass me," another wrote. "My last couple weeks I was often scared to take pictures, so sorry if I turned you away."

The women said that they portrayed Carrie, the Camp Crystal Lake camp counselor, and the Insidious house's Iron Lady. Universal employs hundreds of scare actors at Halloween Horror Nights — performers who portray characters in the event's haunted houses and scare zones.

A Universal Orlando spokesperson said, "The safety of our team members and our guests is our most important priority. We have a zero-tolerance policy that can include prosecution of anyone suspected of compromising the safety of our team members. Our scare actors receive special safety training and we staff our event with uniformed law enforcement officers and team members whose role is to keep everyone safe."

Two of the women did note that Universal tried to respond to their situations. "Security and coordinators were great at being there for me, the assaults were drive-by attacks," one wrote.

"Although my coordinators did everything they could to keep me safe, some guests just don't know how to behave," wrote another.

Let's say it again: There is no reason why a theme park visitor should initiate physical contact with any park employee. Even with the park's cartoon characters, guests should wait for the characters to show that they are open for contact, whether it be for a hug, a handshake or even a high five.

Yes, Halloween Horror Nights creates a more intimate and personal experience than a normal day in the parks. HHN and Halloween events at other parks rely on the performance of live actors who jump out, cut off, and chase park visitors in their houses and scare zones. It is an "up close" event, that's a large part of its appeal.

But "up close" does not mean "in contact." If you want to hug the guy with the chainsaw when you take that selfie, ask first. And anyone with a shred of decency ought to know that permission to come close for a hug or a photo does not include permission to touch or grope "sensitive" parts of the body. (And, gimme a break, everyone knows what those are.)

From reading these posts, it becomes clear that these women know the difference between inadvertent contact at a crowded event and attacks from people looking to take advantage. The people who attacked these women knew what they were doing. No matter how frustrated, angry, thrilled, or exuberant a theme park guest might feel, there is never an excuse for grabbing or groping any park employee.

In the Facebook group, several fans wrote that alcohol helps fuel an "anything goes" attitude among some guests, and they suggested that Universal cut back alcohol sales in order to improve safety at the event. Universal Studios Hollywood suspended its Halloween Horror Nights event for several years in the early 2000s, in part due to unruly guest behavior. Today, USH's HHN does not serve alcohol, even though beer and other alcoholic beverages are available in that park during normal operating hours.

Whatever one thinks about alcohol in the parks, every fan ought to agree that physical harassment has no place in the parks. Let's amend the ubiquitous safety spiel: Keep your hands inside the ride vehicle — and off the park employees — at all times.

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Replies (43)

October 26, 2015 at 11:42 AM · I totally agree Robert, Ive seen the posts and shared the story from the actor that played "Carrie". I think that alcohol can contribute to stupid decisions being made. I for one couldn't care less if they served alcohol during the event. I think they do a fine job messing with people's minds without liquid lubrication.
October 26, 2015 at 12:43 PM · He just said they do not serve alcohol. Not sure the solution.
October 26, 2015 at 12:55 PM · USH does not serve alcohol, USO (where these complaints are coming from) does.
October 26, 2015 at 1:03 PM · Anywhere alcohol is served there can be trouble. I've seen more drunk behavior at Food and Wine at Epcot than anywhere (fights, vomiting, jumping in fountains), but Disney always seems to be on top of it and handle it quickly. Universal should benchmark them.
October 26, 2015 at 1:06 PM · I'd imagine that the reason why USO sells alcohol at their events is because it's extremely profitable. I don't see alcohol disappearing anytime soon from there, nor do I see them dialing back on alcohol sales.
October 26, 2015 at 1:40 PM · It's always a few idiots that do dumb things, that cause problems and have no common sense. But I also don't see alcohol sales being cut back or stopped, Orlando makes too much money off the sale of alcohol. They have done the only thing they can by limiting it to one drink per ID, per bar. But you still see people drink more then they should or can handle.
October 26, 2015 at 2:25 PM · Mr. DisDawgs writes: "They have done the only thing they can."

I Respond: No. Universal Orlando could stop selling alcohol. They choose not to.

October 26, 2015 at 2:22 PM · TPI should make its mission to inform all theme park guests about what is okay and what is not okay. Whenever I see anyone misbehaving in a theme park, I do my best to tell them to stop and inform a team member.
October 26, 2015 at 2:50 PM · They will keep the alcohol around, Universal is really good with responding security wise at HHN, I've witnessed it. However the drive bys are taking advantage of the crowds.

Food & Wine at Epcot can get really REALLY bad on good weather friday/saturday evenings and holiday weekends as well. We witnessed someone jump into the lagoon once there.

October 26, 2015 at 2:53 PM · There is a TPI thread from March/April 2013 where a handful of the TPI all-stars comment on crowd control problems at Universal Mardi Gras. At the time the park had girls walking around selling jello shots from trays. Are there HHN themed drinks? Souvenir glasses available? Down the road Disney hosts an event that references hooch in its name (Food & Wine). Attendees actually wear custom made t-shirts ("Drinking Around the World", etc.). But I have never heard of a cast member being assaulted ... Let alone multiple cast members.
October 26, 2015 at 3:36 PM · Having been punched in the ribs as a scare-actor by a guest several years back and persuaded by management to not press charges, I am calling BS on what the UO spokesperson said.
October 26, 2015 at 3:58 PM · Universal does sell souvenir glasses for HHN. There are also girls dressed as nurses selling jello shots in blood bags throughout the park. The scare zone where Carrie was located is near the entrance to Disaster. The area is very small and seems to always be densely populated throughout the night. It is a major thoroughfare to travel to either the front or back of the park. There aren't any clear sight lines in that area to monitor the guests that are there. While the concept of the scare zone and the scare actors themselves were great, I didn't spend a whole lot of time in this area because of the large number of people attempting to get a "selfie" with the monster of the hour. It always felt cramp and claustrophobic in that area.

I don’t foresee Universal cutting back on alcohol anytime soon. It is too much of a revenue generator for the event. Sadly the only thing that would force a change is for something severe to happen to a scareactor or guest. Having read some of the posts from the HHN facebook group it is incredibly disappointing to find out that some guests have treated cast members so poorly who are there to entertain them to begin with.

From what I’ve seen, the number of obnoxious, intoxicated people at both Epcot and Universal appears to be more of a “locals” problem than guests that are traveling from elsewhere. Perhaps the laws and enforcement in Florida are a bit lax?

October 26, 2015 at 4:30 PM · Kris V references "... obnoxious, intoxicated people" at EPCOT. Hmmm. Got a link to a site where Disney cast members complain about being assaulted at F&W?
October 26, 2015 at 4:42 PM · It's an event that attracts a lot of people in their teens and early 20s and it's dark. A relatively small number of them go crazy and do immoral and potentially illegal things, but let's call it what it is and not blame alcohol. I have gotten drunk at HHN and other events many times but no matter how much I drink I'm not going to assault anyone. Alcohol isn't the problem, a small number of bad guests are the problem. If more security is needed to protect people I'm all for it. Maybe even serve alcohol in areas with lights to make it easier for the servers to see if people are too drunk, but let's not ban alcohol because alcohol doesn't assault people any more than guns shoot people.
October 26, 2015 at 4:48 PM · I've heard stories on In The Loop of cast members at Epcot being groped. Unfortunately both events attract some of the frat boy/date rape crowd.

The problem with HHN this year is that the scare zones have turned into free for all photo ops. When they had the Lady Luck photo op in 2011, the team member said "you touch, you go leave with the police"

October 26, 2015 at 5:11 PM · Universal will probably cut Scarezones before cutting alcohol, I wouldn't be surprised if next year we only get a couple of zones in New York and Hollywood Streets..... maybe a horde here or there.

There is no way they are going to have as many actors in the streets next year, specially with how many people are talking about the abuse they got.
I do think something will be done just because of the amount of people getting angry over this, but they will never stop the alcohol.

universal should at least ban selfies. ban posing with actors in general

October 26, 2015 at 5:18 PM · Maybe they need to only have guys as scare actors in the scare zones unless the actors are in costumes where you can't determine the person's gender. The majority of guys will never do something inappropriate alcohol or not, but unfortunately I think there are still enough guys who will that it will be a problem for all the actresses. I wish that wasn't the case, but I've had guys grab me on more than one occasion (and do something more disgusting involving body fluids unfortunately) in crowded situations when I wasn't doing anything to draw attention to myself. The ladies in the costume are going to be targets for jerks because they are dressed up in a crowd. I wish all guys could be gentlemen, but unfortunately the ones who are not, cannot be shamed into acting appropriately. They probably feel if a woman is a park employee dressed in costume she must have known this would happen and so she thinks it is OK. They don't realize how it feels to have random weirdos who are physically stronger than you, grab you and wonder what else they are going to try. I'm sure there are plenty of weird guys that meet the princesses, but that is a much more controlled situation with a photographer present. I would think that anyone that was groping the cast members at Disney parks would be banned from the park for life as they should be, but in an uncontrolled situation these guys continue to get away with it. They could still have Carrie, but put her in a controlled situation.
October 26, 2015 at 6:01 PM · TH: The only way that someone can be obnoxious while intoxicated is if it results in assault? I'm sure Epcot sees intoxicated guests every year during F&W. I'd wager that some are quite obnoxious; even if they aren't physically abusing cast members.
October 26, 2015 at 6:36 PM · Physical harassment has no place anywhere. Universal needs to add more security, more cameras, more security personal, both visible and plained clothed, and makes sure anyone who does such a thing to an employee or anybody else Is charged, and of course banned from the park. Considering how tight security is now, you'd figure something like this wouldn't happen multiple times. Shame on the people who would do such a thing, intoxicated or not. Alcohol isn't the problem, people are the problem, and Universal needs to do a better job protecting its employees and guests.
October 26, 2015 at 6:46 PM · As a Florida prosecutor, there is zero tolerance for this type of criminal behavior. Alcohol is no excuse as voluntary intoxication is not a defense to any crime. Yes, people need to keep their hands to themselves so we can all have a good time.
October 26, 2015 at 7:25 PM · I'm not sure why everyone is jumping on alcohol as the only main problem. The scare actor referred to them as "psycho guests" not intoxicated. There's a lot of stalkers and harassers who don't need to be intoxicated to abuse others.
October 26, 2015 at 7:55 PM · Why not keep selling alcohol, just double the price? Same profit, less consumption.
October 26, 2015 at 8:26 PM · I used to be a scare actor at one of Florida Halloween events in the 5 years that I was I got harrassed countless times .. It's not right and now a days I probably couldn't take it but I did. I also knew people act stupid when alcohol is involved ..I was aware of my surroundings and always worked with someone else .. Looking back there were probably many times I should have reported it but I know it comes with the territory..just common courtesy goes along way
October 26, 2015 at 8:46 PM · Well TH, I don't have a link to reference on the internet, but I tell you what, since you're a Florida local try this - go to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival on a Saturday. Follow the local folks around all day that have the "Drunk 1", "Drunk 2", "Drunk 3" tshirts on. Let me know if you find them obnoxious at the end of the day.
October 26, 2015 at 9:02 PM · The people who wear drunk 1, drunk 2, and drunk 3 shirts at Epcot are silly. Don't they realize that Dr. Seuss characters are at Universal?
October 26, 2015 at 9:17 PM · I really hope people don't think that it only happens to females. Assaults take place on many guys throughout the event every single night also.
October 26, 2015 at 9:31 PM · People know what they can get away with, and more importantly WHERE they can get away with it at. I can tell you that, although physical assault isn't tolerated, it is a MUCH freer atmosphere to drink at Universal, and with people getting plowed at citywalk before, during and after the event, why do you think they have their own drunk tank?? I can guarantee you that if you get out of line at a Disney property, you will see the difference between Nice,and Other...One of the most beloved Icons at Disney is Mickey, two of the others is Darth Vader and Boba Fett... the "tread lightly" is always on peoples minds there, and that's a good thing!
October 27, 2015 at 5:52 AM · It's been years since I had any interest in attending these events, but inappropriate abuse of actors has been going on for a very long time. I had friends who worked HHN about 15 years ago, and I couldn't believe the stories they would tell me about guests physically assaulting them. I don't think any of them were touched in a sexual way, but they did get punched on occasion. If your natural reaction to a scare actor jumping out at you in a haunted house is to punch that actor, then maybe you shouldn't be going to haunted houses.
October 27, 2015 at 6:23 AM · Uh 2 years ago 3 cast members were assaulted at food and wine, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-10-14/news/os-disney-arrest-drunk-naval-academy-20131014_1_naval-academy-grad-walt-disney-world-theme-park

October 27, 2015 at 6:32 AM · Um I dunno where this zero tolerance policy is coming from but, guests who are confronted are told "Hey, don't do that again, pretty please." And go on their way.
October 27, 2015 at 6:34 AM · I can confirm a few things.

1: There was a night (a couple years ago) where the HHN event sold no liqueur and limited beer and wine sales. There was no significant drop in the number of incidents addressed by law enforcement. Revenue operations returned to normal the next event night. (I'm assuming it was a costly test)

2. As a scareactor, you are more likely to be attacked (or ambushed) by a sober person. The stereo type for men AND women who assault is in their teens or early 20's and they "are looking to prove something."

Special events draw interesting crowds. Everyone seems to have their horror stories (no pun intended). Disney has been the first to cancel a well attended event. Was Night of Joy more hassle than it's worth?

Maybe the HHN crowd was better behaved....

October 27, 2015 at 6:54 AM · In the houses, UO has team members monitoring activities of guests. Why not have team members in all of these scare zones as well?
October 27, 2015 at 8:03 AM · I'm confused. Robert said they don't serve alcohol during HHN.... Oops that was in Hollywood. Nevermind
October 27, 2015 at 10:35 AM · I'm glad Universal appears to be taking this seriously. If the answer is added security I hope they go forward with it.
October 27, 2015 at 12:28 PM · This is why I stopped going to HHN Orlando several years ago. The last time I went, I was reaching for a thrown strand of beads and this drunk woman next to me bodychecked me into a palm tree over by Terminator. When I said "hey!" to her, she came at me with her fists raised and ready to beat me to a pulp. Her equally drunk boyfriend luckily pulled her away from me. There were obnoxious drunks all over the place and alcohol being sold every 100 feet or less and it's just no fun any more. I went faithfully every year for the first 15 years and had a great time but the next few times, it just got worse and worse with the drunks and out of control people.

So now..I stay home or I go to Mickey's No So Scary party or Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa which has much less of a problem.

Oh and Epcot at F& Wine..I stay away on the weekends, too many drunk locals acting like morons. One cast member told me that Sat nights are the worse with people falling down drunk and/or puking in the bushes.

October 27, 2015 at 1:31 PM · TH: From 2013's Food and Wine
October 27, 2015 at 1:40 PM · These events are a lot of fun. Too bad some idiots might spoil it for everyone.
October 27, 2015 at 4:47 PM · Before we start shaming alcohol and Universal for serving it (and I'm not defending either one BTW), let's consider the facts. Nowhere does it say that these attacks were brought on by guests drinking booze. Is it possible? Absolutely, but suggesting that Universal should cut back on alcohol when every other park on the planet offers it is a bit of a stretch. If there are guests who need alcohol to enjoy their night, they'll get it. Somehow, someway, they'll get drunk regardless of whether or not the park will serve it. And unfortunately, the guests who feel the need to assault employees will often do so without hooch in their system. That's just the way some people act at adult-oriented events. I've seen the girls at Howl-O-Scream get unwanted attention from guests who aren't even old enough to drink. I agree with everyone, this type of behavior is uncalled for and needs to to be taken seriously with proper action, but this is always going to be a problem, regardless of alcohol or location.
October 27, 2015 at 4:49 PM · I would like to see a different strategy for a reduced bar placement and offerings. No liquor outside of the main Finnigans bar and no beer sold in queues or scarezones. Remove Jell-O shots, ( they taste awful.) increase security and police presence at bar locations to help bar staff enforce needed cutoff a for select individuals. I believe it's possible that this would help cut down on some of the negative attributes of working the event.

I would also like to see a Universal try out the no posing rule again for scare actors. I remember a few years ago characters were told they weren't allowed to stop for photos which curved a lot of the psycho fans stalking and hoarding of talent.

I also think social media and marketing teams play a little bit of a part pushing guests to get closer to the talent when they shouldn't be doing that. They need to find alternative to fan photo contest of everyone trying to get the best interaction and forcing more photos.

End rant/ 2cents

October 28, 2015 at 3:56 PM · Allowing the sale of alcohol at these kind of events is one of the worst ideas in the history of bad ideas. I went to HHN last year ...will never go again. Drunks are obnoxious assh$#*s. I wanted to go all Medieval on some of these mfs
October 28, 2015 at 10:09 PM · In the early 90s, I was a walk-around character for about two years at Kings Dominion... back in the Hanna-Barbara days. I was usually Hong Kong Fooey or Astro. In any case, I think I was punched at least once a week if not more often by some teenager who wanted to prove that there was really a human being in there. Luckily those head pieces are pretty hard and I never got seriously hurt. But it was common, and most of the assailants were teenagers and I don't think you could get alcohol there at the time. Sometimes, the person who walked with me could get a security guard to go after them and throw them out of the park. But it just goes to show, that it doesn't take much for some subset of the guest population to physically harass 'character employees' with little or no impetus but that they needed to take aggression out on something they still saw as a non-person. Long story short, this is not new. It happens regularly. And while it's a small subset of people who do this, it is still a big problem one has to deal with when working in that kind of field in a theme park. Though, I would have to say... other than that, it was one of the best jobs I've ever had. Not sure how you get people to stop being mean though... nothing seems to have worked in the last 25 years that I know of.
October 29, 2015 at 6:36 AM · Some of the people defending selling alcohol at the events reminds me of people defending tobacco in the way back. "Nobody's ever proved any of these things."

Yeah, I was one of them.

October 29, 2015 at 7:37 PM · Comparing alcohol sales at Universal to the debate over the health effects of tobacco decades ago is apples and oranges. The debate here is if these incidents are happening because of people who had too much alcohol, or if they are simply individuals targeting Universal because they can get away with it. I highly suspect most of these incidents are occurring by the same group of people, and while alcohol is likely playing a part, it isn't the primary reason.

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