Sexual harassment is headlining news stories across the country in industries where harassers can be held responsible for their actions. Whether by human resources departments or by the court of public opinion, harassers in these circumstances have consequences to deal with. But what do creative freelance professionals, like photographers, do about sexual harassment on the job when they have no HR department to turn to?
What does sexual harassment look like in an industry where there is no human resources department to set clear guidelines and hold perpetrators accountable? HoneyBook, a software company that provides online hosting for creative professionals, ran a survey of their clients to find out, and the numbers are depressing.
Of the over 1,000 creative entrepreneurs — which included photographers, graphic designers, and event planners — who responded to the survey, more than 50 percent had been sexually harassed at least once, and an equal number witnessed the sexual harassment of a colleague, vendor, or event guest.
With harassment so prevalent, what exactly are these creative professionals dealing with?
- 77 percent of creatives have experienced unprofessional comments on appearance.
- 73 percent have been called demeaning nicknames.
- 56 percent have been the victims of physical intimidation.
Imagine photographing a wedding, only to be sexually harassed by a guest of the bride and groom. It can be incredibly difficult to decide how to handle such a situation when the photographer relies on the goodwill and good opinion of their clients to put food on the table and pay their bills. Since there is no human resources department to alert, and no one wants to stain their client's wedding day by reporting a beloved guest for harassment, creatives are faced with the decision to either keep their mouths shut and keep working, or report the harasser and deal with the consequences. When faced with situations like this, it becomes clear why 72 percent of creative entrepreneurs who responded experienced sexual harassment on the job did not report it. For the brave few who did report their experience to someone other than the police, 34 percent had their complaints ignored.
Despite experiencing sexual harassment, 80 percent of victims continued working, choosing to finish the job rather than take the potential long-term repercussions of walking off. Thirty-four percent of respondents said that they avoided working with the client again, which means that they not only suffered harassment but lost out on potential income.
Perhaps worst of all, 18 percent said that they experienced harassment from the same individual more than four times.
With no direct safeguards and an income that depends heavily on working on multiple projects where word of mouth means feeding yourself, how are photographers and other creative professionals supposed to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace?
- According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the first thing a victim should do is tell the harasser to stop if they feel comfortable doing so.
- The next step would be to follow sexual harassment protocol and speak to a supervisor. This won't always possible for freelancers who may be working for private clients.
- Check to see if your state has laws that protect independent contractors from discrimination. California is a notable example.
- Keep a record. Should any claims be made, the burden of proof is on the shoulders of the victim.
- Add a sexual harassment clause to your contracts. HoneyBook has taken this step to provide its members with a sexual harassment clause to add to their contracts.
As a community, photographers have a voice. If the #metoo movement proved anything, it's that people have more power when everyone speaks out together. With an eye toward the future, photographers can also lobby with other freelancers at the state and local level for laws to be added or altered that would provide the protections that are now lacking. Harassment flourishes in the dark, so the best thing creative entrepreneurs can do is continue to make their voices heard, provide supportive environments for victims to speak out, and call out harassment when it happens.
Lead image by Wokandapix via Pixabay.