What Sexual Harassment Looks Like for Freelance Photographers, and What You Can Do

What Sexual Harassment Looks Like for Freelance Photographers, and What You Can Do

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.

Image by Lum3n.com used under Creative Commons

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.

Photograph by Kat Smith used under Creative Commons

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? 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Check to see if your state has laws that protect independent contractors from discrimination. California is a notable example.
  4. Keep a record. Should any claims be made, the burden of proof is on the shoulders of the victim.
  5. 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.

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Previous comments

Was wondering why this post was pulled?

Hm... Old comments under 1-hour-old post.

Nicole York's picture

There was an embargo on the information and the article was accidentally posted early.

Emily Teague's picture

So grateful this is being talked about. Excellent work, Nicole!!

michael buehrle's picture

i think that there are two different types of "sexual harassment" out there today. the first being the "why don't we fuck" kind and the other "you are pretty, do you wanna grab dinner" type. the later has over taken the news lately and seems like every snowflake is claiming to be harassed so that they can get on tv or grab a few bucks. that is taking away from the "real" harassment that goes on. peoples view on it can differ too. what i think is no big deal might be the crime of the century to the next guy. i think that who is being accused matters too. if you are a women being accused then it is looked upon different than a man. there have been more than a few peoples careers ruined from false stories. everyone is guilty until proven innocent these days. it only takes one pissed off boyfriend/ girlfriend to take someone down.

It has always been like that. Its called mob mentality.

Andrea Dottesi's picture

Now, I'm really near to the REAL victims of harrassment but... Are we sure that all of this cases are true? I see actors fired because someone has denounced him... It is good? I think that we have to wait the end of a case before to ruin a life and a career... (Leaving the fact that this things about 20 years ago and after that the lady has been part of a film...) When is harassment and when is a simply compliment like @michael buehrle said? When a compliment is accepted to gain from that and later let that become harassment?
Here an actress joking while telling that a friend to hug her has printed a document to sign as a release and be free from all risks but we are really going in this way...

I think the situation is becoming too hypocritical...

PS: sry for bad english!

Chris Ramirez's picture

I honestly don´t think this article should be here, this #metoo campaign is getting to a extreme., I come here to read about photography. I feel sorry for how things are getting in US. The example of working at a wedding seems to me more like someone flirting than harrassing. Now it seems everything is harrassment, this looks more like a campaign to produce fear to men to speak, flirt. I am not from US, but I can see how men are losing more rights by the minute and how the feminist imperative and agenda keeps shaming men. Soon I can see happening that men won´t be allow to speak cause it can be harrassment if the woman does not consider you attractive/alpha enough.

Nicole York's picture

Chris, it's interesting to me that you immediately assume that 1. this is only about women, and 2. that the people who responded to harassment must only be talking about flirting.
This article was very purposefully written to be ambiguous because both men and women suffer sexual harassment. Also, I've personally heard horror stories of women being cornered by male guests and weddings demanded to photograph their genitals. There is a difference between casual flirting and harassment.
The reason this article is important to have on Fstoppers is that many photographers work as freelance artists and this is an issue that is much harder to deal with when there is a lack of accountability in the workplace.

Chris Ramirez's picture

If you are working as a Freelancer, your are your own boss, you decide when it is too much, you express yourself when things make you uncomfortable or remove yourself from that situation. It is impossble not to take this article as other way to say "I am a victim, people should not talk to me, unless the ones I want", sorry the metoo movement is taking things too far , people are not mind readers nor people own respect to someone because they have a vagina or penis, people respect people that earn that respect. If someone does something that makes you uncomfortable you say NO.

Alex Cooke's picture

No offense, but try being a wedding photographer and walking out of a ceremony and leaving the couple without photos because a drunk groomsman won't stop hitting on you or listening when you say "no." You're vastly oversimplifying the no-win situations freelance photographers have to deal with.

Chris Ramirez's picture

Alex, I am not saying it does not happen nor it could not happen, but then again would not you remove from that situation if you feel your integrity is being compromised?( physical intimidation) Maybe the concept that I have what really is harrassing might be very different as unprofessional comments on appearance and demeaning nicknames certainly while it could be rude, it does not mean harrassment. Let's analize the first one, unprofessional comments on appearance, someone tells you " you are cute" is this professional?No... but is it a compliment if you find the person attractive but harrassment if you don't?..
While I understand that the photographer is the one working on the wedding, the rest of the people are in a social event, therefore normal social behavior where there is alcohol should be expected, unless you tell me that people are not allowed to show sexual interest in social places.
I doubt the metoo movement was created to shame people for unprofessional comments nor nicknames but to prevent sexual assault or to give voice to the people that suffered it. Being from a developing country its very hard to take this article seriously when it compares sexual assault to someone receiving a non professional comment on appereance or a nickname. I respect your opinion but I consider important to also express concerns when articles like this are published.

Nicole York's picture

I think what you're arguing against here are your own presumptions about what "unprofessional comments on appearance," and "demeaning nicknames" mean. Please understand that these blanket terms encompass everything from being called "sugar tits" to "your ass looks great in those jeans" and other things I'd rather not write.

You're bringing a lot of assumptions into the article that aren't written there.

michael buehrle's picture

and give it 5 years from now and you will hear women saying "why can't i get a date or have men talk to me". this will be why. men will be afraid to be labled if they say the wrong thing to the snowflake women who is always offended.

Dennis Murphy's picture

"demeaning nicknames" - this is just ridiculous... how is that sexual harassment?

Excellent and important article!

Getting sexual advances from a guest at a wedding.........i thing that's just fine. Something to do after the party :D