Photojournalism, Sexual Harassment and Responsibility.
This article is written in response to the CJR article by Kristen Chick and recent social media commentary related to the responses from organisations such as Eddie Adams Workshop and VII Photo Agency.
The agency bashing, threats of physical violence, bullying and silencing of critics benefits no one, least of all survivors of sexual abuse and harassment.
This spiralling breakdown in trust and communication is beyond harmful to an industry already short on trust, dignity and respect. I understand that there are people who feel they are right, I understand that there are reputations on the line, I understand that people feel they have to defend their colleagues and workplace, but the current climate of conflict and toxicity isn’t actually doing anything to stop sexual harassment.
For many, these are utterly depressing and discouraging times in the photojournalism industry. For others it’s an opportunity to address long-standing grievances and an opportunity to establish new policies in relation to the safety of female identifying photographers.
These problems of sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual abuse aren’t beyond solving. To begin solving them requires an understanding that sexual harassment isn’t a few bad individuals in the photo industry. Sexual harassment, abuse and sexual violence is a cultural phenomenon.
The focus on disciplinary or punitive measures such as the banishment or incarceration of Photo Editors and Photographers, will not achieve the necessary changes that will bring about an end to the culture of sexual violence. Only dismantling the network of silence and abolishing the systems that support abusers such as the use of Non Disclosure Agreements and internal, secretive investigations will help do that.
Reporting, sexual harassment and abuse is challenging, particularly when the abuser is a colleague, peer or friend. However, it’s in everyone’s interest to take a critical approach to rooting out sexual harassment and abuse in much the same way as you should be rooting out hatred and prejudice.
What follows are some suggestions based on an academic background in International Law and Human Rights, of teaching and facilitating Conflict Resolution and Transformation and my professional experience as a photographer.
These suggestions are not targeted at photographers or management of organisations headlined in recent controversies. I hope the following ideas will be viewed as a starting point and in taking a conflict resolution approach to addressing sexual harassment and abuse across the spectrum of the photography and journalism industry.
The suggestions are intended as inclusive ideas for building trust between Photographers, Film Makers, Agencies, Festival Management, Commissioning Editors and Directors of Photography.
1. Mea culpa. As much as it hurts to admit, we both as individuals and organisations have a problem in recognising and addressing discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Before you start smashing away at your keyboard telling me “not all men”, yes that’s partly true but please understand that ALL women are affected by gender-based violence. Acknowledge that abusive men are supported by systems, and these systems are often upheld by women as well as men.
2. Rethink and prioritise safety of female identifying photographers/journalists over profit and reputation. Make people want to work for, or with you by publically declaring your organisation, publication or agency a safe workplace. A workplace free from harassment, discrimination and racism.
3. Open your ears to survivors of sexual discrimination and sexual assault. If you want to lead this industry, understand that this not the same industry it was several years ago. Listen to and understand the concerns of women and non-binary photographers, reflect how these concerns align with your current practices, policies and procedures.
4. Publically announce a listening exercise. Organise a symposium, invite female identifying photographers and listen. Reach out to those women who have been subjected to harassment and abuse at the hands of your members/agency/publication. (Please don’t tell us how difficult or how painful this is for you, just do it.)
5. Provide clear avenues for individuals to seek legal redress and to enforce their right not to be sexually harassed or abused whilst representing your publication/agency. At the very least this will reassure female and non-binary identifying photographers that abusers will not be protected by systems that may have previously protected abusers in your organisation. Longer term, it will establish trust between your organisation, photographers, journalists and the wider journalism community.
6. Lastly, you are part of a vast communications complex, so COMMUNICATE.
· Tell us what steps your taking to establish a culture that proactively combats sexual harassment and abuse.
· Tell us how you’re dismantling the network of silence that rewards those who abuse and harass women and keeps them safe from consequences.
· Tell us what you’re doing about those in positions of power and control who help cover up abuse and harassment.
· Tell us how about your reporting procedure for sexual harassment and abuse by your employees/contractors whilst on assignment for your publication, or whilst attending your festival, your portfolio event, and your social events.
· Tell us you’re listening and taking responsibility.
· Tell us you’ve invited and listened to an intersection of women and asked what changes they want to the way they report harassment and abuse.
· Tell us about the systems you’re implementing in your agency/organisation that let’s every employee and contributor know about expectations of behaviour, respect and dignity with respect to working with women. (Not just women who photograph or write)
· Tell us about your organisation’s zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, abuse, manipulation and discrimination. Tell us how you’re informing male photographers, journalists, film makers and editors of this approach.
· Tell us how you’re going to guarantee anonymity and connect survivors of abuse and harassment with professionals who will advise on counselling, legal rights, on reparations if necessary.
· Tell us how your organisation will no longer be silent on harassment and abuse
· Tell us how you will no longer be complicit.
The above is the minimum we need to do to start ensurng the safety of women and non-binary photographers in this industry. Eradicating sexual harassment and sexual abuse is difficult but not beyond solving, there are good people in this industry who want things to be better. Let us know you’re one of them.
To male collegues, friends and peers. It’s not only up to women to call out abuse. We have to do better, much better. To stand in solidarity and act when women see things, or when they hear about them. Men taking public stands against harassment and abuse, or calling out perpetrators might just make it safer for more women to come forward, to feel they will be believed or not retaliated against.
Finally, if you’re someone who’s sexually harassed or abused someone, read this, please: https://medium.com/the-establishment/so-youve-sexually-harassed-or-abused-someone-what-now-ed49a934bab1