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CJR: Photojournalism has a sexual harassment problem

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) recently released an investigative report on sexual harassment of female photojournalists by industry colleagues. Unfortunately, the investigation turned up evidence that the industry has a serious problem with sexual harassment and misconduct. In interviews with more than 50 people over the course of five months, CJR learned that the issue is so pervasive that many have long considered sexual harassment and even assault as prices women simply have to pay to work in the field.

"Photojournalists described behavior from editors and colleagues that ranged from assault to unwanted advances to comments on their appearance or bodies when they were trying to work," reads the CJR report.

The report names two prominent male photojournalists who allegedly have long histories of misconduct towards women in the field. Moreover, the organizations they work for have allegedly been put on notice but have refused to take any meaningful action. Unfortunately, the problem extends far beyond these two bad actors.

According to the report, two thirds of those interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault. Of those who had, 40 percent said that the perpetrator was someone they worked with. The abuse virtually always involved a power differential -- a mentor or supervisor making unsavory comments, unwanted advances or illegal sexual contact with someone in a more vulnerable position.

"Who would have thought that a female journalist is in greater peril at the hands of her colleagues and supervisors than she is in the field?" the executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation commented about the report's findings.

The report cites a number of issues that set the scene for sexual harassment and abuse:

  • Photojournalism is a traditionally male-dominated field that glamorizes macho behavior.
  • There is a "culture of indifference" among the gatekeepers such as publications, editors and directors of photography.
  • Workshops and mentoring events for young photographers are often exploited by predatory males.
  • The industry is increasingly turning to freelancers. Female freelancers lack the protection of a formal employment relationship, while male freelancers cannot easily be held accountable for their behavior.

The women interviewed by CJR noted that some gatekeepers have recently put codes of conduct in place to help prevent harassment and misconduct. For real change to come about, however, those involved in hiring photojournalists need to come to a consensus that it is time for the misconduct to end -- and to refuse to work with people who engage in it.

Unfortunately, "perpetrators have been excused, hired and promoted. They have won awards and risen to the highest ranks, even as their victims and colleagues looked the other way," says the head of the IWMF.

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