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Sexual harassment an apparent fixture in photojournalism industry

Many traditionally male-dominated fields are marked by sexual harassment. Sometimes, men in the field are actively working to keep women out. In other cases, powerful men may feel entitled to make sexual advances toward female subordinates. Regardless of the motivation, the result is often a deeply uncomfortable or even dangerous workplace for women.

According to a recent report by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), photojournalism is a field that suffers from pervasive sexual harassment and even assault against women. The issue is so prevalent that women often feel that this is simply the price to be paid for a job.

CJR interviewed more than 50 people over a five-month period and uncovered widespread misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments about women's bodies and appearance to unwanted sexual advances and even sexual assault. Now, with the spread of the #MeToo movement, female photojournalists are calling for change.

Some women CJR interviewed pointed to two well-known photographers with long histories of sexual harassment and misconduct. Unfortunately, the organizations they work for allegedly refuse to take meaningful action to rein them in.

One female photojournalist told CJR about meeting one of the men, a founding member of the photo agency VII where she worked. In a break during an annual meeting, she was wearing a long skirt and standing with a group of people when the man walked up. Without warning, he slid his hand between her buttocks, over her clothing, and pushed it forward until he reached her genitals. She stood frozen as he held his hand there for several seconds and then walked away.

"I didn't react at all, because I had come to understand that putting up with that sort of behavior was part of the price I had to pay for, as a young woman, entering a male-dominated industry," she told CJR. "I also didn't say anything because any person that I could have [complained] to was in the room, which made them complicit."

The report details other incidents, but the problem reaches further than just two leading men in the industry. CJR concludes that there are a number of factors that allow the problem to persist. One especially problematic factor is that the industry increasingly relies on freelancers.

Female freelancers have no formal employer to protect them from male predators in powerful positions -- they can only hope that agencies and publications will notice and then refuse to work with a potentially prestigious man. Male freelancers, on the other hand, are unhindered by an employer who could rein them in.

It's true that freelancers and other contractors are often especially vulnerable to harassment and other victimization. Do you think this is a problem in your industry?

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