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16 Days of Activism: Day 11 - Because it’s a problem in the workplace

The 2018 theme for the 16 days of activism among other organisations is focusing ending gender-based violence on the workplace environment. Whilst the Revenge Porn Helpline supports all victims of intimate image abuse, regardless of their gender, we see a variety of cases of intimate image abuse in the workplace. The ways in which employers respond to these cases varies depending on the type of work and some careers may call for more sensitive action to be taken because of the nature of the work (e.g. education, law enforcement etc.). So let’s start by explaining some of the scenarios we see pan out on a daily basis…

In schools…  
Teachers may have details of their relationships outside or inside school shared around the local community including amongst pupils and other staff at their school. Where sexual relationships exist between members of staff, these can be a great source of gossip and hype amongst pupils who will be chomping at the bit for a rumour to circulate. The problem is, not only is this humiliating for the staff involved but it also puts educational establishments at reputational risk. Schools have to be seen to be minimising this risk and often that will be to the detriment of staff caught up in intimate image abuse. Furthermore, where imagery is circulating publicly, schools have a duty of care to all pupils and staff who attend, and part of this will be protecting them from harmful content online. In order to do this, staff can be placed on gardening leave and/or suspended depending on the nature of the incident whilst investigations are ongoing. This acts in two ways: 
1)    To protect staff involved from rumours/ gossip and being exposed to circulation of material relating to the incident within school. It is often easier to manage an incident of intimate image abuse involving staff when they are not present because as they say: it takes the fuel away from the fire
2)    Minimises the risk of pupils and other staff accessing any content relating to the incident. 

Holiday Reps…
The very nature of work that holiday reps undertake can leave them vulnerable to intimate image abuse. Think club 18-30 pub crawls and the sometimes fruity activities that take place en route. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to conjure up in your mind the sorts of things that can be caught on film. Of course, these activities aren’t intended to be any more than fun, but in a world full of smartphones capturing every holiday memory, including the more risqué ones, they do end up online from time to time. Sometimes it might be the holiday makers taking part that fall victim.   

Other times it’s the reps themselves and this is when we see gender bias coming into play. When it’s a male victim, the media, members of the public and sometimes even the employer highlight the incident as positive in turn reinforcing negative gender stereotypes such as: being a player, one of the lads, popular with the ladies etc. On the flip side, should the victim be female they’re much more commonly labelled in a degrading way such as: easy, a slag, dirty etc This gender bias has been known to lead to discrimination in the way employees are treated in some instances with females being ‘let go’ and males allowed to continue in their role. Given that these holiday reps are often undertaken by gap year students it also has been known for people who have fallen victim to intimate image abuse whilst in the role to then have their future education choice thwarted.

Law Enforcement…
Similar to educational professionals, police officers can face a more extreme action should it come to light that they are involved in an incident of intimate image abuse. Again this is due to the duty of care that law enforcement officials hold towards the public and their officers. Like education professionals, members of the police are subjected to in depth and enhanced checks prior to employment which involve looking into their past. If an incident of intimate image abuse has made it into the media, due to the very public facing nature of a police officer’s role, employers have to assess whether this would impact on the reputation of the force in question in a negative light. In some cases people aren’t employed despite the fact that they were the victim in the case: 
If a case of intimate image abuse involving police occurs whilst in employment it is also common for staff to be put on gardening leave whilst the case is investigated and goes through the judicial system for the same reasons highlighted in the schools cases except, here the wider community could be the entire population of the public in a force’s catchment area.

So, what would our advice for those experiencing this form of abuse in the workplace?

Make sure you’ve got support – It’s already humiliating enough discovering that your most intimate images are there for others to see and this thought alone can be all consuming. Make sure you’ve got your support network around you close by so that when you have a wobble, are feeling anxious, just want to talk to someone, you know someone you trust is close by

Tell your Line Manager – Yes *cringe* although this probably feels like the last thing you want to do trust us, it’s better to be transparent about what’s happening in your life right now and better for everyone if they don’t get a nasty shock when opening an unsuspicious email, clicking on an inconspicuous link or tearing the envelope to a seemingly harmless bit of post. 

Advise HR – If you’ve already spoken to your line manager then they’ll be able to help you with this bit. By being upfront as soon as you first have been threatened, there may be processes HR can put into place to protect you and other employees from unwittingly viewing your intimate content (e.g placing a block from a certain email address, forwarding calls from a certain number etc). Ultimately this will be the department responsible for investigating any incident as well so better that they hear it from you right from the beginning as opposed to hearing a salacious rumour on the grapevine that doesn’t reflect the truth.

Contact your Union – If you’re a member of a union they can be really helpful here, outlining your rights as an employee and providing you with information on legal action you can take to address the abuse but also help you with making a case against your employer if you feel you have been mistreated.

Contact ACAS –Perhaps you’re not a member of a union or you’re an employer wanting to talk through your options. ACAS provide information, advice, training and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve any workplace problem.

Contact POSH – If you’re a children’s workforce professional wanting to know how to remove intimate content circulating, contact POSH on 0344 381 4772 or email for further advice and support

Call the Police – If you’ve had your intimate images shared without your consent, this is a crime and is illegal in the UK. Do contact the police on the local 101 number to report the incident or contact 999 if you feel at risk of harm.

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