In the era of #MeToo, we are all becoming more aware and empathetic of sexual harassment in the workplace. A recently published personal anecdote detailed the horrific story of one female freelance journalist who experienced being sexually harassed by a famous man while attempting to interview him at his flat. The incident made her realise that “most (women) do not take legal action,” and she puts this down to “cost and lack of evidence” as well as the “he said, she said” aspect that accompanies cases that “often take place behind closed doors.”

Without permanent contracts, a HR team and a lack of supportive colleagues, it can seem like many freelancers are on their own, leaving them vulnerable to harassment and mistreatment while working. A 2018 American study from HoneyBook, an organisation that “take responsibility for the wellbeing of creative entrepreneurs, ” found that 54% of freelancers experience sexual harassment. The study also discovered that women who work as freelancers “reported they have been harassed at least once,” which is a number higher than the rest of America’s workforce, where 48% of women reported that they were harassed.

#MeToo movement

Freelance makeup artist Erin Victoria is one of many self-employed workers who have experienced harassment at work. When she contacted a freelance photographer to arrange a test shoot, Erin details how “he would continually make inappropriate comments on how I looked and suggest we meet up for a drink,” before sending “pornographic images that he had taken asking me whether I would want to model for him and do those poses.” When Erin ceased contact with the photographer things escalated badly, “he started calling me all day (20 times in half an hour on one day) and would turn up at my house uninvited to talk to me.” Since the incident Erin noted how other photographers that she shared the story with told her that she was merely “overreacting” and the photographer who harassed her was simply “enthusiastic."

Erin’s story is horrendous but sadly doesn’t sound too shocking when you consider that individuals who are freelance, gig workers or on zero hour contracts are much more likely to be subject to harassment. A survey by ComRes commissioned by the BBC that spoke to 6,206 adults found that “people employed by an organisation were significantly less likely (29%) to have suffered unwelcome sexual behaviour at work than people engaged as freelancers, gig workers or on zero hours contracts (43%).”

makeup artist backstage

Freelance photographer Sara Gomez acted as an assistant on a big production where she worked on the light design and assisted another photographer in a department where she was the only woman. “The photographer I had to work with, he didn't talk to me, he didn’t even mention my name unless he wanted to state something bad, by saying things like ‘you've done it wrong,’ ‘you don't know,’ ‘let my male assistant do it.’ If that wasn’t bad enough, Sara goes on to describe how she went to the head of production to ask for a change of team and was told "we know about him, misogyny is normal here and you need to be strong. He has a history of treating women like that."

This wasn’t Sara’s first experience of mistreatment while working, she goes on to explain, “like that experience, I have hundreds. From random men telling me I don't know what is in my studio and how it works, to mansplaining to me about how to do the lights for a set, or ignoring me and speaking to my nearest male assistant addressing things that I have to change/work on. Being a woman in this industry is really tough.”

stressed freelancer

And the ‘industry’ Sara is referring to is not the only one. From fashion, hair and makeup, to film, television and music. With an inclination to put creativity and artistry at the the core of the business instead of workers rights and comfortability, the creative industries can be some of the worst offenders.

Freelance creative consultant & concept creator Maxine Griffiths points out that it's not just on the job where freelancers are vulnerable, its during the job hunting process also. “Most recently, I had to address this very issue (freelancers being vulnerable to harassment at work) and had to highlight the danger of sexual cyber harassment online from those claiming to be freelance photographer agents or creative directors praying on new models entering the industry.” She lists “reporting” and “monitoring” as ways to deal with these issues.

Woman working on laptop

These steps are easier said than done, however, when the fear of losing the job you so strived for makes it a lot harder to speak up on incidents and stand up for yourself. And let’s be honest, in the world of freelancing, the impression you make on a client is just as vital as how well you complete the job. Fear of gaining a bad reputation as someone who complains and stirs up trouble is another reason to simply shut up and put up. However, in the long run, keeping quiet becomes an act of compliance with your own mistreatment which is detrimental to your creativity, work and self esteem. Always remember that walking away is usually the best option once you have faced harassment at work. Make sure you leave by giving the appropriate notice as not to tarnish your name or professionalism.

So what can you do if you are a freelancer who has faced harassment at work? Filing a complaint to HR is definitely an option for freelancers. Although you won’t have a HR sector directly representing you, many companies have a HR department that tackles any issues concerning workplace harassment. The best option is to address any issues of harassment politely and professionally. If it has come from the boss of a company, contact the HR department, if it is from an employee under the boss or the company has no HR department, contact the head of department via email about your concerns, enquiring about the most effective solution. If the harassment is really serious and you feel like you’re in danger, file a police report as the persecutor is in the wrong and has committed a criminal offence. It’s also important to consider ending the contract. If you are working one on one with a misbehaving client then no amount of money is worth your happiness and safety.

Freelancer Club consistently promotes safe collaboration by providing legal documents that help formalise working relationships and set the tone for a more professional experience. We attract members due to our database of genuine and respectable creatives who legitimately want to connect with others to produce art.