Dear Devlin, Should I Leave a Wedding If I’m Being Harassed?
I was recently at a wedding where on the dancefloor drunken guests were ‘jokingly’ punching me in the stomach and trying to knock the camera out of my hands.
My first instinct would have been to talk to the couple. At the time I didn’t feel talking to the couple would have helped. Everyone had too much to drink and the best man and FOB were both involved.
I also didn’t feel I could approach the venue staff, who seemed to be really struggling to hold a drinking session in a brewery.
My second instinct was to walk off-site completely. But I have no idea what my rights are as an independent contractor.
It feels crazy putting something like this in my contract or even writing to couples to let them know that situations like this are not OK. Surely everyone knows that?
Anyway, as I said, no idea how I should handle it in future, or how I should have handled it at the time – or even where I stand if I do just walk out on the situation. Should I leave a wedding if I’m being harassed?
Harassed from Holborn
Dear Harassed from Holburn,
I’m truly sorry to hear about the distressing experience you faced at that wedding. Also, I want to thank you for raising a very serious topic that sadly will affect many of us at some point. Working in environments where alcohol is consumed and sometimes drug-taking is involved can potentially put any of us into an unacceptably dangerous situation. In this instance, I would say the line was crossed when they made physical contact with you. This is never a joke.
So as you are now aware, punching is considered to be Actual Bodily Harm under Section 47 of the Offences Against The Person Act. The harm does not ‘have to be serious, but must involve more than a shove’.
As individual photographers, we are all working in circumstances that leave us vulnerable to abuse in many forms. Not only do you have to protect yourself but also protect the expensive equipment that you need in order to carry out your job.
Should I Leave a Wedding If I’m Being Harassed?
We are service providers and will often downplay our own needs in order to not impact the client’s experience and yes, drawing attention to it at the time might not have felt possible so I can very much see the dilemma that you were in.
My advice would be to go into self-protection mode and do whatever you need at the time to regain a sense of feeling safe. I have been in unacceptable situations and my first action is to try taking it to the couple. Although you are self-employed they have contracted you for the job and if you feel unsafe, harassed or in your case have been physically assaulted then I think it should be brought up with them at the time.
Explain that you have very expensive equipment with you and more jobs to do with it so you are not willing to risk damaging it. Neither are you willing to tolerate any abusive behaviour or unwanted physical contact.
This gives them an opportunity to improve the situation. It is often the case that they are well aware of the behaviour of people in their close circle when they have been drinking but may not have realised that it had crossed a line and was affecting their suppliers.
If this does not feel possible or it alters nothing then I agree that removing yourself would be a reasonable action. It’s highly likely that you were in Fight or Flight Mode and if the Fight didn’t seem possible then the next choice is Flight.
Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing but some additional nuggets of advice from me that I hope will help you to feel prepared in case you are ever in a similar circumstance.
Tips for Dealing with Harassment at Weddings
- Document the Incident: If possible, document the incident with photographs or video footage. This can serve as evidence in case you need to address the situation later.
- Discuss with Couple: If the couple is approachable and the situation allows, consider discussing the issue with them after the event. Express your concerns in a professional manner, highlighting how the behaviour affected your ability to do your job effectively.
- Update Your Contract: You should consider adding a clause to your contract that addresses respectful behaviour towards you and sets expectations for appropriate conduct. This can help protect both you and the couple.
- Seek Legal Advice: If you’re uncertain about your rights as an independent contractor or how to handle a situation, consider seeking legal advice to understand your options.
- Networking with Peers: Connect with other wedding photographers to exchange experiences and insights. They might have encountered similar situations and can offer guidance based on their own experiences.
Brighton-based wedding photographer Kim Williams has some excellent resources around this issue after publishing a post on What Men Did To Me At Weddings. I recommend having a look (she has saved them to her Insta Highlights) and she has kindly published suggested wording for a clause in your contract.
Again, I am so sorry that this has happened to you. Please do not let it change how you feel about your chosen career. If it helps you to put the matter to rest, I would address them about it before delivering their gallery. You could say that it is causing you distress and you will be adding a clause into your contract as a result of it.
This gives them the opportunity to apologise which although it will not alter what happened, it may alter how you feel about it.