someone sent our company revenge porn of our employee

A reader writes:

I’m in a senior position for a large public organization, and deal with correspondence and sensitive HR issues. Today our office received an email from a throwaway/burner address about a young, relatively junior female member of staff. It contained screenshots of her on an app that allows you to make money by livestreaming (I’m old and didn’t know what the app was, but have Googled it and it seems pretty popular as a dating app). The screenshots are racy but not obscene (e.g., bending over in short shorts), and from my perspective perfectly within what you’d expect on a dating app. The email said she mentioned our organization by name, and complained that we didn’t pay enough so she was soliciting donations. It also alluded to nude photos.

I don’t care what employees do in their spare time and think the email is clearly aimed at embarrassing her, and I’m planning to file it (as we do all correspondence) without responding. However, I’m not sure whether to say something to the employee. I’m not sure if it would be more reassuring to hear that we received it but won’t be doing anything about it, or more embarrassing. I’m mostly concerned with supporting her as best we can. I don’t feel that concerned about her allegedly mentioning our organization by name (we employ more than 1,000 people and our salary bands are all publicly posted), although would also welcome thoughts on that too.

Even though it might feel easier everyone if you ignored it and never mentioned it to her — saving you both the embarrassment of the conversation — I do think you need to let her know about it.

She needs to know because someone is trying to harm her, and that’s not info you can rightly keep from her. For all we know, she could be experiencing other harassing or stalking behavior from someone and needs to know they’ve escalated to trying to jeopardize her employment. She could have been told by police or a lawyer to document what’s happening. This even could be the piece that gets police to take action on her behalf. Or even if none of that’s happening, she still needs to know her photos and videos are being used in this way. I understand you’re trying to protect her from awkwardness, but she deserves to know about it for her own safety.

As with this letter last year from someone who received screenshots about an employee’s out-of-work behavior (and like you, didn’t care what the employee did outside of work), your employee needs to know because she’s the one who’s in the best position to decide if this is a violation that she wants to act on, file away in case it’s something she needs to act on later, or ignore.

And yeah, it’ll be an awkward conversation! But stress that it’s not something that will affect her at work in any way and that you’re not looking for any explanation, but want her to know so she can protect herself. You should also ask if there’s anything she’d like the company to do to ensure she feels safe at work.

As for her supposedly naming the organization while soliciting donations because she’s not being paid enough … if she really did that and did it in a public profile on an app (as opposed to something like one-on-one conversation in private), it’s not cool and she shouldn’t — but given the way you’ve been informed, I would put no weight on it at all. The main thing is that she’s been violated, and your focus should be on helping her feel and stay safe.

Speaking of which, if you can avoid filing that email like you do other correspondence, please do. She shouldn’t have to have those photos and videos on file with her employer, where someone else could come across them in the future. (She may need a copy herself in case of current or future action, but I’m quite sure she’d feel better if it’s not stored for all time in your files.)

{ 150 comments… read them below }

    1. TimeTravl_R*

      What a terrible thing to do to someone. I gather something similar has happened to you. I hope you are safe.

    2. Campfire Raccoon*

      Same. Having been stalked, I’d be very interested to see how the employer handles this one.

      1. Lauren*

        Hopefully, they treat it as a stalking incident. The employee might know who it is and in that case, they should get a restraining order in place for them not bother her or the company. Then make sure all recruiters know who this person is, because if its a ex – they might try to apply for a job there – which would then count as violating the restraining order.

        Then a company wide email should be sent out that an employee is dealing with a stalking incident and that no one should be holding doors open for anyone. Each person must use their own badges.

        1. GotTheTShirt*

          Sadly, when you don’t know who is doing the stalking, there’s not nearly as much protection. I did ask my coworkers in my department to please make sure that they keep an eye out for anyone seeming interested in my work station and to not let any callers know if I’m available but to just take a message. My work also changed my work email address (as he was mailing me pictures and threats to my work email in addition to personal email and texting and calling my cell phone.)

          I’m hoping the police are able to find out who has been doing the stalking and harassment so that other measures can be taken to protect me. Also, the police got way more interested in my case after the guy emailed my work.

          1. Eva Luna*

            And this is why I got REALLY pissed when a former employer posted employee photos and direct contact information on the firm website without even a heads-up to us first. I once had a psycho ex; I haven’t heard from him in years, but how did my employer know that?

      2. Anon for this*

        YES, this! I have been stalked several times, and thank heavens my employer let me know immediately when one of those guys began calling them up and pressing them for details about me.

  1. VeryMuchAnon*

    As someone who was stalked and personally sent emails from a burner account in a similar nature (though my personal accounts had to be hacked first), it’s easy to cobble together information from LinkedIn, combine them with the images, and construct a narrative to make this “story” fit.

    If this employee is trying to find enough evidence against someone to get the police to take her seriously, she needs to know this information. Do her the courtesy of having a matter-of-fact conversation. Do not store the email in your files. Reassure her of her continued employment and that this matter will have no impact on her standing within the company. Make her aware of any resources that might be available to her. While it could be true that she did, indeed, post these images and say these things. This threatening stance is absolutely out of bounds and something she needs to be aware of.

    1. Ali G*

      I think if OP has to, they could store the content of the email, but not the pics. They may need a record of the email (because it sounds like that is the policy), but they have no need for the pics, and keeping them just creates a situation where the employees privacy could be violated again in the future.

        1. VeryMuchAnon*

          Both print and electronic copies will be important. Unfortunately.

          However, after giving the employee copies, the company really doesn’t need to retain any copies.

      1. Nic*

        Yeah, my mother has an elderly email account that gets full up really quickly when people send her photos or other big files. She’s developed the habit of forwarding important emails to herself minus the attachments, and then deleting the original email – it keeps the text and email metadata intact, and you can either save the attachments somewhere safe first (maybe on a pen drive to give to the coworker, so she can see what was there) or just make a note in the forwarding email of what the attachments were; maybe something along the lines of “Removed two photo attachments. N.B. [coworker] appears to be victim of revenge porn.”?

    2. CorpRec*

      Unfortunately, they might not have an option to not archive the emails. My industry, and several others I am aware of, have strict email archiving rules. This is a horrible situation for the employee who has been targeted, and if this is an industry where they do not archiving/retention rules I hope they follow that advice. Either way, I hope this OP can follow the advice to have the awkward conversation and inform the employee of the issue.

      1. NylaW*

        I work in an industry that requires this as well, but typically the archival requirements are for business relevant emails only and would not apply to this type of thing. There should always be an option to remove an item from the archive if it not required to be saved or could be dangerous to save, such as if it contains an attachment with malware or ransomware.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Even in an industry with archival requirements, they need to kick this up to the legal level to see the necessary steps. This isn’t business related and lots of places it’s illegal to send revenge porn, so achieving them may be criminal.

        1. JessaB*

          Also if they’re government adjacent, they’d want to make sure that those emails are not available to a search, sunshine request or freedom of information act request. I wouldn’t do anything with them without talking to the lawyers.

      3. GotTheTShirt*

        When my stalker sent an email with picture attachment to my work, which is subject to public information requests, my HR and IT department was able to reassure me that information requests for this material would not be subject to public records due to me having an active stalking/harassment case open with the police.

      4. ToS*

        Thirding- there are protocols for records, including sensitive HR investigation content, as well as health records and more, so it’s best if people read more deeply into their records policy, or advocate for a system that follows common sense for delicate, but necessary matters.

        In addition to a records policy, employees who handle sensitive matters should preserve confidentiality and privacy by shoring up security and staying away from gossip. If someone doesn’t need to know, it stays under wraps. The employee who has been subjected to revenge porn needs to know and be referred to EAP and stalking resources, (revenge porn is a crime in my state).

        All their manager may need to know is that there was a singular incident and management is taking care of it. Let the employee know that it’s up to them to share details but it’s not required, and it might pass without discussion. The most they might say is “cyberstalking incident” and refer people to LW if they believe they need more information. LW can hold the line on “why do you need to know?” Especially if it’s for something routine like approving time off -that can happen without any dive into specific details.

  2. Christmas*

    PLEASE TELL HER. Something very similar just happened to a friend of mine who is being stalked and harassed by her ex-husband. As awkward as the conversation is, the victim needs to know. This could possibly be part of a larger harassment or stalking issue. Even if it’s not, she deserves to know that it has happened. She will absolutely want to take steps to stop this or prevent it.

    Thank you for reaching out for advice on this instead of just disposing it and pretending it didn’t happen. It DID happen. Now you have the power to give the victim the ability to resolve it.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, “this would be awkward / embarrassing to discuss” isn’t the bar for not informing an employee that someone is trying to harm her.

      Of course it will be embarrassing. That’s why the person sent it in the first place. It’s your job now to be matter-of-fact about it and not make it any worse than it is as you let the employee know that her job is safe.

    2. Chinook*

      On top of that, she then has an opening to let you know if the stalkinh is escalating or if she has received threats to her physical safety. This fact is highly relevant to the company as it makes it a potential safety threat to your company. She may not realize the stalker knows where she works or that he should let someone at the company know about this safety threat or that doing so will not threaten her job security.

  3. Letter writer*

    Thank you so much for responding, and especially so quickly, I really appreciate it! Just to clarify that it wasn’t filed in our correspondence system, but archived in my own email, with the aim that eg law enforcement would have access to it if needed but it won’t be findable in any search or anything at all like that.

    Another update is that I’ve become confident some of the screenshots are photoshopped or not of her, which reinforces your point that the email is completely unbelievable.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      Thank you for the update! Please do let her know and that you support the employee and all efforts for her to be safe.

    2. Christmas*

      So glad that you’re aware and considerate of the fact that the victim may want to report this to the police and will need a copy of the email. You’re a good person.

      My best friend just went through something very like this. It’s likely that the victim knows exactly who is doing this, and can alert your company to their name in case they continue to spam you or attempt to contact her.

    3. sub rosa for this*

      Thank you for this. This sort of harassment is, unfortunately, so common — and even halfway through reading the letter, I was thinking it was likely that the photos were taken unaware or that there was Photoshop involved somewhere.

      Just, thank you so much for being ready and willing to believe her.

    4. Observer*

      That makes it all the more important that she knows about this. There is no way to claim that someone genuinely thought that “you need to know”, no matter how moralistic presenting and judgemental of a person they might be. Because someone is making stuff up. That’s a whole different kettle of fish and absolutely and unambiguously an attempt to harm in bad faith.

    5. Brett*

      LW
      You mentioned you are a public organization. Are you subject to sunshine laws or FOIA?
      If so, also consult with your custodian of records to make sure that the records related to this can be closed.

      This includes the original email sent to you, any notes or records you take on the incident, and any correspondence about it between you and the victim. The police report, if one is created, unfortunately will probably not be closed (depends on how sunshine law works in your state and how the crime is classified)
      .
      The reason I mention all of this, is that people who take these actions against public sector employees will frequently use the sunshine law to further target the victim. (e.g. filing their own requests and posting the documents from it, or even worse, trying to tip off local news to go after the records)

    6. LGC*

      That’s…I don’t want to say it’s good, but it’s reassuring that you’re trying to be sensitive to her – and you’re not taking this as an indictment of her.

      One thing – isn’t this technically illegal in some states? If I remember correctly, California has a law against “revenge porn.” You don’t say where you’re from, but that’s another consideration.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Even if it would fall under a local definition of “revenge porn”, which is highly variable, it should be up to the victim to pursue that with law enforcement. Some people would prefer not to make it a matter of public record.

        Whether it is or is not, nothing changes about what the LW should do.

        1. LGC*

          I’m not saying that LW should press charges – they’re not the primary victim here. I do think that without further information, they shouldn’t delete it (with the caveat that if the employee wants the message deleted, then delete the message).

      2. Anon IT Gal*

        Yes! I believe it’s now illegal in almost all US states to make/distribute non-consensual pornography, though I think how they define that varies. The Badd@ss Army (nonprofit that helps victims) has links to the laws on their site.

        I agree they shouldn’t delete the email. A few years ago, the FBI caught a hacker because of the breadcrumbs they followed starting from metadata in some image files. There’s also useful data in email message headers. Saving the email in a zip and password-protecting it would be a better way of maintaining evidence and privacy in my opinion.

    7. boop the first*

      Oof, this is even worse. I’m glad everyone is concerned about the preservation of evidence, and that it will be passed on to her for such use, but afterward, and if you decided not to pursue it, do you really want to have racy photos of your employees archived in your email?? That sounds like a risky liability.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m grateful that you automatically thought to protect her and not to just throw her away, like the criminal involved with this smear campaign against her was hoping for.

    9. Elbe*

      I’m so happy that this woman works for a company that employs you! You’ve handled this so well.

      If the screenshots are photoshopped, I hope that she can take this to police and get charges filed. What a terrible attempt to jeopardize her employment. The fact that it’s in the middle of a pandemic and recession makes it so much worse.

      This type of attack will become so much more rare when it’s a) fails to trigger the moral outrage of employers and generates sympathy for the targets and b) when illegal instances are prosecuted.

    10. learnedthehardway*

      It’s entirely possible that the photos were photoshopped – that happened to me once, and I had to look really closely to determine that it WASN’T me. I mean, I knew it wasn’t, but the photoshopping was pretty good.

      Regardless of whether the pics are real or not, though, I wouldn’t put ANY stock in anything the sender claims the person did or said – anyone willing to send revenge porn is malicious, and wouldn’t be above lying to hurt their intended victim.

      I would absolutely talk to her and let her know that the emails are saved in a safe place in case she needs them to lay a complaint with the police, etc. Also, do ask her if she needs additional security accommodations at work – eg. parking space close to the entrance, for security to be aware of any individual who might try to access the building, etc.

  4. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    I would also like to commend OP for not caring about “optics” and not instantly jumping into a “We must fire this immoral girl!” stance. So many businesses would punish the victim first, so I appreciate that you recognize this doesn’t have anything to do with your company. Please tell your employee – depending on the state you are in, there are revenge porn laws and if she is being harassed already, she may know who it was. This could be the smoking gun that lets her take action.

    1. Saradactyl*

      Yes! 1000 times Yes!
      Especially in conservative, highly religious areas/companies, where women’s’ sexuality is subject to the Morality Police far more aggressively than is men’s’, women who are victims of revenge porn or scorned exes sharing private, personal data often end up fired. This is one reason it worries me how much more conservative parts of the US have become in the recent years, and I fear for the safety and employment options of women who are targetted in this way.

  5. Mary Posa*

    I’m very curious what app she is on. The description sounds more like OnlyFans than a dating app…which I think is more adult entertainment geared.

    Regardless, I agree with Alison’s advice and it’s great to see that you’re not letting this affect the employee’s status at the company.

      1. Mary Posa*

        Wow – that’s horrible. That’s even more reason to alert the woman. Someone is putting in a lot of effort to get her fired or to try to embarrass her.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Combined with some of the other comments and the LW’s update, I think it sounds more like the person who sent this email was implying she was on OnlyFans because revenge porn is now more widely understood to be a reflection of the person having the revenge being vile than the person in the photos. By implying the person was a sex worker, the person having the revenge is trying to use the stigma of sex work against his victims to deflect blame from himself. See! He’s not a horrible person doing something (probably) illegal! He’s a concerned citizen implying that an employee is not only badmouthing the company she works for, she’s also a dirty, dirty sex worker! *eyeroll*

    2. Altair*

      The thing is, it doesn’t seem to me that it matters either way — the entire thing could be a fake. But even if parts of it are real such as whichever app, the main point is that someone is trying to use the LW as a weapon against this employee and the LW is wisely not taking the bait.

      1. Mary Posa*

        Agreed, it doesn’t matter. I was mostly curious because a dating app that also lets you make money sounds pretty great to me, lol. I’d use it!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It sounds like one of the dating sites you see in Russia…where the men pay to access it and the women are essentially being paid to be “courted”.

          I watch way too much 90 Day Fiance, don’t look at me…

    3. voyager1*

      That was my first thought too. If she is on that and saying she does it because she is paid low and naming the company, that is bad.

      This could also just be someone she recently broke up with being a jerk too, which is highly likely.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not OnlyFans. I’d thought the same and asked the OP, and it’s an actual dating app (but let’s leave it there as the OP specifically asked me not to name it).

      1. Important Moi*

        I’m just gonna leave this here. Maybe you can answer it in a way that makes sense to me. I never understand the comments that say please provide this identifying detail that I did not include in the question.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, people naturally speculate. I am constantly thinking about it from the angle you mentioned because it’s my job to do that, but it’s not anyone else’s job to, and to some degree it’s just human nature.

          1. voyager1*

            But to be fair, sometimes LWs are not the most reliable narrators. They at times leave details out. And in extreme situations completely misrespresent things.

            On the flipside the first few comments at times sets the tone of the comments. Commenters bring their individual experiences too so at times they are things that may or may not be there. Lastly one does need to read the letters completely and watch for certain phrases.

            One phrase I always watch for is something like “so so does this and I am writing in about this, but they also do other things.” Sometimes LWs say what those other things are sometimes not. LWs are really bad about seeing the real issue a lot of times, many times they write in about what annoys them the most.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      We don’t need to know which app is. If the LW doesn’t disclose it, it’s for a reason. Let’s respect their privacy.

    6. lazy intellectual*

      I think the stalker is the one using and uploading photos to the app. The girl probably has no idea.

  6. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

    No words or advice to add.

    I just cannot fathom why someone would do that to anyone.
    That poor woman

  7. Juli G.*

    I think it’s a good idea to tell her that the reporter told you that she mentioned the company name in the post but without further context. If she did, then it’s a wake up call to avoid that in the future (next company could be less compassionate!). If she didn’t, you haven’t made things even worse for her.

    I’m in HR and get a lot of these types of messages from people. Some are genuinely trying to improve our company by calling out racism/sexism and some are people trying to ruin the lives of employees because they assume that I lack common sense and critical thinking and I’ll fire everyone that anonymous reporters say to.

    And Allison is dead on about the harassment. We’ve helped multiple employees finally get the restraining orders and evidence to press charges they’d been looking for by starting with an awkward conversation.

    1. Observer*

      I disagree with your first sentence. The context is what’s key here – someone is absolutely trying to harm her, and she needs to know about it. And not is some vague and un-actionable way. Without the rest of the information, she’s not going to be able to do anything.

      1. Claire*

        I think what Juli G. is saying is that OP should tell the employee about the email and that the sender claims that the employee had posted these pictures and mentioned the name of the company, but that OP should not tell her that the supposed comments were about how she needs tips because the company doesn’t pay her enough. She should definitely know about the email; the question is whether or not OP should mention the thing about the company, being as it’s entirely likely that that bit was made up.

        If the employee did actually publicly say that she needs tips for explicit photos because the company doesn’t pay her enough, she needs to stop doing that, and hopefully OP saying that the sender mentioned her mentioning the company’s name will give her that hint. If she didn’t actually say that, which again, seems likely, then saying that the sender claims she mentioned the company’s name won’t make things worse for her.

        1. Perpal*

          Employee really needs as much info as possible meaning; the whole email, pics, etc, ideally fwded to her and saved in such a way that if things get to the point that serious law enforcement is involved they can hopefully do some amount of internet back-tracing.

      2. Juli G.*

        Yes, Claire is correct. My intent was that OP not put any focus on the relationship between employee and employer but instead make it all about supporting the employee.

        I’ll take your point that it might be important to share that the person sending this info may be trying to harm her employment and that might be important to share.

    2. LCH*

      i would just supply the employee with copies of the letter and attachments instead of choosing what parts to tell her.

    3. Actual Vampire*

      Ehhhh. If the victim did mention the company name in a post, presumably she’s smart enough to put 2 and 2 together herself.

      If she didn’t, she might feel shamed by LW implying she brought this on herself by not being careful on social media.

      Either way, this incident will probably change what kind of personal info she puts online in the future. I don’t think LW needs to drive the point home.

  8. LifeBeforeCorona*

    It’s also possible that the email came from a current employee who recognized her and decided to act on their own. It would be very easy to claim that she made disparaging remarks about the company in a further effort to get her fired.

  9. Ann Perkins*

    I was trying to figure out why I was thinking I would not want to know this (that was just a gut reaction) – but they are some combination of – 1. this is an awful thing to have to deal with, and if I didn’t know/this was the only thing this person did (which…I suppose I don’t put a lot of faith in that possibility) and 2. I don’t feel like I /should/ be put in the position to deal with this because I have absolutely no faith that I would be able to deal with it/the structures are in place to DO anything about it so now it would be hanging over me and making me realize just how powerless I am. Not entirely sure WHY I (or anyone dealing with this) am the most qualified to deal with this, because, this is not, like, something I trained for or should be led to expect to have to deal with.

    Which is a general problem with society, I suppose, and not a good reason not to let someone know – the likelihood that this is an ongoing thing/part of a stalking campaign/someone she is in danger from and is aware of means that you probably absolutely have to tell her. Just terrible all around.

    1. Observer*

      Who ELSE should deal with it? Obviously there should be resources to help people deal with this. But like any other issue, the person who is the victim / center of the issue NEEDS to be the one starting and spearheading the effort. Otherwise outcomes are not good.

      1. Ann Perkins*

        I think people should absolutely feel empowered to deal with it – but, as you mention, there aren’t really resources to deal with it, so the information can feel like a burden, without pathways that enforce or inform that mean anything. What does “dealing with it” mean? How am I supposed to do that? I don’t have any clue, so why is this my responsibility, because SOMEONE ELSE is the problem, and I don’t have any extra resources or information just because I’m the victim of the crime. I just don’t get why “personal responsibility” always ends up being “you are personally responsible for all the things that happen to you, including being a victim of a crime”. Would you ask me “Who ELSE should deal with your house being robbed?” I mean, obviously I have to let someone know that it happened…but I know the calls are to insurance and the police, who are EXPERTS, and ARE supposed to deal with that, I don’t know who would help or care in this circumstance.

        1. Ann Perkins*

          This is all me thinking about it as a one-off – which I don’t think this kind of thing is particularly likely to be – I want to be clear that I support empowering women to deal with their domestic abusers – they absolutely are the expert in their situation and should be given all of the information they need to deal with it as they are able.

          This is truly just my frustration at a system where women are the most common victim of revenge porn, also of domestic abuse and violence, and also responsible for cleaning up the messes made, instead of the responsibility landing squarely where it belongs: on men not to commit crimes, not to expect to get away with it, for society not to be okay with women bearing the brunt of tremendous havoc wreaked with revenge porn and almost no response/punishment/pathways for dealing with it really exist.

        2. Anononon*

          There are revenge porn hotlines, though, for people to call for help/advice. There are resources.

          Also, it seems like you’re reading “notifying the victim” as telling the victim it’s her responsibility to “fix” this and ensure it won’t happen again. That’s not the case here.

    2. Important Moi*

      Your comment is very honest. I think many people have the thoughts you stated but don’t state them. I knew a supervisor who said they did not want to be “responsible for having to deal with” sexual harassment after a sexual harassment policy was put in place.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Yeah – nobody WANTS to deal with this stuff, but it’s part of the responsibility of management to do so. My response to that supervisor would be “perhaps being in this role isn’t right for you, then”.

    3. Mizzle*

      You raise an interesting point. I do feel that it’s important to let her know, but indeed, the whole situation may prove to be a tremendous burden to her.

      Since somebody mentioned a hotline for victims of cases like these, perhaps it would be a kindness to look up the contact details and share those.

      I’m wondering now whether it would be easier for both parties to have this conversation via phone (so nobody sees her initial reaction) or in person (so you can reassure her that this does not in any way influence your opinion of her).

    4. Anon IT Gal*

      In my experience, I knew that I had been violated somehow. I knew that people were looking at me differently. Much better to know exactly why than to go mad wondering, imagining the worst-case scenario. Much better to get justice, even, if you can. But I guess everyone’s different.

  10. Observer*

    OP, I *really* want to strongly agree with Alison on not filing this. If you HAVE to at least don’t file the pictures. It really should not be necessary and it’s just going to create potential for problems down the road, both for the employee and for you.

    1. Phony Genius*

      You can file the text portion of the e-mail and note in it “attachments deleted for privacy.”

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Some years back I had a cyberstalker/doppleganger, and at first I thought it was funny but then I worried for my wife – and – crank phone calls – so…

    We found out through a third party who it was. That third party advised him

    – bozo, you work as a computer professional – in data security
    – if I tell Anon-2 and he goes to the authorities – YOU WILL NEVER WORK IN THE INDUSTRY AGAIN.

    So – he stopped. IMMEDIATELY. I can only imagine how he’d explain the lack of judgement to his wife and son. and how he’d have to undergo a career change. After he gets out of jail.

      1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

        And he probably carried on doing the same thing – making sure the victims he chose were less likely to have friends in the industry.

        1. Perbie*

          Impossible to say; maybe they legit thought they were funny and were scared straight. Let’s trust the person in the situation to take it as far as needed instead of guilting the victim about not doing more

    1. Observer*

      OP should not be the one informing the authorities. This is totally the employee’s call to make.

  12. yellow water bottle*

    This is hell, I feel so and for the employee, and she is so lucky to have HR like you.

  13. KoolMan*

    ” The email said she mentioned our organization by name, and complained that we didn’t pay enough so she was soliciting donations. It also alluded to nude photos ”

    Pretty sure the sender mentioned this just to make the case against the employee and get her in trouble and not because it is the truth.

  14. Blue & grey*

    I’m so glad OP isn’t holding the email against the employee. You can never trust a revenge porn sender. One time my company received anonymous revenge porn photos of me, except it wasn’t me. My first and last names are common- think like Rachel Johnson- and whomever was trying to humiliate this other Rachel Johnson got her mixed up with me and thought she worked at my company. So not only are they scummy, untrustworthy people, but they also might not have all their facts straight.

  15. Jubilance*

    This exact situation happened to me back in late 2009/early 2010. Someone used a burner email send topless photos of me to my entire chain of command at my company – I think it went all the way up to CEO. I found out when HR called me for an immediate meeting with the Security team. At the time I was in my mid-20s and absolutely devastated and embarassed. HR and Security handled it so professionally, which helped me feel better.

    I think the anonymous sender was trying to get me fired, which didn’t work. And I’d actually already submitted my 2 week notice, because I was moving out of state for another job, which I think the sender did not know. I never found out who did it, and I suffered no professional consequences from the incident. Looking back, I’m happy I came out the other side stronger and less naive about strangers on the Internet.

  16. kt*

    Some good advice here!

    If it’s relevant for your company, etc., it might also make sense to include your company’s EAP info sheet as well as mentioning that you can work with her to help her be safe at work if necessary. Someone’s definitely targeting this woman, and EAP resources can sometimes be useful for someone in that situation.

    1. lobsterbot*

      yep, the EAP typically has legal resources as well as personal counseling ones, and she might want both.

  17. question*

    what about employees who publically post pictures of themselves in sexually suggestive poses and outfits (such as sheer underwear..) and the account can be found by simply googling their name? I feel like it lies under ‘it doesn’t matter what people do in their spare time’ but it is unprofessional ?

    1. Forrest*

      I would agree with you that it shouldn’t matter but realistically there are some employers and some professions where they are super uptight about these things. Trainee teachers in the UK are told not to to have any social pictures visible at all online, never mind sexy ones.

    2. Altair*

      How is it unprofessional, unless they do this on company time/company property/linking to the company? Otherwise it is a hobby they do aside of work. Being underdressed/undressed in public on one’s own time is not actually an ethical issue, and as a society I think we’d all be better off if we stopped considering it an ethical issue.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Assuming she is not violating a stated company policy, it’s not relevant to this letter. Even a nude model has a right to not be harassed at their job.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Honestly at this point I should be a lot more upset seeing pictures of someone fully clothed without a mask then I would be of someone bobbing for beads at Mardi Gras.

    5. Le Sigh*

      I’m not really sure why you’re asking this in the context of the LW’s question? Or what you’re trying to get at?

      1. Important Moi*

        Maybe “question” is getting at these pictures should not be taken at all and rather than say that directly they just ask us it professional. Please let me know if I miss characterizing the intent of the original question.

        1. Rainy*

          I think it’s kind of creepy that “question” is googling their employees hoping to see nudes.

      2. D3*

        He’s implying no one should ever have these kinds of pictures at all and this brazen hussy is only getting what she deserves.
        question, take your whataboutism and your sexism and prudishness and go hang out wherever that crap is welcome and leave this situation alone.

    6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      It seems offensive to slide from someone facing abuse to someone doing what you imply may be unprofessional.

      I think you should ask your question some other time. Not now. Not as a sidebar to a woman being harassed.

    7. Tidewater 4-1009*

      question, I’ll take a stab at clarifying this for you. You don’t say if you’re in the US or not, so I apologize if I’m explaining things you already know.

      The US has a long history of both being uptight about sex and oppressing women. These things have come together in
      1. Judging women who express normal sexuality and sexual feelings as “sluts”, “tramps”, etc.
      2. Blaming women for the things men do. A good example is a woman being blamed for seducing a man, as if he had no power to say no.

      There has been some progress made in correcting these oppressive attitudes and respecting the sexuality of women… and it varies by regions and industries. In some areas there’s still a lot of judgement and oppression, and some or most employers would consider posting suggestive photos unprofessional even if it has no effect on the company. In other areas people are more open and respectful, like the OP.

      There are also some industries and employers who have stated policies against this, and they consider it unprofessional. Whether it really is is a discussion for another time.

    8. Batgirl*

      It depends on the profession and it depends on what you mean by ‘public’. I’m a teacher and it really would interfere with a basic ability to do the job if students could Google pics of Miss or Sir in nothing but their smalls. Lots of jobs aren’t really affected though and people who stumble on them accidentally should be expected to be grown up and discreetly forgetful about it.
      I do however. think being able to Google images is just a leetle bit too public for a great many (but not all) jobs. A publicly available site where it’s known there will be racy pics, enter if you dare, is a showing more judgement than ‘wow what did I just search’ and would be saving the eyes of people who have to google them in a work capacity. I don’t think it’s anything more than a minor not-to-be-mentioned lack of judgement though and that people’s digital footprint is their own business/lookout.

  18. Anon for this*

    Something very similar happened to me recently, so much that I sort of wonder if this was written by someone in my company. It was sent from an ex boyfriend who had been harassing me. I was glad they told me so I could go to the police, I already had a report with them but it was useful to have more evidence on what he was doing. So yes please do tell her because you don’t know where it came from!

  19. The Rabbit*

    Agree, definitely tell her.

    I had a similar situation with one of my direct reports two years ago and the person who sent the info to us was a stalker. Knowing allowed her to take the actions she needed to protect herself (and also allowed us to do some things to protect her, too). The conversation was a little awkward, but it definitely needed to happen.

    1. Anon for this*

      Ugh, I don’t know if it’s reassuring or revolting that this same thing has happened to so many of us. :(

      1. V*

        It happened to me as well (I was on the receiving end of the harassment by a someone who dug out my work info and contacted my employer with false and damaging allegations). My employer handled it impeccably and it did not damage my career in the slightest. But urgh that this seems to be such a common thing. People suck.

  20. LavaLamp*

    Please tell her. Yes, it’s going to be one of those conversations that sucks, but it’s better for your employee. Sadly, stalking/harassment laws often put the burden of proof on the victim and the more information she has, the better choices she can make. It sucks, and it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s generally how it is at least in the USA.

  21. Potatoes gonna potate*

    I can’t give any advice except that what was said is 100%.

    I really wish the wastes of space who engage in this abhorrent behavior can, like, slither off and die.

  22. Jean (just Jean) Seeking Electronic Pest-Repelling Devices*

    Objectively speaking, there’s no need for either manager or the employee in this situation to feel awkward.
    As Captain Awkward would say, “Return awkward to sender.” Take a deep breath, then ignore the fact that this hostile email carried “oh! no! naughty pictures!” Having one’s privacy breached is not the same as being a sex-crazed maniac deliberately posting salacious images of oneself. Any thinking adult should know the difference.

    1. Jean (just Jean) Seeking Electronic Pest-Repelling Devices*

      Not that this helps a young person still adjusting to the workplace…
      re Potatoes above, Yes, I hope there are seats reserved in Hell for the evil souls who try to satisfy themselves by trying to humiliate other people.

    2. AnonForThis*

      Even if you were a sex-crazed maniac deliberately posting salacious images of yourself… this still wouldn’t be okay.

  23. Jean (just Jean) Seeking Electronic Pest-Repelling Devices*

    Oh, and as others have already stated, OP is awesome. Good thoughts to you and your direct report.

  24. Not A Manager*

    If company policy allows you to delete the images after you talk to the employee, I think you should do so. But I also think you should keep a memorandum in her file like what you said here, outlining the email and images and the situation. If something else should occur you want there to be institutional memory of this event.

  25. HailRobonia*

    I think “revenge porn” is an unfortunate name for this kind of harassment. It implies that the victim actually did something wrong that needs to be avenged.

    1. MayLou*

      And that it is porn, rather than abusive images. I mean, porn sometimes documents abuse as well, but there’s a distinction between images created consensually for public dissemination and images stolen or doctored and shared without consent.

      1. Observer*

        Please lets not whitewash porn. A lot of porn is not consensual. Most of it is exploitative.

        Which is to say that while porn does not necessarily mean that something is abusive, it’s just not accurate to claim that just because images are abusive that means that they are not porn.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      Hmm- that’s an interesting thought. Personally, I’ve never read it that way. Usually I think it implies petty “revenge” for breaking up with someone, which is probably the most common situation in which this happens (since an ex is likely to have that kind of photo from the relationship). Maybe “spite porn” since that’s more obvious that it’s completely petty? I suppose I never read “revenge” as necessarily legitimate, since our culture frowns on it generally and this usage in particular brings to mind the bitter ex who thinks they were wronged by being dumped.

  26. Scarlet*

    Wow. It takes a special type of garbage person to try and jeopardize someone’s job by sending their employer screenshots/pics like that. I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

  27. Mayflower*

    I just wanted to chime in to say that deepfakes i.e. “synthetic” videos of people combining one person’s head and another person’s body are really good these days. Software can take someone’s image and create a video of them saying things they’ve never said and that video will look very much like a real video. A great (as in, frighteningly realistic) sample on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepfake.

  28. Leap Year Conspiracy*

    Definitely sounds like stalking-domestic violence-harassment. When you do approach the employee to let her know what happened, please be aware that the embarrassment is part of the strategy for the stalker/abuser. Power and control is what they are seeking and by messing with her employment, embarrassing her at work and making her feel unsafe even at her job is all part of it for the abuser. It sounds like you’re going to approach it very sensitively but I just want to re-iterate that (early in my career I wish I had approached a few situations more sensitively for the employee). In addition to letting her know about what you received, talk to her about safety plans at work. If she was in an abusive relationship or has a stalker, she may need support from you all to make sure she’s safe at work. Even during the pandemic if she’s working remote, make sure she knows she is supported to take time to file a police report, relocate if needed or seek counseling/support.

  29. KR*

    I wonder instead of filing the email and photos, OP could write up a short incident report with a general description of the photos along with their follow-up actions so that the record is there, but the photos aren’t.
    Also, if you have any relatable female HR reps that are close in age to the employee, the message may be easier to transmit from them then OP & less embarrassing for both parties.

    Props to OP for not shaming this woman & playing into what the revenge porn person wants

    1. KR*

      Also, to OP the email looks random and like a throwaway, but there’s a chance the employee will recognize it either by the way it’s worded, the screenshot (maybe they only know 1 person with T Mobile that they sent pics to, example, or clues on the email address itself so it’s worth it to forward a PDF of the email itself to the employee for their records.

  30. Hiya*

    Perhaps you can keep a copy of the correspondence but strip it of the pictures. Also ask the employee if she’d like a copy to use if she is documenting harassment

  31. RJ*

    What an awful thing to do to someone. I cannot understand the mentality of any form of stalking, but good on you OP for being a great manager.

  32. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “given the way you’ve been informed, I would put no weight on it at all.”

    THIS.

    And also I really like Alison’s comment about not filing this email in a regular way – great point that may be overlooked. Don’t even email it around – email perhaps the message but not the images, and check with HR or legal on how/where to store the image. If they say to email to them, then OK, but don’t even let this stuff circulate in anyway without being really thoughtful about it.

  33. Sylvan*

    OP and Alison, thank you for treating this kindly and nonjudgmentally. Someone I know has been going through something similar. The more people are decent about this, the easier it is for people being targeted to speak up and get help.

  34. Extremely anonymous for this one*

    Just to say that as someone who has had a not-dissimilar (though thankfully not including pictures) experience, THANK YOU for advising the LW to tell the employee. In my case people I knew and/or worked with received months of damaging, untrue messages about me without telling me (because they didn’t believe it, because they didn’t want to upset me, etc). I had no idea about it until the person sending them managed to contact a particularly unpleasant manager, who took the complaints seriously and confronted me about them… after which I asked if other contacts had received anything similar and got a horribly upsetting flood of responses. Telling her might seem unpleasant, but she needs to know what’s going on so she can take steps to protect herself as far as possible. And thank you to the LW for being so caring and understanding about the employee: having that kind of support at work makes a big difference.

    1. Important*

      I’ve heard that exclamation from people that they did not want to upset me. I’ve never looked at them the same. What they didn’t want was the discomfort of having a conversation with me. That was more troublesome than any problems it could cause for me.

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah this person went to the effort of photoshopping pictures. They arent going to stop until their smears reach the ears of someone who gives them a reaction; hopefully that someone will be the police. I’m so sorry your company were so chicken livered! I mean, it’s nice they decided they don’t mind… but it’s not actually about them.

  35. Erin*

    Due to the personal and intentional nature of the email, I think it is important to bring it up to the employee.

    Also, floating a different perspective here…..the employee might not be a stalking victim. She could have sent this email in herself. Having a conversation with her will definitely answer that question.

    If she is a victim of stalking, she definitely needs the email to add to her evidence against the person who she suspects is stalking her. And she needs her company’s support in protecting her.

    1. Observer*

      Why on earth would you jump to “she could have sent it in herself”?! I mean it’s POSSIBLE, but it’s so unlikeley that it would be wildly inappropriate to even bring it up in the conversation.

    2. WS*

      Well, sure, it’s *possible*. It’s also *possible* that, say the Prime Minister of Canada sent them. Or my grandmother.

  36. GreenDoor*

    I, too, work for a public entity and there are a lot of people who take advantage of someone’s status as a public employee or an employee in a public building against them. Please DO NOT put this in her personnel file! In my state, many components of an employee’s personnel file are public records – including disciplinary records and correspondance sent to, from and about them. If that’s the case in the OP’s state, and someone were to file a public records request and obtain these pictures, it would only victimize her all over again. And the person that sent these would be getting exactly what they want!

  37. CommanderBanana*

    I will bet you a not-insignificant amount of money that she didn’t say anything about the organization and this is an angry ex-boyfriend.

  38. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

    IJWS: I am concerned for the sake of your company’s cyber security systems that you are opening attachments/links on burner emails, especially anything clickbaity that promises salacious content. I would not rule out that your employee was collateral damage — the company’s data is the target. Your IT department should be checking for a breach, stat.

Comments are closed.