coworker sent me his racy photography page, do I need to give my coworkers gifts, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Coworker sent me his photography page — and it’s mostly racy portraits of women

I’m a woman in my late twenties and I work at an entirely remote company of about 250 people, although we get together for events once or twice a year and see each other at trade shows. Because of this, although I’ve worked here for seven months, I have met most of my coworkers on other teams only once, at a multi-department, multi-day event a few months ago.

I joined another (all-male) team’s weekly meeting to present a project I had worked on for them. During my presentation, one of the members I had met during the big event sent me a “good to see you again!” message, and I responded to it after the meeting with “great to see you too!” He then followed up with “did you know I do photography in my spare time?” with an Instagram link. Although I was a little dubious, I clicked on it hoping it would be nature shots … it was not. The vast majority of the (to my untrained eye, pretty good? I guess?) photos are of women, and while some are just regular headshots, some are tasteful nudes, in lingerie, or just … pretty sexual? I feel deeply uncomfortable and am not sure how to proceed. There is also possibly a cultural or language disconnect — I am American and he is Northern European and not a native English speaker.

As I see it, I could message him back directly, talk to my boss (who is amazing and I would feel comfortable talking about this with), or progress directly to some sort of HR report, which I feel like would be a big escalation without discussing with him directly, but I also … do not want to respond at all. We’ve never even talked about photography before! Why did he send me this? I feel so uncomfortable! How would you proceed?

Ugh. He sent it to you because he doesn’t care about boundaries and he’s getting something out of sending you a page with nude photos. It’s not about his photography hobby; you don’t even know him and he brought it up out of absolutely nowhere, with no context where it would be relevant. I’m sure he thinks he has plausible deniability because it’s his “hobby,” but he doesn’t.

I completely get not wanting to deal with it, and you’re not obligated to if you’d rather just ignore it. It’s exhausting having to take on the labor of responding to this stuff. But if you do want to say something, personally I’d respond with, “WTF dude? You just sent me a page with nude photos. Totally inappropriate for work.” (Adapt language as needed to fit your own style.) And then I’d forward it to my boss in case it’s part of a pattern. If you’d rather just do the last part, that’s fine too — it’s perfectly reasonable to transfer this burden to your boss to deal with rather than you having to be the person who stresses over what to do about it.

Read an update to this letter

2. How to avoid constant questions from job candidates who haven’t yet been invited to interview

I am involved in recruitment for my team and we often have many applicants. Invariably, I receive numerous emails asking questions about the role, or even that I call them to discuss these questions.

I am happy to respond to a simple factual question not adequately answered in the job ad (say, is hybrid work an option, expected travel time, etc.) and for a highly specialized role with few relevant candidates I’d also be open for more pre-interview discussion. However, mostly we hire generalist entry- to mid-level staff from a relatively large pool of possible candidates, and the questions posed are either sort of pointless/already described in the job ad or in-depth questions I would only want to discuss while interviewing candidates. As has been mentioned on your site before, it is rarely well-qualified candidates that do this, and I honestly don’t want to spend time on unqualified candidates other than the screening.

What I am lacking is a polite response to those reaching out with overly detailed questions. I want to protect our organization’s image, and a poor candidate for this job may be a good candidate for another job, perhaps later in their career, so I don’t want to come off as rude or too rigid. Do you have any suggestions for such a response?

Yeah, in my experience, the vast majority of people who do this aren’t contacting you because there’s something crucial they need to know before they decide whether to apply, but because they want to try to pitch themselves and make a connection that they think will give their application a boost. (Of course, make sure your ad really does have enough info in it, but you can have the most informative ad in the world and you’ll still get these calls.) I agree it’s different when you’re hiring for a hard-to-fill, specialized role — but the rest of the time it’s typically a better use of your time to steer people to the actual hiring process that you’ve established for each side to learn more about the other.

I often use language like this when a candidate sends over questions that would be impractical to answer over email (whether because there are so many or because it doesn’t make sense to delve into them in depth at this stage): “It would be tough to do justice to these questions in an email, but we’ll make plenty of time to discuss them in detail if we move forward to an interview. So if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to apply and we can go from there.”

Or if they’re just asking for a phone call for vague reasons: “Were you thinking of throwing your hat into the ring for one of our open positions? If so, I’d encourage you to do that as a first step. We get a tremendous volume of interest for our openings and we’ve found that the best way to get to know people and explore the possibilities is to steer them to the process we’ve created.” Or even, “Because we get a high volume of interest in our open positions, we’re not generally able to set up calls outside of our hiring process. But I encourage you to throw your hat in the ring and we can take it from there!”

Caveat: make sure that your application process isn’t time-intensive. If you’re requesting more up-front investment than just a resume and cover letter, it’s going to alienate people if you also decline to answer any questions first.

3. Do I need to buy my coworkers gifts if they bought me gifts?

I work for a large company and this year relocated to one of our satellite offices in a different city. The small office has about 20 employees, none of whom work in my department (all my coworkers who I work with are based at headquarters). Even though we don’t work together, I often chat with my “cubicle neighbors” to pass the time, and while we aren’t super close, we’ve gotten to know each other. Many people here have worked together many years and so some have close-knit friendships outside of work. I prefer to keep work and my personal life separate, so I’m not trying to become close beyond an amicable work relationship.

We had an office holiday party for the 20 of us, and there was a “white elephant” gift exchange, which I participated in. (Everyone brings a gift, you pick from the pile or can “steal” etc.)

In the days after that, the five people who sit closest to me, who I know best, gave me separate gifts. Nothing extravagant – things that probably cost $10-$15. I thought this was very sweet, but I was surprised. I’ve worked in corporate jobs for about a decade and have never received a holiday gift from a coworker, outside of the occasional gift exchanges for the whole office – and this year, I’ve received five! No one on my actual team (based at headquarters) got me a gift, either this year or in past years when we worked in the same office. I’ve wondered if it’s just a cultural difference – while we’re a large company, this office has a more of a “small company” feel due to the office size.

Do I have any obligation to buy gifts in return? I don’t really want to; it seems like a hassle to think of something for everyone, and I don’t want to set the expectation that I’ll buy gifts for several people every year (especially when I already participate in the gift exchange), and it seems odd to buy my “office neighbors” gifts but not my actual coworkers. I think this is reasonable but am I committing a social faux pas buy not getting them gifts in return?

Nah. It very likely is a cultural difference due to the small office size, but you’re not obligated to give gifts back. You could do new year’s cards if you’d feel better doing something (or could do that next year if you want), but as long as you thank them warmly for what they gave you, you don’t need to reciprocate if it’s not your thing.

4. An observation about updates

I’ve noticed over time that a good number of updates involve someone ultimately leaving the job they were writing about. Do you think that’s because writing the letter to you is the catalyst for people to realise it’s time to move on regardless of your answer?

I’ve had something similar happen with a relationship (where telling a friend out loud that I wasn’t happy made me realize the answer was to break up rather than continue to be unhappy) so it seems plausible that it would be the same for job relationships.

It’s a good question! I do think that often by the time someone is moved to write in, the situation is bad enough that they’d likely start thinking about leaving anyway. But it’s also true that the act of writing out your question can clarify the situation for you — and sometimes that can mean that you realize how bad it is, or that the only real solution is to leave. (And I’ve heard from a number of people who say, “The act of writing my letter made me realize what you would say, so I didn’t even need to send it to you.”)

Other times, though, it’s just normal professional churn — sometimes people leave for reasons that aren’t connected to the situation they wrote about. Or it’s connected in a less obvious way — like that what they wrote about was really the tip of the iceberg, and there were a bunch of other problems there that ended up making them flee, beyond what we heard about in the letter.

{ 449 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For letter #1, if you’re tempted to engage in the very common “well, maybe he didn’t mean…” responses that always greet women after a man does something creepy, I’m going to ask that you accompany it by specifically explaining how it would change your advice to the LW. Otherwise, please don’t. Creeps don’t need more excuses made for them, and women don’t need to be encouraged to second-guess themselves even more than they already do in situations like this.

  2. Certaintroublemaker*

    LW3, if the coworkers seem deeply entrenched in the gift giving and it feels too weird to not participate, you can have a stash of small containers of holiday cookies (or mugs full of red and green Hershey Kisses if you’re not a baker) for exchange purposes.

    1. Derivative Poster*

      I was going to suggest the LW could occasionally bring in bagels or doughnuts or whatever throughout the year. Sharing food seems like a way to participate in an office culture that values generosity without engaging in 1:1 gift giving, if that feels uncomfortable or inappropriate to you.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        This seems a good idea. While yes, *technically* you’re not required to reciprocate gifts, it’s possible you may come across in a bad light if it turns out that really is just the office culture and you’re always the one receiving and not giving. That said, you definitely don’t need to do anything formal – sharing food is lovely, or some small trinket you can get several of (so you don’t have to custom-pick gifts for each person). I suspect making sure the giving is reciprocal would go a long way toward smoothing over office politics.

        1. Caroline*

          Someone I used to work with had the absolutely charming idea to give out small pots of raw honey from a local hive producer, at the beginning of the year (i.e. after Christmas, around when people start trickling back into the office after any leave they may have taken), wishing sweetness for the new year.

          I loved that.

          1. Laughie*

            I did something similar … a couple of handfuls of Dove chocolates (not christmas colors) and a like half handful of peppermints (just the regular ‘starlight’ ones) with a note about having a sweet new year and just enough spice to keep it fun and interesting. Everyone enjoyed a Happy New Year gift and it was easy to make up and dole out as we all came back into the office after the holiday break.

            1. PhyllisB*

              Many years ago I worked in a small office, only four people. The owner, his brother, me, and one other woman. The brother started puting a Hershey’s Kiss on our desk and saying something like here’s a kiss to start the day. This is about the time Hershey came out with the Hugs, so one morning I added a Hug also, and said now everyone gets a hug and a kiss to start the day. We all had a good laugh. (I realize nowadays that might be a no no, but we were all good friends and nothing inappropriate ever happened.) It was just a way to start the day with a smile.

          2. Delta Delta*

            I love this! I would absolutely love it if someone gave me some honey to wish sweetness for the new year. I might have to remember this for next year and steal this idea.

            1. Random Dice*

              As an aside, that’s the Jewish tradition for the new year. (Rosh Hashanah, “The head of the year”)

          3. Smithy*

            That’s both very sweet and also a “professionally useful” way to consider responding to the one the OP shared or in a new job situation where you might be uncertain about gift giving. Basically, if gives you a chance to see how the end of year “gift giving” tradition goes and then pick an approach early in the new year that feels right.

          4. Sunny Day*

            This is a nice idea, and as an aside, I recently discovered by looking at some old (19th century) newspapers that, at least in the U.S., the practice of giving New Year’s gifts seems about as common as giving Christmas gifts, or maybe more. A lot of ads from merchants around the end of the year said something like, “Great New Year’s gift!”

            1. Librolover*

              Very much a thing! all the way back to at least the Tudors. There’s a podcast called “not just the tudors” that did a whole thing about New Year’s gift giving

        2. Schubert*

          Agree. You can get ahead of it next year and state you don’t want to do gifts (maybe make donations instead?) but this year, I think you just need to swallow it and give some nice gifts back like food etc. just for the sake of good relations.

      2. Random Dice*

        Great idea. I’d definitely do small gifts – that kind of imbalance would make me feel guilty and churlish.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Bringing in donuts occasionally is fine. I would stay away from holiday themed gifts – it could set up a gift expectation for every occasion.

      (Re: Valentine’s Day stuff from a coworker – the romantic connotations don’t belong in the office. I know it’s supposed to be cute, not romantic, but…it just squicks me out.)

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah…might be a cultural thing but where I’m from Valentine’s Day is 100% romantic and it would be 100% Weird with a capital W if a colleague gave people Valentine’s gifts.

        1. Modesty Poncho*

          OTOH, I’ve successfully channeled third grade with the absolute cheesiest pack of $5 valentines I could find and people laughed and enjoyed them and hung them up in their cubes. I think the last time I did it, I found really bad shark puns and they came with gummy sharks. It helps when everyone in the office is getting one.

          1. What Angelica Said*

            I work in academia, so our boundaries are non-existant, but I do this every year, too! The puns are so bad and the little gifts are so cheesy, my folks simultaneously roll their eyes and smile.

    3. Wintermute*

      I grew up in Wisconsin, and all my coworkers know it, So every winter when I go up to see family for Thanksgiving I stop by a local dairy and pick up a half dozen or so bricks of nice cheese and some sausage sticks, that way if anyone gives me a gift and I’m not prepared I can go home, grab them a chunk of cheddar and some sausage sticks, put a ribbon around them and give it to them the next day.

      I recommend something similar, find something that’s personal to you (they know I love cheese) and you can stash a half dozen of cheaply (I pay like five or six bucks a brick, buying at the dairy itself). It’s also nice in my case that though I get the stuff for that price buying direct, at a touristy place like Cheese Palace it would probably be twice that, and a local specialty store or the cheese case in a bougie grocery store locally it would be four times that, so it looks more substantial than it is to me.

      This year I also got a bunch of fun weird flavors like pumpkin spice cheddar, tequilla lime white cheddar and chocolate mild cheddar (it tastes just like fudge, really).

      1. Sorrischian*

        Was the pumpkin spice cheddar any good? Those are not flavors I really think of as going with cheese, but I’m willing to be convinced

        1. Wintermute*

          It wasn’t bad at all, for the more exotic flavors they use a really young white cheddar so it’s more of a “generic milky creamy taste” than what you’d associate with an aged or sharp cheddar with more lactic acid in it. the result is that the chocolate cheddar tastes just like really rich fudge made with whole fresh milk, and the pumpkin spice tasted like pumpkin spice creamer, a little of it blended into the filling of a tiramisu would have made basically a pumpkin spice latte tiramisu.

        2. Glen*

          This sort of thing can be surprising. My dad and I stopped for tea at a cheesemaker while on a weekend fishing trip and had tea and cake, and the cake was a rich fruitcake topped with a slice of “farmhouse gold”, their aged yellow sheep cheese.

          It was spectacular.

    4. netlawyer*

      My former workplace had a well-attended and *raucous* white-elephant exchange every year (one of the nice things about really collegial workplace – people would bring in extra gifts to cover lower-paid staff so they didn’t have to spend the $20 or whatever (to the point we’d have extra gifts on the table because bringing a gift wasn’t required to participate), plus in my small group (eight of us) we had the habit of exchanging gifts at the last staff meeting before the holidays.

      But those gifts were small and seven of the same thing – and a lot of times things they brought back from vacation (so like fidget spinners, bottle openers, pencils, and the like) or homemade (like a ziplock of cookies) – and no one thought a thing about it if someone didn’t have anything to gift – and as you suggest, after the new year, that person would usually leave a handful of Dove chocolates or Hershey’s kisses in people’s chairs.

      But exchanging little tokens like that, I think, are a sign of a positive workplace and OP was just caught off guard.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      I liked Allison’s card idea too; it’s the same “nice acknowledgement but let’s not get nuts” level as having candy or cookies as a kind of catch-all gift.

    6. Artemesia*

      If you don’t want to get in the gift exchange thing — then during gifting periods, bringing in a treat for the group is a great way to go. Something special. A tray of pretty Christmas cookies, especially if you bake. Or fancy fruity/nutty breads and cream cheese. Or fancy Christmas cupcakes.

    7. TootsNYC*

      or even not mugs, but just a small paper bag or envelope with five Brach’s Christmas Nougats in it, and a hand-drawn holly leaf on the outside, .
      Just something that feels festive, even if it’s very, very small.

  3. billytea*

    I mentioned question 4 to my wife, and she noted there may be a selection effect in the other direction. If a letter writer is concerned that their update could be read by someone at their workplace, they might feel it’s safer to wait until they’ve left before updating. Or they may just not feel it’s worth providing an update until the situation is resolved, and in some cases, that may not be until they leave.

    1. Alice*

      That’s an interesting take. I was thinking from my personal experience that by the time I sent in a letter (not published) to AAM and another workplace podcast I was *so* close to the edge in terms of frustration, burn out and desperation at the situation. I had no one irl to discuss my issues with and felt my only option was seeing if other people here would validate my experience (very toxic boss/ ridiculous working hours/ gaslighting).

      Afterwards the very fact I had written a “help” letter to a stranger confirmed to me how extremely bad the situation was and I took steps to leave (ended up taking a year out to regain my mental health). I suppose many people write in when the situation has reached the toxic stage when things are really bad and often the next logical step can only be to move on.

      1. ferrina*

        Agree, but sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, a big part of the question is “Is this normal? Am I over-reacting?” And usually the answer is “No, this is not normal! No, you aren’t over-reacting!”

        When you are entrenched in the toxic environment, abnormal becomes normal (see: the LW who bit her coworker) and it can take the outside perspective to help you trust your instincts.

      2. NOTANYMORE*

        I also wrote an (unpublished) letter to Alison basically asking if I was “allowed” to leave a job at six months. This was a job where I once asked my boss permission, at 11:00 PM on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, if I could go to sleep for a couple of hours. Spoiler-I left.

    2. Myrin*

      That’s a very good point!
      I also think simple time is playing a role – it’s not like OPs are required to send an update exactly one year (or whatever timeframe) after their letter was sent, so we’ll have updates from letters which ran a few weeks ago next to those who were answered 5+ years ago, both saying they recently left the toxic job they were talking about in their letters, but the situations are still very different, even if the outcome (= left job) is the same.

      1. Antilles*

        The time factor is a really good point – leaving a job because you got promoted a couple years later or simply got a better offer three years afterwards still counts as “left the job”…but really aren’t related to whatever situation you asked AAM about.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      Or they may just not feel it’s worth providing an update until the situation is resolved, and in some cases, that may not be until they leave.

      There have been at least a few updates I’ve read that started along the lines of “I wanted to wait until I had something worth sharing before submitting an update.” And, if I remember correctly, most of those then went on to be “XYZ happened (or didn’t happen) at the job I wrote in about, and now I’m happily at a new job!”

    4. Smithy*

      One letter I wrote years and years ago was about interview dress, and may have even been a case where Alison answered me privately and didn’t publish? Either way, the answer both helped me decide what to wear and settle some anxiety around how if I didn’t wear a 9-5 style suit, I wasn’t going to be professionally appropriate.

      Ultimately, I assume what I wore was fine as I got more interviews for that process but also didn’t get the job. So for a lot of these letters, while the advice may be incredibly helpful in deciding what to do – there may also not really be a follow up story. While some letters are when the situation is already at peak misery, I do think others are centered in anxiety around following your gut – like do I listen to my career center/parents or not? Or the mom with the high school daughter who was going to start a part-time job with a challenging classmate/bully. The advice was that a high school job wasn’t worth anxiety and stress and the mom supporting her child either way was the best move. But the follow up was that things had largely worked out at the job and the kid was happy – so it may have been that the exercise of writing the letter let mom and daughter work through some anxiety about next steps, and have more confidence in their decision making. Even if the end results aren’t earth shattering.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Fairly sure it was a dad (that became clear from the update), but I concur with your point about anxiety.

      2. Avery*

        Yep. I’ve had a couple of minor, low-stakes questions published, and I never felt the need to update because… the situations were minor and low-stakes, and the update would just be a vague “yeah I followed the advice, I guess it worked fine”. So there may be a factor that it’s the more interesting letters with more interesting updates that actually get updated.

    5. Antilles*

      I would guess it’s mostly the last part – people wanting to wait till there was some actual difference in the situation worth writing about…which often means “left the role”.

      1. cosmicgorilla*

        I would agree that people wait until there’s something to update about. I feel most people wouldn’t want to write in and say, “I ignored your advice, and I’m still here suffering.” Not that we don’t see that on occasion. But most people are predisposed to want to update with more positive news.

        Also, we cannot make other people do things. We cannot change their behavior. We can try to guide, we can request, but ultimately, we can’t make other people change. Many of these letters are so egregious that the most likely scenarios are 1) LW stays, nothing changes, LW is just as miserable 2) LW leaves, and finds that the grass really is greener on the other side. LW staying and the situation changing for the better requires the others involved to be kind, compassionate, and willing to self-examine. That’s sadly rare, and if that was the case in these situations, Alison would get tons less letters.

        1. Smithy*

          I also think a ton of letters are reflective of people going through periods of their life where there’s just a lot going on at once and so they have less patience and bandwidth to deal with assorted workplace miseries at different times. I call it the “it could always be worse” theory.

          Essentially, you have a period in life where things are going bad everywhere – at work, at home, in your social life. And then suddenly one of those things get fixed. When this was my situation, it was moving out of a bad apartment situation into a good one. My social life and work life saw no change from the “bad” – but my home life had a 180 improvement and I had far more energy to deal with those issues because I could truly unwind and relax at home.

          Ultimately, I did leave that job without ever truly fixing any of the “bad” – but it was as part of normal job life cycle reasons and with no major flame out.

  4. E*

    LW 1 PLEASE tell your boss. If not for yourself for other women of the past, present, and future who may have to interact with this guy. This way even if nothing happens but a warning then if this ever happens again or has happened before it will be taken more seriously. If the dude was genuinely not being a creep *on purpose* (because regardless this isn’t appropriate for work given the context) and this is a one off he will be sorry and it won’t happen again and if he truly is a creep then you’ve put it on the boss’ radar.

    1. Fikly*

      Stop telling women (or other groups who are victimized) to do things on behalf of other members of their group.

      It is a form of victim blaming. People should only take actions they feel safe doing so. We have no way of knowing the full situation. The LW gets to make that evaluation for themself, and then decide on what course of action they feel safe with.

      It is not actually the job of any minority, or group treated like a minority, to advocate for themselves or other members of that group.

      1. CarlEatsShoes*

        I get where you are coming from….but also, someone has to say something or creepy AF dudes will just keep doing this, as they have since forever.

        1. CarlEatsShoes*

          And, there is a moral obligation to speak up IMO. Should fall on men who observe other creepy men as well – moral obligation to speak up, both to the creep and to HR, etc.

          Otherwise, how will it ever change? These creeps are betting on our continued silence.

          1. rachel :)*

            I get where you’re coming from as well, but as a victim of SA, I have to say this is a pretty painful thing to read. I didn’t report because I didn’t want to relive. I certainly would never speak up to my assailant! Obviously, this situation isn’t violent, but the concept stands. Please don’t make us hold our discomfort/pain and the pain of others past and future.

            (This comment was intended in a very gentle tone. This stuff is hard to talk about for everyone and I respect everyone’s perspectives; this is just my gut reaction.)

            1. Pippa K*

              This is an important point. Id like to add that calling out harassment and misconduct often doesn’t solve it but reliably does get the “complainer” considered a trouble maker because conflict or unpleasantness often follows the original reporting. Worse, if it’s clear that nothing is going to be done about the harasser, the “complainer” may then be effectively marked as a safe target for more harassment or discrimination. I would never complain of harassment or discrimination again without very powerful allies at my back.

            2. Observer**

              I certainly would never speak up to my assailant!

              For sure not!

              The obligation that exists is NOT to speak to an assailant, but to someone who may have some power to make the behavior stop.

              This is something that struck me about the letter and about how so much of this is talked about – even here. There is so much “maybe he didn’t really mean….” So much that Alison felt the need to post a comment about that at the top of the comment section. And there is so much pressure not to “make too much” of it, or to “give the guy another chance” or even to “speak to him before you take such drastic action”. And that is flat out wrong!

              I hope that if there is one thing the OP takes from this whole discussion is that it is NOT “a big escalation without discussing with him directly“! That she has ZERO obligation to talk to him!

              Because even if the situation is not violent, it still is not her job to smooth his path.

              To the extent that there is an obligation, in general, it is limited to the safety of the victim. Unfortunately, in most of the world it can be waaay to difficult and even unsafe for women to report this stuff, so that has to be factored in when this discussion comes up.

              1. rachel :)*

                I can see we’re coming from the same place in terms of wanting to make clear that this is serious and warrants action, but I feel really strongly that it isn’t on LW to take that action. Even if it is safe in most ways, it is not necessarily psychologically safe, and if that’s how the LW feels I really think the commentariat should keep any other obligation out of it. It’s really hard to feel like *you* are doing something wrong by not being harassed correctly

              2. PlainJane*

                My thought on the “Maybe he didn’t mean it” is to talk to a supervisor and say, “Hey, I may be reading this wrong, but…” The reason being, it’s one thing if I’m getting it wrong, but if five other people come in saying, “There’s this weird thing…”

                (When I was in my twenties, a supervisor shook my hand after a meeting and said, “Your skin is so soft…” and kind of ran her thumb over my hand. I was weirded out, but for all I know still, she was just trying to compliment my hand lotion. I told my immediate supervisor on the thought that, if someone else came and said something, her radar would pick it up as a pattern.)

                1. Kit*

                  Oh my god I physically shuddered. A ‘compliment’ so ham-fisted it seems more like you’re being catalogued for use as a skin suit is absolutely report-worthy, because… ew. Ew ew ew.

                2. 1-800-BrownCow*

                  Nope, nope, nope! I disagree with saying “Hey, I may be reading this wrong…” to the supervisor or anyone else. That totally gives the coworker an out! That supervisor could go back to the employee and ask them if the LW was reading it wrong and of course, he’s going to agree that LW read it wrong and that he didn’t mean anything wrong by what he did. This also downplays the LW’s feelings and reactions. Even if his intent was different, the LW said they felt deeply uncomfortable and their feelings should not be discredited or reduced to “reading it wrong”. If they choose to speak to their supervisor, they need to say what happened and how it made them feel. The focus needs to be on what the coworker did wrong, not on the possibility that the LW might be wrong with their feelings. Ugh, telling victims they read something wrong is another example of downplaying what happened to them and yet again another excuse used by harassers.

            3. Vio*

              It’s a tough subject. I still carry a lot of guilt for never reporting the people who made my childhood hell and I can torture myself with wondering how many others there were after me. It’s distressingly common among people who are victims of many different things.
              Ideally all offenses would be challenged and reported by everyone aware of them, witnesses and victims. But it’s not a realistic expectation. Reporting means reliving and also requires making yourself vulnerable to a stranger (HR, police or whoever) while already feeling exposed.

          2. boof*

            It’s not a moral obligation to hurt yourself for other possible future people; and that’s what why the cautious language; reporting this kind of thing can be risky on various levels.
            But it is appreciated and great if you can for the above reasons; but we do have to be careful to encourage reporting in a supportive way without veering into guilt trip territory.

          3. Poppy*

            Last time I reported creeps to HR they told them who reported them, my boss got angry for not going to her (she refused to deal with one incident that happened in front of her) and I was shunned by my department and moved to another location (which ended up being a good thing with less toxicity). Reporting harassment is not always just rainbows and justice.

            1. lyngend (canada)*

              yeah, I had one coworker be sexually assulted by another coworker. My manager didn’t investigate it, and because she claimed not to believe it, couldn’t understand why the victim refused to work with the other coworker. And my manager’s boss was told by her boss not to bother investigating it. She was basically forced out of the job after that. And I was eventually made aware that other coworkers in the following years were made to feel uncomfortable by him, including myself (I reported to the boss. But mine was a “this could have been innocent but felt gross” situation. He was put on suspension and medical leave after getting into a fight with a shoplifter and then bring in a doctors note saying he should not be expected to speak to people especially managers at work.)

            2. 1-800-BrownCow*

              Ugh, exactly.

              My paid college internship one summer (I work in a male dominant field), there was an almost retired male employee on the team who made sexual comments about my body the entire summer, in front of several other male employees. I never reported it because I was told that I would likely be let go so the company wouldn’t have to investigate and I needed the job and money. So instead I kept my mouth shut and endured the harassement.

              Another job I was working at while finishing up school, a male coworker showed other coworkers some nude sketches he made and told them it was me in the sketches. Someone told me and I confronted him and he said yes, they were supposed to be of me, showed me the sketches (they weren’t obvious it was me, he wasn’t very talented), and said he thought I would feel complimented. I went straight to the owner/manager, who had already been shown the sketches, and his reaction was “Oh. So, why are you telling me? Do you not like them?” Yeah, that was all the further it went. He did nothing about it and again, I needed the job and the money, so I didn’t say anything more.

          4. sundae funday*

            I disagree that victims have a “moral obligation” to speak up. I used to think they did, until I realized how often it harms the victim and the creeps get away with it, anyway.

            The book Say My Name by Chanel Miller is what really opened my eyes. She was put on trial more than her rapist was.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I got a long text from my manager about how important I was to the company and that he really appreciated my hard work etc. Except that it came late at night on the weekend when I hadn’t been at work for several days. I showed it to my partner and they thought that the manager might be drunk or drinking when he sent it. I didn’t respond and the manager never mentioned it when I was back at work. Personally, I found it creepy but at the time I knew I was leaving the job (my manager didn’t know it yet) and didn’t have the energy to escalate it. Just another reason I was glad to see the end of that job.

        3. ferrina*

          Yeah. A lot of these dudes fly under the radar because the people they creep on feel weird saying something. If you are in a safe position to say something, please do! It 1) gives authorities the information and evidence they need and 2) could help the next person he creeps on, who may not be in a safe position.

          Necessary caveat: If you are not in a safe position (either physically or because reprisal or other consequences would cause damage), then please prioritize your safety. Do what you need to in order to be safe.

        1. rachel :)*

          It doesn’t really matter what gender E is — in fact, this rhetoric is something I’ve heard most from other women! And it’s not E’s fault for believing it; it’s a really common response to someone detailing harassment/abuse. It’s a well-intentioned but unfair. It’s also sadly a bit ill-informed: in many, MANY cases, reporting does nothing aside from create a headache (or worse, retraumatization) for the victim. LW shouldn’t have the burden of going through a process that could entail retaliation or further harassment — hopefully not! but that’s the case in some places! — just for the hope that this guy’s behavior is controlled. Like I said in another comment, it would be awesome if this guy faced consequences for his behavior, but let’s not make it the LW’s fault if that doesn’t happen.

          1. clueless*

            Thank you rachel for your point of view and your insight. A friend of mine was also a victim of sexual harassment and i couldn’t understand why she did not want to report it. We talked about it and i accepted her decision and opinion without pressing the matter any further. But i couldn’t understand it… Now i have a better understanding what might be the reason behind her decision.

          2. Random Dice*

            The one time I reported the creepy guy who all the women warned each other about, I lost my job – after he went out of his way to make me uncomfortable. He’s still there, in leadership.

            1. Pippa K*

              I’m so sorry. I’ve been in a similar position of watching my harassers and bullies enjoy continued professional security and advantage, and it’s just so demoralizing. I hope you ended up in a much better workplace.

            2. Blackcat*

              Yep, even absent concerns about emotional trauma for targets of sexual harassment, it’s so, so common to be retaliated against for reporting. It’s illegal, sure, but that doesn’t stop it.

              If someone doesn’t trust their leadership, my advice for harassment is always gtfo. Maybe report on the way out. But in many places, reporting just results in negative consequences for the target, and not the perpetrator.

          3. Smithy*

            100% this.

            I will also add here that in cases where I reported problematic situations to a wonderful boss when there was a grand boss who was also wonderful – the boss of the problematic person did everything in his power to ensure the person I was complaining against was protected. So the “solution” was that I’d never have to work with him again, but he remained hired and had a whole group of “buffers” hired who had to suffer through his assorted unprofessional behavior.

            Sure, I was believed and my situation was remedied – but it’s almost impossible to say that beyond that anyone else was truly protected.

          4. AnonForThis*

            Another thing to keep in mind is that sexual harassment/assault takes power away from the victim by denying them the ability to make choice.

            Telling the victim that they *have* to take a certain path from there (such as reporting) might seem empowering, but it is another way of telling them their choices don’t matter.

          5. just some guy*

            A reframe that might be helpful for people who are frustrated about victims not reporting harassment/etc.:

            You can’t pressure or guilt-trip somebody else into reporting, when they don’t feel safe doing so. But you *can* work to make yourself the kind of person who people will feel safe reporting to. That’s a long road and not an easy one, but it’s a better chance to change things, and it doesn’t involve making things even worse for somebody who’s already in a bad place.

      2. octopodes*

        I do think it’s good to remember not to speak in absolutes about what a victim of harassment “must” do, but in the case of this letter, LW specifically mentioned that they would feel fine talking to their boss about it: “talk to my boss (who is amazing and I would feel comfortable talking about this with)”

        In which case, it doesn’t seem wrong to strongly encourage them to do so.

        1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

          It’s not the fact of whether or not the LW feels comfortable reporting, it’s just that every time someone says, ‘you need to report it, so it doesn’t happen to other women’ reads as ‘you are personally responsible for defending and protecting other women from this harassment.’ A better way of encouraging in my mind is to tell LW that she is not overthinking this, yes, this was harassing to YOU, and YOU deserve to have a workplace where you don’t feel uncomfortable. It happened to HER not to all of woman kind, she is the one that needs support, she doesn’t need to be giving the support in addition to dealing with the affects of being harrassed.

          Question though, if he sent this to a guy and he was uncomfortable with is, would we tell the guy that he needs to speak up to ensure that it doesn’t happen to another guy, or would we just tell him that he needs to report harassment in the workplace?

      3. Caroline*

        The OP has not remotely mentioned feeling unsafe. She was literally asking for advice on what to do, as in, wants to make it go away, isn’t sure of the right way to proceed.

        It is a valid point that by getting him on the radar, he will be on notice that his little ruse is gross and that management knows about it, thus helping the OP AND ALSO any future, less confident women he may decide to target.

        For me, going back and saying ”no thank you!” and then forwarding on to line manager would be as much time and energy as I’d be prepared to dedicate to Creeper.

        1. Dancing Elaine*

          You think Creeper can’t find out her address? What if he’s fired over this? Lots to consider.

          1. EPLawyer*

            If he is fired over this — that’s on him. All he literally had to do was NOT sending the link to his etchings, I mean photos.

            The advice to report is always with the unspoken term of — if you feel safe and comfortable doing so. Obviously no one wants someone to put themselves in danger or relive trauma just for the moral high ground. But it is true, if no one reports it, nothing will ever change. It’s a balancing act.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              “The advice to report is always with the unspoken term of — if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.”

              This is not the case in my experience – and even if that were the case, a so-called unspoken term does nothing for people who aren’t able to read between the proverbial lines. Autistic folks are already more likely to be the target of discrimination and we are frequently met with gaslighting when we speak up. It’s another instance of ask culture vs. guess culture, with an added layer of stigma.

            2. Dancing Elaine*

              People can do violent things when fired. That’s my point. I could not care less if creep gets fired. I had a stalker during grad school and I was afraid every single day he would show up at my house. I reported to the Uni who did nothing. It only got worse. So it’s up to the individual.

          2. ferrina*

            There’s a lot of hypotheticals to consider, and the risk factors will be different in each situation (do they work together often? how much political capital do they each have? what’s her manager like?).

            There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and each person should weigh the risks based on their situation (and trust their gut- sometimes we pick up on things we’re not consciously aware of). If it’s safe, making people aware that Creeper is creeping can have the right outcome.

            I worked in a place where a department head had sexually assaulted his direct report. The CEO swept it under the rug (he was not a good person), but the person who was assaulted notified all other females to watch out for him. Once the women knew, they let the men know, and everyone else at the company refused to work with the assaulter. CEO had no choice but to fire him. The person who had reported it moved on with her career, and the assaulter never took other steps (and it took years before he found another job). It was horrible and stressful, but some repercussions did come eventually.

          3. I'm A Little Teapot*

            Why are you concerned if a creeper creeps and faces consequences? There are consequences to behavior, and it is reasonable for individuals to face those consequences. If they don’t like it, then they need to change their behavior.

            1. This Old House*

              FWIW, I read Dancing Elaine’s question about Creeper being fired to indicate concern for OP’s safety if he were to escalate at that point, NOT any worry that being fired would be an inappropriate consequence for his behavior.

              1. Dancing Elaine*

                TY so much. I would never defend a creep. I reported a creep and things only got worse. I wish the best for the OP.

            2. Panhandlerann*

              I don’t think the commenter was saying that the creeper wouldn’t deserve to be fired but rather the commenter is concerned about the welfare of the whistle-blower should the creeper be fired and then find out the phone number (or location) of the whistle-blower and try to seek vengeance of some sort on them.

            3. Dancing Elaine*

              I don’t care if he is fired. Obviously. Fired people who are unbalanced can become unstable. It’s up to OP what she wants to do.

      4. ecnaseener*

        LW explicitly tells us that she feels comfortable telling her boss. No need to jump down anyone’s throat for saying “please do this thing you’re comfortable doing.”

        1. Totally Minnie*

          That’s not what Fikly said. It’s not the job of anyone to advocate for other members of a marginalized group they belong to. If people are willing and able to do so, that’s great. But there are situations in which acting on the behalf of possible future victims can cause a lot of harm to a person who has already been victimized.

          Ideally, more men would step up and tell their friends and coworkers to stop being creepers. That shouldn’t be something exclusively handled by women. Members of dominant groups need to be more responsible for keeping their people from causing harm, not the other way around.

          It’s not an issue for this LW, who already said she’s comfortable talking to her boss about the harassment. But it’s good to keep in mind that statements like “think of all the other people he might harm” can cause a lot of guilt and stress for people who have already been harmed.

      5. MissElizaTudor*

        There are definitely are some forms of this comment that are a victim blaming, like “If you don’t do this, then it’s your fault if he does it again” or “if you don’t report this you’re a bad person,” so I get why this comment pattern matches to things like that.

        But this particular comment doesn’t have that victim blaming tone. It isn’t victim blaming to encourage someone who feels comfortable reporting (as this LW does) to do so, and to point out that even if they don’t want to do it for themselves, it could also help other people. The comment could have used a line about it not being their responsibility to make it clear, but the lack of that doesn’t make it victim blaming.

      6. KT8*

        As a woman – if this guy sent me this type of stuff and I go report (which I 100% would immediately) and I later found out he sent it to other women before me and no one did said anything about it I’d be furious. She says she feels comfortable speaking to her boss and it is the right thing to do. People here love to catastrophize every situation (the commentator saying the coworker would go find her address and insinuating he’d harm her ???).

        This isn’t the first time he’s done it and unless he faces consequences, it won’t be the last. OP please report this, it actually delegitimizes real victim-blaming for you to say that’s what this is

        1. Random Dice*

          It’s not catastrophizing to expect the thing to happen that virtually every woman has experienced firsthand. (Woman reporting male harassment receiving more blowback than the man.)

        2. AnonForThis*

          “it actually delegitimizes real victim-blaming for you to say that’s what this is”

          Can we please not do this? In my SA Survivor’s group, we had a few ground rules:
          1) Don’t try to figure out who’s trauma is “legitimate” or greatest;
          2) Don’t tell others what they have to do (or tell them that an abuser’s future actions are their fault if they don’t);
          3) Believe each other

          I did not to report the person I was assaulted by. It’s the choice that was right for me. I wasn’t responsible for his actions at the time, and I’m not responsible for his later actions.

        3. lyngend (canada)*

          As a woman, who has been the victim of CSA and sexual harassment at work, I wouldn’t. because I know what it’s like to not feel safe reporting things like this. I’ve seen people report it, and have it ignored or minimized.
          At my last job, people reported the behavior and were told they just had to get the customer to hang up. We couldn’t escalate it to a client facing supervisor (the supervisor was not on the same team as our management). Took 6 months of the guy only talking to women for him to get shut down. I had a conversation about this with my manager, when we went over our call handling policies, and pointed out that what the client did was sexual harassment. he didn’t want to agree with me.
          I’d tried to point it out in training that it was sexual harassment, but the manager at that point played “I’m not linking the 2 behaviors” and I was afraid of being fired.

        4. lyngend (canada)*

          I strongly disagree, as I’ve seen several instances of sexual harassment reports get completely ignored. and the women handling the issues made to feel bad for not wanting to deal with the creeps anymore

      7. Random Dice*

        LW1 wrote in below, she reported and it was taken seriously. (“Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*”)

      8. Observer**

        Stop telling women (or other groups who are victimized) to do things on behalf of other members of their group.

        It is a form of victim blaming

        No. No, it is not.

        In fact, I would say the reverse is true. What is actual victim blaming is the idea that the only people who need to speak up are the people who are at fault. Which means that anyone who speaks up is now tainted with the blame. And even if someone gets past that, it’s a HUGE disincentive – an ACTIVE disincentive – to speak up.

        People should only take actions they feel safe doing so.

        Sure, but that’s a whole separate discussion. No one is saying that the OP is obligated to blow up her career or risk her safety. But she does have a moral obligation to consider what steps she CAN take safely, and do what makes sense.

        I’m not going to say that the OP is a terrible person if she doesn’t report it. But the issue she is having with reporting it is not about her safety but about not wanting to escalate “too much” and being nice “enough”. (Those are not her words – the quotes about the kinds of tropes women deal with all the time.)

        She doesn’t need to hear anything that would feed that narrative! Talking to her boss is NOT “too much” or a disproportionately large escalation. In fact, it *is* the actively right thing to do.

        What I do TOTALLY agree with you on is that she has absolutely zero obligation here to do anything here to make things easier for this guy, or smooth things out, give him “chances” etc. She doesn’t owe him a conversation or even a warning about this. She doesn’t owe him a second time or a shred of mental energy.

      9. MigraineMonth*

        Thank you for this.

        The person being sexually harassed is not responsible for the harasser’s actions, in the present or the future.

        If you feel that it would be safe and effective to lodge a complaint, and it would help your healing to do so, I support you. If not, there is zero “moral obligation” to put yourself through even more than you’ve already been through.

    2. rachel :)*

      With all due respect, the idea that the target of harassment has an obligation to protect others is pretty unfair. LW should not have the burden of fielding this inappropriate comment AND doing the work to fix this guy’s inappropriate behavior.

      I hope LW will do what makes them feel most comfortable. It would be awesome if there were consequences for this guy’s actions, but let’s not put it on the LW to see that through.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Not an obligation, no, but it should be part of the equation IMO. If a small effort on my part now will save other women harassment later, and if I have the capacity for that small effort, then yeah, I should seriously consider doing it.

        Also, a lot of women wouldn’t think it’s worth the trouble for themself but would for others. For example, in this case it would be a whole lot easier for OP to just delete the message and move on with her life. Reporting doesn’t help her much for herself; the harm is already done and not really THAT big a deal. But when you realize that there are other women involved too, yeah that changes the math a bit.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      She shouldn’t feel obligated to do this, but she should feel like she’s on very square ground to insist he knocks this off, and that he is dealt with.

    4. JSPA*

      LW1: Seconding E’s plea that you tell someone (boss or HR), with the qualifying proviso, “it would be a kindness to humanity and a selfless act, if you can handle doing so, and have no reason to believe they’re just as problematic.”

      Even if he [random handwaving about how he mistook you for someone else who’s asked him about photography; comes from a nudity-is-normal culture, and has somehow never been introduced to business norms; thought it was appropriate because he wants to expand into graphic design; meant to send a link to his landscape portfolio; whatever] the act of having sent that link is still not OK.

      In the highly unlikely event that he has some plausible reasoning (he can prove he’s been slack-chatting with Julie Jams who’s new in accounting and does body-paint art photography, while OP is Jullie James who’s new in code development, and both women mentioned having a new chow puppy) … he can sort that out with the boss (or HR) in ways that are irritating and stressful for him, not for you.

      His mail doesn’t “win” further contact with you, nor the right to chase you incrementally out of shared spaces to avoid further contact, by making part of the workspace skeevier with his link-bombing.

      FWIW, I love body art, nude beaches, hot springs, mixed-gender sauna, the egalitarianism of drawing clubs where members take turns posing as nude as comfortable, and reading “oh joy sex toy.” And I find this skeevy and boundary-crossing by default. (Meaning, if there’s a non-skeevy excuse, it’s on him to prove it–to a humorless third party who can make it clear that, hell no, this isn’t work-appropriate.)

    5. Tired Lady*

      This is pretty misguided. In many work situations it definitely isn’t safe to report this sort of behavior at all. LW is in no way obligated to say anything for themselves even and definitely not for other people.

      I can guarantee you at my place of work, reporting something like this would just make lots of trouble for me. I have reported inappropriate behavior at work before (not often mind you… only in situations where I thought it was pretty cut and dry – spoiler… apparently I was wrong it’s always the woman’s fault for taking it the wrong way) and all I’ve ever seen done was me being told “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way” and the offender having zero consequence (like still works there, no write up, not even really any investigation, continues to harass women; just “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way”).

      I have one coworker that thinks the only way to retain women in the workplace is with flexible work arrangements for childcare, but 2/3 of the women in his current little workplace don’t even have children and currently hate it there (variety of reasons).

      I’ve also been told these two things in the same meeting: that I need to “assume positive intent” when I feel like a certain colleague is talking down to me but that I also need to watch my tone because it makes that same colleague uncomfortable when I “speak too aggressively”. So the women have to put up with condescending tones but also adjust their tone so as to not offend the delicate sensibilities of the men they work with.

      I’m sure that there are men out there that truly advocate for the women they work with, but I currently couldn’t name one among the men I work with. This attitude towards women is still alive and well in corporate America.

      The positive intent thing is a current buzzword in my group that is almost exclusively applied to the women in the group.

      Our workplace male:female ratio is about 3:1 so definitely a male dominated group.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Agreed, in some cases it literally makes it worse on you at work, and it is sadly on the OP to determine whether or not she (most likely it’s a she–I doubt some rando dude would send his porn collection to another dude) wants to attempt to stop him, report him, or just block him online and move on with her life.

      2. beecee*

        At my (all-female-identifying) workplace, we actually have struck “assume positive intent” from any norms-setting discussions for this very reason. In my opinion, it’s a sugar-coated way of moving any accountability of harm away from the speaker/perpetrator/whomever.

        1. Lily*

          Oh good.
          My spouse worked in a place that had an “assume positive intent” policy (in writing!). A verbally abusive co-worker was treated like a victim whenever someone spoke to management about the co-worker’s craptastic behavior.
          Yet other co-workers were written up for “insubordination” after simply asking about the rationale behind a change in policy or procedure.
          After a few years with this “assume positive intent” policy, the place was toxic, the non-crappy employees either kept their heads down and their mouths, left the place, or were looking for work elsewhere.
          Of course, the few crappy employees (including in management) are still there, because why should they change?

          1. Snell*

            Why wouldn’t TPTB assume the “insubordinate” employees had positive intent when they asked about policy/procedure? I know, I know…

        2. Willow Pillow*

          “Assume positive intent” gets used both ways against me and it’s infuriating. I am autistic and I have been accused of poor judgment, nitpicking, defensiveness, etc. – meanwhile the people making such accusations are projecting their own actions. Harmful things are done to me with good intent all the time, on the other hand, and while I don’t take anything personally there’s often such a struggle to accept “impact matters over intent”.

          Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who understands that I can assume positive intent, still be harmed, and it be their responsibility to address. Ugh.

        3. whingedrinking*

          I’ve never heard that particular phrasing in official policy before, and I’m morbidly amusing myself by imagining how far it could go before you couldn’t find any possible positive motivation.
          Alex screams profanity at her coworkers every day? It’s a weird joke.
          Bailey pees in the potted plants? He’s trying to water them.
          Carson exposes themself to the cleaning staff? Probably in their culture that’s a friendly greeting.
          Dylan stabbed the CEO with a sharpened toothbrush? Dylan’s primary love language is violence.

        4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

          I am reading this sub-thread about “assume positive intent” with great interest because my employer has this as a written behavioral requirement that we are supposed to demonstrate. This problematic aspect had not occurred to me, but of course – you guys are absolutely right. Light dawns. My employer is a “boys club”, with the top level almost entirely men. They also have a problem with accountability. Of course “assume positive intent” can be used as justification to ignore bad behavior, harassment, bullying, etc. Ug… Can’t believe I didn’t see this before.

      3. Bluetooth speaker*

        But she specifically says that she would feel comfortable going to her boss and is in fact asking if she should. It’s not crazy for a commenter to say yes, that’s a great idea. There’s no indication that she feels unsafe here.

        The safety of reporting it at a different person’s workplace is completely irrelevant. She is comfortable repoting it to her boss.

        1. Jamjari*

          Exactly. For this particular letter in this particular scenario (LW feels comfortable talking to their boss) – the advice stands. And the more people who do speak up when they feel comfortable to do so, the less creeps feel they can get away with creeping.

      4. I need a new name*

        Tired Lady–some of what you wrote (assume positive intent, tone policing, etc.) is SO SIMILAR to what I experienced from BullyBoss at toxic OldJob. I made the critical mistake of going to HR (for other reasons, and really for trying to protect an area of business I was responsible for, and some of my staff as well as myself) about BullyBoss. It was so bad, another person also came forward about him.

        Spoiler Alert: He’s still there and been promoted. He’s The GoldenBoy. I and the other individual were soundly thrashed by HR for having a baseless claim, with the org lawyer cc’d on the responses. I ended up rage resigning a couple months later. I am happily at #NewJob.

        Now, I went to HR because BullyBoss’s behavior was negatively impacting me, my [haha surprise!] other woman colleagues, and potentially threatening relationships with clients. I don’t regret doing what I did, but the blow-back was pretty unpleasant for me professionally and ultimately resolved nothing.

        1. I need a new name*

          I don’t regret doing what I did *and probably would do it again in the same situation* but…

    6. Rex Libris*

      Yes, please say something, if you’re able. There is no innocent spin on “Hey coworker I’ve only met once, did you know I take nude photos? Here, have some.” Either he’s a creep who enjoys making people uncomfortable, or a creep where this is his equivalent of hitting on you.

      As a manager, I can tell you that sending explicit photos to a coworker would likely be instant firing with our organization, but we’d have to know it happened. It’s harassment and it’s unacceptable. You should not, not ever, not because it’s his hobby, not because anything, have to deal with someone throwing something that inappropriate at you. I’m sorry you work somewhere that this guy has somehow managed to remain employed.

    7. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      I did end up telling my boss and HR! I’m lucky to have a very supportive boss (who is also a woman, which definitely helped me feel comfortable) and an HR department that immediately responded and told me “this is absolutely inappropriate and we really appreciate you telling us, we will deal with it.” They also both said that they appreciated me coming forward in case it had happened to anyone else.

      For what it’s worth, for a lot of reasons I feel like the likelihood of retaliation from my company or this guy is very very small (with the guy, we live on separate continents, so if he was going to escalate this to in-person it would be… difficult and probably nothing I did or didn’t do would stop it at that point). And so far my company has been very supportive! Obviously the event sucked, but overall the rest of the situation has gone about as well as can be expected, which isn’t true for everyone!

      Anyway, thank you for your comment!

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        So glad to hear it! FWIW, I disagree w/Alison that you should even consider responding to Creepy Photog. He wants a response; he isn’t getting it. Good. And SO glad to hear your boss/HR are handling it.

        1. KN*

          I had the same reaction. Of course there are many things to consider (e.g., if LW expected the workplace to take an attitude of “you have to talk to him first”–great to hear they didn’t!), but intuitively a lack of response felt better. Because I bet anything LW said, whether blatantly calling him out or acting faux-confused, would lead to protests of that not being what he meant, etc. etc., and him getting to play the victim while knowing LW was dealing with the burden of crafting a reply.

          Also, there’s something satisfying about friendly comment –> friendly response, followed by creepy link –> total blanking. Reminds me of training a dog. (But obviously better with the reporting & reinforcement from above him!)

        2. Qwerty*

          The point of sending a response is more for documentation by creating a record that you DID object to the messages at the time. When I had a similar situation of an inappropriate email, my HR rep guided me on writing a response (something like “This is inappropriate. Do not send me messages like this again”) and then took over the process once I hit “send”.

          It makes it easier to let the person go if the situation warrants it and allows the person being harassed to be left out of the resulting investigation / fall out.

        3. Sopranohannah*

          Way in the back of my twisted brain, I’d want to send a reply with dry criticism of the lighting and composition that said nothing of the explicit subjects. Then console him that some quality photography equipment has good resale value. Smack him in the face with his mediocrity not his creepiness.

          Why brain? Why?

      2. Pants*

        I’m glad you reported it and that your boss is a woman and understands.

        I think there’s probably .000001% chance his intentions weren’t creepy. I really hope it doesn’t happen again with him or anyone else. If it does, you could come back with: “I think you attached the wrong link. This one leads to a page of women that would certainly be inappropriate to send out to any coworkers, especially a female one.” The only way he could come back from that is to apologise really. If he said it was the right link, it completely confirms his crap behaviour and his imminent firing for sexual harassment.

      3. ferrina*

        Yay! So glad that your boss is supportive and that your company is taking steps. Thanks for the quick update!

      4. Despachito*

        Great that you did it!

        My earlier comment got eaten somehow, but in my country there have been several harassment cases lately, and unfortunately the first victim who was brave enough to accuse the perpetrator was only believed only after other and other women kept coming to the police to tell that he did the same to them. So there is some strength in unity, and if anyone can afford to tell on the creep and does so, it increases the chances of the creep being punished.

        I am very sorry that it (still) takes this and that the first victim to speak has to bear the ugly brunt of not being believed, and I do sincerely hope that we will get over this to a stage when it is not needed anymore to establish a pattern of thirty victims before they are believed, but from what I am witnessing right I can see that it helps very much if a pattern can be established, and it makes difficult for the creep to deny it.

    8. Molly Coddler*

      i wish we could fulfill all our moral obligations to women who come after us. but the price for the person complaining can be too high. it shouldn’t be that way. but it is. as i age it’s easier for me to call things out (and i am a survivor of SA too, and have cPTSD) because i have less to lose. i’m at the end of my career and know how much is actually bs. a colleague of mine who was sexually harassed by the dept head’s hubs is in her early 20’s, beginning of her career, and those two are considered experts in a certain field. so she says nothing because she wants to have a job someday. she wants to not be known as “that woman who ruined soandso’s life”, etc. and that hubs has harassed MANY women and it’s actually the powers that be that keep moving him around from dept to dept instead of telling him to knock it off because his wife is one of the powers that be. so yes. morally it would be the right thing to do. but not everyone can or should live with the consequences of doing the right thing. you can’t pay with morality at the bank sadly. i can’t report it for her because it’s not for me to ruin someone else’s life (hers). i hate what i just wrote. but it is how it is. ugly and wrong and i work to change what i can.

    1. Cmdrshprd*

      For LW1 even if it had just been nature shots, I still think it would be a bit weird to essentially share a page of your photography with a random coworker who you have not talked about it before during general conversation.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        Yes, I’d assume he was trying to flirt with me, in a “do you want to see my etchings” kind of way.

        1. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

          I made this exactly joke to my partner when it happened – it truly was out of nowhere and even a non-sleazy link would have felt extremely strange.

          1. A sucker for updates*

            Please send this as an update so that everyone gets to read it! I think everyone would be glad to hear that’s how it turned out.

          2. Employee of the Bearimy*

            I would bet a substantial amount of money that if you had responded in any remotely positive way the next message from him would have been an invitation to “model” for his “portfolio.”

      2. irene adler*

        Exactly! Seems terribly pushy without having lead-up discussions about hobbies and other get-to-know -you chats one has with co-workers. And, I would expect “would you like to see some of my work?” before sending links to the hobby.

        I hope there won’t be any plausible deniability claim here if this person is called out (“but I was only trying to help co-worker get to know me better via sharing my hobby!”).

        1. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

          I was a little worried about the plausible deniability claim, since I’m a very bubbly, friendly person and definitely tried to get to know all these guys when I saw them in person so that they would feel more comfortable reaching out for work products (easier to request something from a coworker you know than a name in a Slack window!) but thankfully when I showed the messages to HR they were like “this is very clearly inappropriate and out of nowhere.”

          1. Tired of being touched*

            I experienced something similar and he did come back with plausible deniability. I’m okay with that because now he knows that his bosses are aware and he will stop doing that. Thank you for saying something! I told my boss about my experience jokingly and she had experienced the same thing with him a few years previously and it pushed her to report it because now he can’t continue with plausible deniability.

      3. Wintermute*

        Exactly! I ASKED to see a co-worker’s photography once (it was desert nature photography, and I’m really into photography as well and we’d discussed our interests together) but even then it was after several conversations not right up front that he felt comfortable sharing. I couldn’t imagine sending it unsolicited.

        1. Gumby*

          That reminds me of a former co-worker who made calendars every year. He’d do things like track the tides and phases of the moon and who knows what else so he could get up at 3 a.m. and drive to the perfect place on the coast / in the mountains / wherever to catch an amazing sunrise / perfect shot of the moon / etc. The photos were beautiful and all but the amount of effort he put into getting them was phenomenal.

      4. aebhel*

        Yeah – if the photography was something completely innocent, I’d assume it was a fairly clumsy but harmless attempt at flirting, but sending your coworker nude photos (even if they aren’t nude photos of you!) is really weird and creepy in almost every context.

      5. Corporate Lawyer*

        100% agree. As someone with an amateur photography blog (which contains 0 racy photos, unless you count photos of my cat displaying her pretty belly), I would never send a link to a coworker, or anyone else, apropos of nothing. If we had been discussing photography or if I had a photo on my blog that related to something we were discussing? Sure, I might send you a link and refer to that specific discussion. But never out of the blue with no context, because that would be weird and possibly creepy.

    2. lilsheba*

      That guy is definitely acting like a creepy predator, with no sense of boundaries. Personally I would ignore it and if it persisted he would definitely be reported.

    3. E*

      Agreed but curious why Alison wouldn’t recommend going to HR? I would think a good idea to get this on record in case creepy guy does it to others

  5. JMR*

    I had the same observation as LW#5 as well! I think that often, what happens is that a person fixates on a single issue, and thinks that if only that one issue could be solved, their life would be much better. And then in the process of working through that one issue, and with the help of Alison’s advice, the letter writer realizes that the problems run deeper, and the thing the person was writing about is just an easy scapegoat.

    1. Mongrel*

      I also feel that the responses can be the wake-up call to the writer that they have, in fact, normalised that their work place is a toxic cesspit full of bees as their version of ‘normal’ has been so skewed.

      Another one that catches a lot of people off guard if you’re unfamiliar with it is toxic positivity, we’re socially coded to sweep away a lot of crap if the person is ‘nice’

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        Agreed. Sometimes you need a poke from someone outside the situation to make you see it more clearly. it can finally force you to admit that your gut feelings were right, or if you were thinking about leaving but afraid to take the step, confirm that it’s the right move to make.

  6. Sammakko*

    LW1. Northern European here. Yes, we are way more relaxed when it comes to nudity compared to Americans. That being said, there is no cultural disconnect here what so ever; this would be highly inappropriate in any Northern European country. Being nude with family or friends in sauna/swimming pool or smth like that – normal. Sending sexual/nudity stuff to coworkers – not normal.

    Just saying to make it clear that this guy is just a regular creep so there is no need to try to be kinder to him due to his cultural background.

    1. Violet Fox*

      This all of this. It has *nothing* to do with cultural background and everything to do with being a creep.

    2. Caroline*

      Great take! I know lots of people of N European origin, all of whom are very happy with naked mixed-gender saunas and so on, and not one of them would think that what this dude did was fine and dandy.

    3. Dutch person*

      I came here to say this. I’m from the Netherlands and we are not afraid of nude pictures, but sending those to a random colleague would be seen as weird here and given the last few years everyone *should* be aware that it is also inappropriate for the workplace.

    4. Tomato Soup*

      Yeah. We’re a lot more comfortable with nudity in non-sexual situations like saunas or doctor’s office (no flimsy gowns, just naked). However, sending a colleague photos with a sexual tone is not ok

      1. Malarkey01*

        Not to derail this but I worked in Norway and Finland for awhile and find the differences fascinating but never went to a doctor. Do you just go into the exam room and strip down and wait on the table? Or is there a sheet or just undress if needed while the doctor/nurse are in the room with you?

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I can answer for Germany: so usually you talk to the doctor about your problems clothed first, lol. Then if necessary, they’ll tell you to disrobe and what part.

          So for example at the dermatologist for a general mole check, he’d just tell me to disrobe and then I stand there naked until he’s done. Undress in the room with him, but he’s doing paperwork, not watching. Gynecologists often do two steps (disrobe top for breast exam, then put top back on and disrobe lower half for rest) and often have a curtain to undress/dress behind. For other specialities I’ve just been asked to free the relevant parts as needed (like just my stomach or whatever).

          1. Magpie*

            In my experience this is true in Canada as well – no flimsy paper gowns, just disrobing as necessary for the exam – but this could also just be how my particular doctor, a Swede, does things.

    5. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      My initial reaction (which is when I wrote to Allison) was definitely colored by a lot of shame and trying to make excuses for what could have made this happen, so I was clutching at straws to find an explanation that wasn’t “he decided to do something to make me uncomfortable.” In retrospect, it was unreasonable and unfair of me to try to chalk this up to him being Northern European – obviously, being more comfortable with nudity does not translate to being a creep at work! Sorry for casting aspersions and thank you for commenting!

      1. cAPSLOCK*

        No need to apologise (another Northern European here), no offence taken and I think most women completely understand your impulse to try to explain it away – I certainly do. Sorry again you had to deal with a creep. Always sucks.

    6. No Longer Looking*

      Thanks for providing the insight! Over here in the US we mostly only know about Page 3 Girls and nudity in ads and on beaches being acceptable over there.

  7. Teatime is Goodtime*

    Nudity in Europe is not a thing like it is in the States. I totally understand where the reactions here are coming from–he might be a creepy, boundary stomping dude!–but he might not be. I’ve worked with plenty of folks here in Europe who would ping this American spidey sense who really really aren’t problematic in real life.

      1. Been There*

        This. I wouldn’t even expect a link to a normal IG profile from a coworker without having discussed either IG, photography or the contents beforehand.

        1. Myrin*

          Yes! Even if his photography had indeed been of beautiful scenery, I’d find this situation incredibly weird (and possibly creepy even then, depending on the “vibes” I got, but I’d be more inclined to answer with a “I think you accidentally sent this to the wrong person” first).

      1. Teatime is Goodtime*

        Yes, you are right. I am sorry. I find it hard to read the villifying comments and I think it is absolutely plausible that there is a cultural disconnect here, even moreso than the hobby part. That’s the perspective I was trying to bring here. But also that isn’t universal, apparently, as seen below.

        1. boof*

          I disagree, these were per the LW attractive photos of women – clearly it’s not just a relaxed standard of dress because if it was there’d be photos of all kinds of people, not just photos that happen to fit LWs demographic
          Anyway plenty of other northern europeans commenting that no this is inappropriate there too

        2. bamcheeks*

          I find it hard to read the villifying comments

          It’s always good to reflect on who you find it easy to empathise with and why.

        3. Redaktorin*

          “But I felt SO STRONGLY!!1” is not a great excuse for deliberately ignoring the stated rules for posting, FWIW.

        4. NoHamAndNoWine*

          No one is “vilifying” this person. If anything, he vilified himself by sending unsolicited nudes at work.

        5. Antilles*

          But even if it IS a cultural disconnect, part of being an adult is that you’re expected to recognize that not all situations are the same and adjust your behavior accordingly.

        6. Fluffy Fish*

          No nope nada no way.

          Sending nude photos to someone AT WORK is not culturally acceptable anywhere. Commenters from countries where nudity is more normalized have literally chimed in and said its still would be out of bounds at work.

          They weren’t discussing hobbies. They weren’t discussing art.

          And guess what? Even if it was totally innocent it doesn’t matter. You know how people say offensive things and then when people get upset its “I was just joking”? Yeah this is along those lines.

          Impact matters, not intent. Im so tired of people justifying and minimizing and benefitting of the doubting the bad behavior women have to put up with.

          The culprit should not need to be told not to send racy photos to his coworkers. But here we are and he does.

        7. Dark Macadamia*

          So…. what’s your advice? Should LW accept unsolicited sexual images from a coworker in case he’s from a culture with different ideas about non-sexual nudity?

        8. Clobberin’ Time*

          Please take a hard look at why you find it so upsetting to hear this guy called a creep that you couldn’t restrain yourself – and why you continue to champion a “plausible” excuse that 1) everyone was explicitly told not to make and 2) multiple Northern European commenters have said is BS.

        9. Tesuji*

          A cultural disconnect is “I didn’t realize that sending naked pictures to someone could be seen as inappropriate.”

          It’s not “I completely understand that other people think that being shown naked pictures is inappropriate, but I don’t give any f__ks. *I* don’t think it’s inappropriate, and that’s what really matters.”

          That’s just being an AH.

          > I’ve worked with plenty of folks here in Europe who would ping this American spidey sense who really really aren’t problematic in real life.

          You should perhaps consider the possibility that they *are* problematic in real life. They’re just not being problematic to you.

          1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

            The number of guys who are baffled when they find out that multiple women of their acquaintance find That Guy creepy… YES DOUG, That Guy is a creep, but not to you, because That Guy is not into the Dougs of the world, just the Sallys.

          2. Distracted Librarian*

            “You should perhaps consider the possibility that they *are* problematic in real life. They’re just not being problematic to you.” THIS. It’s like how every woman knows someone who’s been raped, but most men claim they don’t know any rapists. Yeah, dude, trust me, you do. They’re just not doing it in front of you or to you.

        10. Barr*

          ? You can only “vilify” someone if they’re not already actually a creep/villain, really, themselves. Very strange choice of who to sympathize with here.

        11. Loch Lomond*

          Accurately describing someone’s inappropriate and creepy choices as inappropriate and creepy is not vilifying.

    1. Caroline*

      I live in Northern Europe (well, the U.K., which is somewhat more prudish than Scandinavia etc) and this guy’s actions are totally inappropriate no matter the country. Sending an unsolicited link of racy photos to a work colleague is inappropriate. The fact that they’ve only met once and the photography thing came out of nowhere makes it worse. Alison’s advice was spot on.

      1. londonedit*

        This. People in Northern Europe do not send other people links to collections of photos of nude women on a regular basis. This isn’t some ‘Oh, those Europeans, they’re so free and easy about nudity’. It’s creepy wherever he’s from.

      2. Stitch*

        Yes, there’s a HUGe difference between consensual casual nudity in particular situations and sending someone unsolicited racy photos at work.

      3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I’m Scandinavian and have lived in Scandinavia (although now I’m also in the UK) and I agree that this is inappropriate.

      4. allathian*

        I’m in Finland and we have a tradition of going to the sauna in mixed company and in the nude, although admittedly I’ve never done so with coworkers, just my friends, and other students when I was in college.

        But that doesn’t make it okay to send photos of naked people to others without their explicit consent.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      As a European, I very much disagree with this take. Yes, we have a different attitude towards nudity. We have more… non-sexual nudity, for example in saunas, nude beaches, common changing rooms, and in medical settings. We are more ok with nudity in art*. We are less shocked and more amused by accidental nudity.

      HOWEVER, sexualized nudity does exist here, and there’s a difference. We also have creeps who try to use plausible deniability of non-sexual nudity or “art” to sexually harrass. We know it when it happens, trust me. The gratuitousness and randomness of sending that link, at work (!) together with the lingerie and generally sexualized imagery, put it clearly over the line.

      * yes, “art” is going to be this guy’s defense. There’s a huge difference however between going to an art gallery, voluntarily, and there being nudes, and getting it sprung on you at work.

      1. Tau*

        Also my thought – I’m from Central, not Northern, Europe but people from Northern Europe have said the same elsewhere. Having a different attitude about non-sexual nudity does *not* mean that nonconsensually exposing coworkers to sexualized nudity at work isn’t still a huge problem.

        I mean, you can take the nudity out of it – would this be any more appropriate if it “just” stopped at lingerie pics?

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Both are wrong, but as a Midwesterner who grew up spending weekends at art museums, I actually find the idea of lingerie pics even creepier than nudes. In that case, it stops being about the beauty of the human form & about sexy ladies in their undies.

          I probably wouldn’t talk directly to the guy, but I would tell my manager. They’re paid to deal with that.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Honestly, even if it was “just” a gallery of photos of fully-clothed attractive women posing alluringly (think fashion magazine photoshoot stuff), it would still be potentially creepy. OP hadn’t said anything to this guy about being interested in photography, or modeling, or anything, so why is he sending her this?

      2. UKDancer*

        This so much. I’ve lived and worked in a range of European countries in North and Central Europe and you’re right there’s a different attitude to things like nudity on beaches and in saunas and it’s not usually viewed as a sexual thing.

        That’s completely different from operating in a professional setting. Sending someone unrequested sexualised art is almost certainly unacceptable everywhere I’ve worked.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          North Americans (I am one) seem to view (most?) nudity as inherently sexual. Like, there is a loud faction of people who object to breastfeeding in public. Because they think it’s sexual? Because it ruins them thinking of breasts as sexual/for men’s pleasure? I don’t know. But it’s weird.

          So it’s interesting to hear Europeans explain the difference there, with nudity being either sexual or non-sexual depending on the context. And that the context is generally pretty clear. Or at least it is in this case.

        2. Finn-ish*

          Here’s a thought experiment to clarify a bit: I would get naked with my same-gender coworkers in the context of a sauna and not bat an eye.

          But if someone wore lingerie into the sauna, I’d be super creeped out!!

          There are norms about what is non-sexual and sexual, and even in very-Northern-European countries w/different attitudes about nudity, sending nude and lingerie photos transgresses the norms and is not work-appropriate.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Lingerie isn’t the same thing as non sexual nudity though? He’s sent sexualised pictures, not “happens to be” nude pictures. Not that there’s anything wrong with sex! But it would be nice if women could go to work without it coming up.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Literally the only difference here is a lack of dicks, but otherwise yes, it’s unsolicited sexy pics AT WORK. Which isn’t okay in Europe either, sounds like.

        I suspect he wants to invite OP to pose, argggggggggggggh.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          That’s also where my mind went: next step he’ll invite her to “pose for his art”. That’s usually how this story goes. And yes, it’s sad that there’s a “usually” to this kind of story.

          1. Roy G. Biv*

            Yep. You know that was going to be the next thing. “You have such a great look. Have you ever modeled?”

          2. Ellis Bell*

            That is exactly what happened to a reporter friend after a photographer colleague happened to just mention he did glamour photography.

        2. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I was surprised how long I had to scroll before someone said this! It seemed very clear to me he wants to test the waters to see if she’s willing to end up on his grid and thus become part of the set of images he uses to creep on the *next* coworker he wants to photograph.

        3. I edit everything*

          Playing the long game, since they’re on different continents. Laying the groundwork for the next time they’re in person?

        4. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          I suspect he wants to invite OP to pose, argggggggggggggh.

          I was coming to post this very thing. My biggest artsy side hobby involves a lot of photography (usually posing in costume), so I’ve encountered dozens and dozens of men who just love taking pictures of women/femme AFAB’s. Literally 100% of the men who have “sexy lady” photos on their profiles are angling for one or both of two things whenever they hit me up about their photography:

          1: If there’s a chance we could cross paths IRL, they want me to strip down and “model” for them.
          2: They want me to send nudes.

          Seriously, I’ve never personally encountered an exception to this in the 25 years I’ve been doing themed costuming/photography. I’m sure a non-sleazy “tasteful nudes” photographer exists somewhere, but he hasn’t crossed my path of people I’ve met for myself.

          OP’s comment that this happened after meeting the man IRL just makes me more convinced that dude is looking to add to his spank bank/his ego-stroking “look at all these feeemales I got to pose for ME!” photo collection.

          1. Malarkey01*

            I do know a few “tasteful nude” photographers and here’s what’s interesting:
            a) they all happen to be women
            b) they are very protective of their subjects and are very intentional about comfort and consent of the subject or model- things like showing proofs and letting the model decide if they are or are not comfortable with the shot, letting the model dictate what they do and do not want to show during the shoot, never sharing those images with others unless the model specifically consents and doing it in a tasteful way
            c) their subjects are wide ranging and not just the traditional beauty standard and often are not posed sexually (there are exceptions when the photo is specifically supposed to be sexualized but it’s not the ONLY thing they shoot and is often the exception and not the norm.

            1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              never sharing those images with others unless the model specifically consents and doing it in a tasteful way

              This is a VERY interesting point! Only one time in my life did I agree to do a nude photoshoot for a guy photographer. It was when I was doing life modeling for colleges anyway, so it wasn’t an unusual ask for the time. Also, I was much younger and didn’t have the instincts I’ve since developed about detecting sleaze and saying no.

              Only one time doing nude shots with a male photographer, and that is the only time I’ve ever found the photos years later on his public profiles, when he’d agreed they’d never be shared outside of the college class project he was shooting them for.

              Unfortunately, I only found them after he’d passed away long before in a car accident, so I couldn’t even yell at him to take them down and about how inappropriate it was. It was a nightmare going through hosting services to get them removed, and some are still out there. Model Mayhem is every bit the gross, predatory site their r*pe scandal a few years back revealed them to be–just so all you other models out there know.

              So, yeah. This and many other experiences are why I hear the alarm bells go off if a guy uses his profiles to post nudes.

    4. Allonge*

      Even if sending such photos were acceptable in any work environment (none in Europe that I am aware of, after 40+ years of living here), it’s on him to adjust his behavior when sending it for random undisclosed reasons to women he knows are from the US. As in, he needs to explain clearly why he is sharing his ‘art’ with someone, put a disclaimer etc.

      There are very few cultures on Earth where nudity / lingerie is not a sensitive topic. He is a creep.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        If there is some “innocent” explanation based on cultural norms (highly doubtful), it’s on the guy to explain himself and to think carefully on how his actions might come across in the current setting. Honestly anyone who does this for any reason is guilty of, at best, extremely poor judgment and needs to be coached on that (by his boss/HR).

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. Even if this is an innocent mistake (highly doubtful!), the solution is for someone in authority to have a conversation with him and tell him it’s not OK. Heck, in that scenario it’s in the guy’s best interest to be told clearly about what is and isn’t acceptable so he doesn’t make further “innocent mistakes.”

    5. spruce*

      Not in my experience at all, having lived in Europe practically my entire life.
      Pushing nudity or near-nudity on a colleague like this wouldn’t be appropriate anywhere. There *are* some European cultures that are quite comfortable with nudity (Finland for instance), but they are also very very big on consent, and making it possible to opt-out.

      1. Violet Fox*

        You know what you are getting into going to a sauna, for example. Surprise! nudity in the context of work is totally a different and totally not an okay thing.

        Then again in my social circle at least it isn’t unusual to say “my instagram is mostly cakes/my dog/yarn/nature pictures/whatever” whatever when sharing the handel.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. I was in Germany last week and the hotel had a sauna and it was pretty clear from notices in the changing rooms that the sauna was “textile free” so there would be nudity if you went in. If you go to a sauna in some countries that’s the way it is and it’s not a surprise generally. But nobody drags you unwillingly into the sauna, you have to choose to go or not go. I mostly didn’t because I don’t enjoy extremes of heat.

          When I worked for a German company everyone wore clothes at work and people behaved in a professional manner in the workplace. Sending unsolicited and harassing materials was as unacceptable there as it is in my current British company and there were processes in place to deal with inappropriate behaviour.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            As a German, I want to thank you for the mental image of all of my colleagues sitting around naked on towels at work like we’re in a sauna. Made me chuckle. I confirm that we are, in fact, always fully clothed at work.

    6. Bagpuss*

      Speaking as a european (UK rather than Scandinavia, and just a reminder that Europe is big and there’s no ‘one size fits all’, attitudes towards things like nudity etc vary a lot between different countries and cultures here) I disagree – the photos might be seen as less of an issue in a na ppropriate contenxt, but sending them unsolicited to a co-worker is still wildly inappropriate.

      And in the unlikley event that this was a cultural misunderrstanding, Alison’s advice is still good; if he is a decent person who just misunderstood workplace norms, it’s in his ineterests that he is made aware that his actions are not acceptable.
      His intent doesn’t alter the fact that his actions were inappropriate, and it is entirely appropriate and reasonable for OP to act on that, in whatever way she is comfortable, whether that’s saying something to him directly, or raisingit with her manager or HR.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. Even if his intents were innocent (which is… improbable, to say the least), he needs to know that this isn’t okay. It’s not on women to bend over backwards to accommodate actions that are easily interpreted as sexualized for purposes of respecting culture. He’s also working with people in other cultures, and he needs to respect the fact that it’s culturally inappropriate to send unsolicited links of women in states of undress to someone he works with.

    7. amoeba*

      Yeah, no, just adding to the other Europeans here – that would absolutely still be considered creepy. I mean, I can see how sharing this kind of pictures with colleagues you know well who’ve actively expressed an interest in your hobby previously might be more acceptable than in the US. But in this (lack of) context? Absolutely, clearly creepy.

    8. Fledge Mulholland*

      There is no way this guy would’ve sent this link to a male coworker. He sent it to a female coworker in her 20s for a reason, and that reason is sexualized, has nothing to do with work and is completely inappropriate. There is no cultural excuse for putting a female coworker in this position when he would never do that to a male coworker.

      1. MsM*

        Right. Why isn’t he sharing publicly with the group, if this is just about thinking his coworkers might think it’s neat he does this and not wanting some kind of reaction from OP specifically?

        1. aebhel*

          ^ exactly. If it was genuinely an innocent misunderstanding about social norms, why didn’t he share his passion for photography with everyone else?

      2. Antilles*

        Bingo. Seems like quite an amazing coincidence that he sent it directly to only one co-worker rather than the entire group – and also quite a coincidence that co-worker happened to be an age/gender that matched the demographics of his models too.
        If he really and truly thought it was normal, what are the odds that he’d send it ONLY to OP and not the entire group?

      3. Robin Ellacott*

        Exactly. Bets on how many older or non-femme colleagues he thought might be randomly interested in photography?

    9. MK*

      As others have said, sending a coworker nude photos isn’t part of a more relaxed culture aunity nudity. Also, in my experience people from such cultures are aware that their attitude isn’t universal, and US Americans do have a reputation for being prudish. I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t realize this.

      In fact, sending a coworker a link to your photos without any context is unusual; the most innocent (as in not sexual harassment) reason would be that he is trying to monetize his content and is spamming everyone he knows to get more followers. And that is boundary crossing and inappropriate for work too.

    10. Well...*

      I’ve worked in Europe for the last 5 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this. This is extraordinarily odd, and honestly invoking cultural norms ignorantly here to justify this isn’t complementing Northern European cultures the way you might think.

      Setting aside the fact that sending nudes at work is simply not a part of any Northern European culture, also consider that most Northern Europeans working in international companies are aware of American cultural norms and can account for them. They are able to make these cultural adjustments, and they are able to predatorily exploit them as well. Handwaving away all their behavior is insulting to their intelligence and professionalism.

    11. Lily*

      If you’ve actually worked with people like this in Europe, then they’re creeps. Sending nude/sexual photography to a colleague of the same gender/sex as in the photographs – and a colleague you barely know – is work-inappropriate and sexual harassment. He definitely is creepy and boundary stomping and I hope HR gets involved and LW1 never has to deal with his creepy ass again.

    12. Good Enough For Government Work*

      Yeah, NO.

      Also North European, and while we ARE considerably more laid-back than the US about this stuff (some of the past questions here have really left me wondering ‘…why on earth would this be an issue?’), context is also key.

      Most of my closest colleagues are male (I’m female), and if one of them had told me of his photography hobby before, we’d been chatting about it, and he said something like ‘hey, I can link you to my Insta if you like, but it’s pretty racy’ — that would be one thing.

      Some dude I don’t know well, messaging me out of the blue with a link like this and no warning? Not even that it shouldn’t be opened on work computers, thus risking getting ME into trouble?

      Yeah, no, that is a creep. I don’t care where you’re from, that’s at BEST a serious boundary overstep.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Wait what — there was FETISH gear in the photos? Which yeah, if you consent, no biggie. But out of the blue, in a work context? This was no innocent mistake.

    13. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      This was my initial reaction as well – I didn’t want to get him in trouble if it was an honest mistake, and had it been non-sexual nudity (not just young women, non-sexual poses, not wearing fetish gear), I would have addressed it with him directly. However, to me those factors made it come across as definitely sexual (which obviously you have no way of knowing, since you didn’t see the pictures!) so I did end up reporting it to HR and my boss.

      In retrospect, I regret including that detail about cultural differences – I absolutely didn’t want to cast aspersions on Northern Europeans and I feel bad that I did – but it was part of my reaction at the time.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’m glad you reported it! And I hope that they dealt/are dealing with it appropriately.

        I think it’s unfortunately pretty normal for women to search around for reasons why something like this was actually OK. If the problem is us being prudes, then we don’t have to make decisions about how to handle it, deal with the potential for being dismissed by people in authority and/or being targeted by the coworker, etc. Particularly in a society that often makes excuses for inappropriate men. We say to ourselves things that we suspect others might say to us if we raise the issue.

        1. AnonForThis*

          For me, it was also really hard to accept that it had happened to me. I was in denial for months before I was in a safe enough space to acknowledge and process.

      2. Gracely*

        He might have actually been counting on you thinking it was a cultural difference, and letting it go because you didn’t want to be thought of as a “prudish” American. Most creeps are really good at taking advantage of that kind of plausible deniability.

        1. Well...*

          My thoughts exactly. LW1 shouldn’t feel bad, he was playing on your goodwill. The OP on this thread, I am annoyed with. But I get that when you work with people from other countries, everyone goes out of their way to be collegial and assume good intentions.

          Once a coworker was telling me about someone looking for a job to be near his husband, and mentioned he was, “of the gays” to clarify. She speaks >5 languages and sometimes messes up pronouns in English depending on how they show up in the sentence (him/her gets exchanged when they are an indirect objects). Situations like that benefit from good will all around.

      3. Clobberin’ Time*

        I promise you that he’s going to try and bust out the Northern European Excuse when HR talks to him. Creeps often hide behind “it’s my culture”. You have nothing to feel bad about.

      4. Emmy Noether*

        For what it’it’s worth, I think as the target that’s pretty normal as a first reaction. The mind casts around for alternate explanations, no matter how implausible, to not have to face what happened and maintain the status quo. It’s a defense mechanism of the brain. It’s ok. Your first reaction doesn’t have to be your final reaction.

        We can pick it apart more easily from the safe remove of our screens because we’re not involved.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          This is such an important point – being able to approach a loaded issue with neutrality, or at least without an instinctive/emotional response, is a privilege.

      5. Tired of being casually touched*

        Some were wearing fetish gear?! I’m willing to give ‘nude and lingerie’ a bit of plausible deniability (not really, but at least enough to say “We won’t do anything this time but *never* do that again”) whereas it sounds like some of them were undeniably very sexual and he should be reprimanded for this specific instance. Ugh, it’s awful he did that to you!

        1. AnonForThis*

          No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no…

      6. AnonForThis*

        Please don’t feel bad about including “cultural differences” as a possibility; I really don’t think any Europeans took offense.

        We’re trained our entire lives to look for possibly mitigating circumstances that would make someone an innocent, misunderstood creep. Not to mention, I’m sure it would be a relief if there were an innocent explanation that wasn’t “this guy targeted me for sexual harassment”.

      7. 1*

        Its ok to be unsure of others cultural reactions to something like this, and you shouldn’t feel bad IMO. But yes, the minimum would be noting it was “racy”, kink related and NSFW and allowing you to say no first. The best would be just not even mentioning it, especially after so little personal contact and conversation with you… and makes me concerned who else he feels its “appropriate” to share it with.

    14. LilPinkSock*

      Come on now. Do you really think that because non-sexual nudity isn’t as much of a crisis in parts of Europe, it’s acceptable to send nude pictures unsolicited? And in which culture is it cool to do that at work?

  8. scandi*

    Nudity is one thing, sexualised photos in lingerie are another (speaking as a Northern European). Yes, there’s a different attitude (in some parts and subcultures in Europe) to nudity. But it doesn’t mean boandaries dont exist and frankly, I would even consider lingerie to be more inappropriate than nudity.

    Some things are fine in your private life but not at work. I went for a naked swim in a lake with a mixed-sex group of friends over New Years. I would not share racy photos with coworkers and would, frankly, go straight to my union rep if a coworker did.

    1. Teatime is Goodtime*

      Yeah, that’s fair. I agree this isn’t appropriate for work, exactly. But I think it really depends on the overall details, like the job environment. How formal is that? I’ve interacted with plenty where it wouldn’t rise to the level of reporting and whatever, absent any other indicators (that part is important!! If there are other indicators, well, then, there’s the answer). Because loads and loads of stuff was unprofessional, not just that. YMMV.

      1. scandi*

        There is no level of formality where sexual harassment is acceptable. And sending a coworker racy photos is low-level sexual harassment. Detreminding if there are other indicators and hence whether the best response is an informal chat with a manager or something more serious is not my responsibility.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            And that’s why I think LW should tell the boss; her peer is going to create a sexual harassment claim for the company to have to deal with. No sense kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with since she volunteered she’s comfortable telling their supervisor about it.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes. This is absolutely trying to feel out the LW for how far he can go with harassment. If she says nothing, he may follow up with “I hope you like my Instagram, you know I’m always looking for models” and try to chip away at boundaries that way. It’s gross, it’s unacceptable, and I hope LW does go to her boss, since she stated she would be very comfortable doing so.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            The out of no where, no context share made me think IMMEDIATELY that a future follow-up would be “looking for models” or “let me know if you’d like to do a shoot sometime” or something along those lines.

            Boudoir photography (that’s what this sounds like to me) is totally cool, but unless you amongst other Boudoir photographers it does not belong in a professional setting.

      2. scandi*

        There’s no level of formality where sexual harassment is acceptable. And sending racy photos to a coworker is low-level sexual harassment. Whether there are other indicators is up to management/HR to figure out after a report is made, not something LW should figure out before making a report.

        1. Despachito*


          And to report is not to decapitate so why be afraid of it (unless the higher-ups are severely warped)?. If someone reports a harmless thing (which is definitely NOT the case here), it is up to the higher-ups to decide it’s harmless. The reporting person does not do any harm to the reported person per se, if the thing the reported person did is OK.

      3. Giant Kitty*

        I once worked in an office in Hollywood where the business was 1-900 chat lines and phone sex, both gay and straight. The dress code was “keep your bathing suit areas covered other than that we DGAF”. Some of my coworkers were sex workers, strippers, dominatrixes, actors in print or film pornography. Management kept stacks of “letters to Penthouse” & similar magazines in the phone sex rooms as inspiration for the operators, if they wanted to read them.
        Even in an environment *that* casual and *that* centered around sex, this behavior would have been considered inappropriate- a violation of boundaries. We actually had an incident with one woman who did break the near non existent dress code, and who would quite loudly go into excruciatingly personal detail about things she did in her other sex work related jobs, who was let go because she wouldn’t stop even after being spoken to by management. It was considered just as unprofessional & inappropriate there as it would have been at any other office, casual or conservative.

      4. bamcheeks*

        LW says, “I feel deeply uncomfortable and not sure how to proceed”. I would like you to reflect on why you think that something that you agree is not appropriate for work and which causes that level of discomfort is not “something which rises to the level of reporting”, and what exactly you are valuing and what you are writing off as unimportant with that attitude.

      5. Dutch person*

        Since you go by Teatime is Goodtime here: ever hear of the tea metaphor for consent? To stay in those terms: basically what this guy is doing is putting his feet on his desk and pouring his colleague a glass of hard liquor at 9 AM without ever asking whether they drink alcohol.

        Being okay with nudity, still doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in the workplace, let alone unprompted.

      6. Tomato Soup*

        No. Just no. It’s bizarre and disturbing that you think there’s a level of sexual harassment that should just get shrugged off or that sexual harassment that isn’t ok in some places is ok in some workplaces.

      7. Jackalope*

        Given that every single European, including those from Northern Europe, are chiming in to say that this was creepy and gross, your argument that it might be a cultural difference is completely unfounded. Stop trying to give him the benefit of the doubt; he doesn’t deserve it.

      8. Not All Fun And Games*

        In my mid-20s (many moons ago) I worked for a small research company where most employees were recent college grads and our managers were, at best, freshly out of grad school.

        We had little work/life balance, blurred boundaries all the time, practiced a Work Hard Play Hard philosophy – e.g. came in on weekends to meet deadlines but segued right to the bar afterwards. There was drama, infighting, cliques, etc. It really felt like an extension of a college situation. BUT there was an incident where a woman sent out a pornographic cartoon to a large group and she was quickly and sternly spoken to by management and HR. She tried to plead “it was a joke, we all joke around here” and learned that some things definitely crossed a line. The words “sexual harassment” and “hostile work environment” were invoked (I know all this because she was upset and complained to several coworkers). It was a good lesson to me and others, honestly.

        Bottom line, there can be very casual (sometimes dysfunctional and even toxic) work environments where people are absolutely able to differentiate between “not formal” and “truly inappropriate for work”.

      9. I edit everything*

        LW mentioned fetish gear above. Is that enough to make it “exactly” inappropriate in your opinion? In what job environment would it be appropriate for a casual work acquaintance to send these photos unsolicited without previous conversation or alert to the content?

      10. afiendishthingy*

        it’s disturbing to me that you think this is a question of “formality” and not sexual harassment.

      11. Sparkles McFadden*

        Here’s the bare bones of this letter: “A coworker I barely know did something inappropriate that seems creepy. What’s the best way for me to handle this.” Alison answered with a good way to handle this.

        Your response, however, is “Examine every aspect of your workplace and all of the interpersonal interactions first, because feeling uncomfortable might not be a reasonable response. Maybe everyone else at your workplace would be OK with this eventhough you, the only woman present, were the only person to receive that link.”

        By that logic, we should be telling people that racist comments at work are OK as long as the majority of people in the workplace are cool with it.

      12. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        I’ve been in more relaxed cultures where we can make jokes at each other’s expense, use dark humor, or other more ‘not workplace safe’ stuff, but that’s only really after you get to know a coworker well enough to see if they appreciate (for lack of better word) it. LW barely interacts with this coworker, it’s almost akin to walking up to some person on the street that you’ve walked past a few times throughout the year and handing them these pictures. Why would you do that other than to get a reaction?

      13. tinybutfierce*

        A man she barely knows sent her a page of nude, sexual photography apropos of absolutely nothing. That is sexual harassment, full stop. It is utterly bizarre that you’ve made multiple comments bending over backwards trying to excuse this guy’s behavior or find reasons the OP shouldn’t report it; YOUR behavior right now is why a lot of people don’t report these things and why they continue to happen.

    2. amoeba*

      I mean, to be honest, I’d already find it borderline creepy if there was no nudity whatsoever. Even just harmless nature photographs would still feel like the guy at least trying to… flirt inappropriately? Impose himself on near strangers?
      Of course, the content makes it so much worse. But even without that, I would be slightly weirded out. (Not to the level of reporting, probably, but certainly enough to be careful around him in the future…)

      1. bamcheeks*

        yes, as I said further down, if there was ZERO sexy content and it was a man sending it to another man, I would still consider it an inappropriate use of work space and work channels to try and promote his side-hustle– if you’re chatting to a colleague more generally about stuff you do outside work, then there’s a clear context for that exchange and if someone expressed an interest in seeing your photos, a link would be fine! It’s going from 0-60 with “hi… [link]” that makes it objectionable.

        But the fact that LW is a woman and the colleague is a man and there are photos of women in lingerie– purely going on Occam’s Razor, this is either “I’m enjoying making you feel uncomfortable” or “this is a prelude to me asking you to model for me”. Both of which are an extra level of ick.

        1. Been There*

          That reminds me I once had a (male) coworker who did photoshoots on the side. A (female) coworker asked him if he would do a boudoir shoot with her. He reluctantly agreed, but she made him feel uncomfortable during the shoots by taking of more clothes than he felt comfortable with.
          Not the reason she was let go quite soon, but definitely a red flag.

      2. Robin Ellacott*

        That made me laugh because a much (MUCH) older contractor we used several years ago got quite chatty with me and randomly sent me a photo he’d taken of a duck, which I thought was puzzling but harmless. Our work was not remotely duck-related. In the next email asked me out.

  9. Sergeant Santiago*

    LW3: I was the gift giver this year at my own small company. At the time, we were a team of 8 – our CEO, myself + 3 other women at the senior level, and 3 young entry level associates who do research for all of us. I got our associates Amazon gift cards as a thank you for all the research and client support they bring to our small team, and as an AAM devotee, nothing for my CEO. However, I did get a small gift for the three women on my level (a locally made face serum and cute eye mask). I did this because I like gift giving, we all sit next to each other, and share an interest in fashion/beauty. They didn’t get anyone anything, and it didn’t bother me at all – I just like holiday gifts! I did make sure they were relatively inexpensive so that if anyone googled the price they wouldn’t feel obligated to reciprocate.

    We just added two more people to our team at the start of this year (who work out of another state) and we divided our associates into reporting directly into 1-2 senior leaders, so I probably won’t do gifts for anyone next year except the associate designated to my working group.

    1. Jonquil*

      This is so true – people who like to give gifts often get a kick out of the giving, not the receiving. That said, I like the suggestion above about Hershey’s kisses or similar. That kind of “leave a chocolate on your desk” thing is common in my office.

  10. lammy*

    LW#1. I had a former boss who had a similar hobby (photography and the subject matter). I never saw the pictures but know she’d show them off to others in our (all female) office.

    It didn’t make it any less uncomfortable and we judged her lack of professionalism pretty hard. We didn’t have an HR or anyone else to reach out to at the time. So, while not ideal, we avoided dealing with her whenever possible.

    Once the company I worked for got bought out she was let go for other reasons (after I had left). But if you have someone you can report this to, please do. It made many of us uncomfortable but we felt like we didn’t have any recourse or anyone we could say something to.

  11. JSPA*

    LW1: Seconding E’s suggestion, with the qualifying proviso, “it would be a kindness to humanity and a selfless act, if you can handle doing so.”

    Even if he [random handwaving about how he mistook you for someone else who’s asked him about photography; comes from a nudity-is-normal culture, and has somehow never been introduced to business norms; thought it was appropriate because he wants to expand into graphic design; meant to send a link to his landscape portfolio; whatever] the act of having sent that link is still not OK.

    In the highly unlikely event that he has some plausible reasoning (he can prove he’s been slack-chatting with Julie Jams who’s new in accounting and does body-paint art photography, while OP is Jullie James who’s new in code development, and both women mentioned having a new airdale puppy) he can sort that out with the boss, or HR, in ways that are irritating and stressful for him, not for you.

    He doesn’t “win” further contact with you (nor the right to chase you incrementally out of shared spaces to avoid further contact) by making part of the workspace skeevier with his link-bombing.

    FWIW, I love body art, nude beaches, hot springs, mixed-gender sauna, the egalitarianism of drawing clubs where members take turns posing as nude as comfortable, and reading “oh joy sex toy.” And I find this skeevy and boundary-crossing by default. (Meaning, if there’s a non-skeevy excuse, it’s on him to prove it, to a humorless third party.)

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yes to everything you’ve said. Also, this reminds me of the Emily in Paris scene where she gets a gift of lingerie from an all powerful client when she’s brand new to the country. There’s a lot of plausible deniability involved in the scene; he’s French! She’s an uptight American! Fashion involves lingerie! He just admires women! Sexuality is a power! Just…no. People forget that misogyny is a culture too. Overlooking women’s discomfort is a culture. Explaining to women who get oversexualised and objectified daily that they’re imagining it is a culture.

      1. Ah Yes*

        100%. I feel like “bUt It’S hIs CuLtUrE” is basically saying “this is the way we’ve always done it” but with more stereotypes. You don’t get to be misogynistic because it’s your “culture.” Not a free pass.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. That scene in Emily and all the “but it’s culture” stuff was really annnoying and reminded me of Quark in DS9 trying to persuade a croupier to rub his ears and give him oo-mox by saying it was a cultural ritual. Incredibly yucky and wince inducing.

  12. bamcheeks*

    It’s the bluntness for me! Second message in a conversation, “hey, check out my photography hobby which just happens to include nudes”? Best case scenario is he’s using work inappropriately to advertise his side-hustle. Worst case scenario is yes, he’s getting off on making you uncomfortable. :-/

    You are under no obligation to do anything, LW— you can simply ignore him. But you’d be well within your rights to report him to HR for harassment if that’s something you would feel comfortable doing.

    1. AnonForThis*

      Nudes would be completely inappropriate for work. Women wearing lingerie and fetish gear is somehow much, much worse.

  13. spruce*

    LW1 – I live and work in northern Europe. This isn’t a cultural misunderstanding, what he did is as inappropriate and awful here as it would be in the US.
    In fact, especially if he’s based in a Nordic country, you should be able to report this to his HR – in my experience this stuff is taken more seriously here that in many other regions.

    I’m sorry this happened to you, it’s really gross of him to have done that.

  14. Archangel's girl*

    For anyone intrigued by LW#4 question, I’m telling everyone I know to read Quit by Annie Duke, which says, among other things, that by the time someone thinks seriously about quitting something – a job, a relationship, a house – it’s long past the time that they should have done so. In other words, by the time they’ve written to AAM, they’ve already made up their mind, and writing to AAM is just part of the process. The theme of the book is “Quit sooner”. It’s the most amazing book I’ve read in a long time, and a great read for anyone! PS, I’m not affiliated with Annie Duke and I don’t get money if you buy the book.

  15. Nela*

    #1: European and artist here. I’d be intensely creeped out if a male work colleague I barely knew sent me a portfolio of nude and boudoir photography of models who match my demographic. I’d interpret that as an entry point to him eventually asking if I’d model for him. I honestly believe that’s his next step if LW doesn’t shut it down.

    1. Seashell*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to drum up some business in shooting head shots, so inappropriate on two fronts.

    2. Cally*

      I thought the same, he’s trying to set it up so he can ask OP to model. I feel like if what had happened was they had had a chat about photography Op expressed interest and then he sent her his portfolio and there just happened to be a bunch of nudes it might (might) be a genuine misunderstanding.

      But the fact he sent them unsolicited to the only woman and she was a similar demographic to the models, feels too calculated.

      Even if there is a misunderstanding (though I think it unlikely) and the male coworker is just clueless and not a creep that is not OP’s problem to work out. If he is genuine and he is told he is being creepy he will be mortified and stop. And if he is doing it on purpose he needs to be dealt with so either way reporting it makes sense.

  16. Amy Ezekiel*

    LW#3, I would guess that your colleagues have been friends for a while and like giving gifts to each other. They would have been uncomfortable exchanging gifts with each other while you’re sat right there, so you got caught in the net. I like Allison’s advice about a card and warm thanks.

    1. MissMeghan*

      This is exactly what I thought! They didn’t want to leave LW3 out during a traditional gift exchange. Next year, either LW may know them better and want to participate, or may be in a position to say it was so kind of you to include me last year, but I get you’ve been friends for a long time and I’m happy to watch your gift exchange.

  17. Lily*

    LW1, as someone who has lived in a Western European country for 14 years and recently started a new job in Scandinavia – this is completely inappropriate. A random colleague sending you a link of sensual/sexual photography out of nowhere – completely inappropriate and meant to get a rise off you. What a creep. Don’t second-guess yourself because he’s trying to pass it off as his hobby (the audacity, honestly!), it’s definitely a form of sexual harassment. As others have pointed out, Europe’s more ”relaxed” attitude is about non-sexual nudity and consent, neither of which play a role here and it does seem like the next step would be him asking you to be his next model.

    Go to HR, and if you feel like ignoring this creep, that’s fine. If he ever sends you anything like this again, I’d modify Alison’s answer to ”WTF, did you just try to frame sexual harassment as a hobby? I barely know you and never consented to this. It’s completely work-inappropriate.”
    And if he tries to pretend that the problem is you being American… All the more reason to go to HR, now also for his xenophobic gaslighting.

    Urgh, what a creep.

  18. Antiqueight*

    LW#4: It is a little disappointing to realise that often the solution is that the letter writer left rather than that there is a way to fix things. When one is stuck with a crappy manager it is nice to imagine that senior management will swoop in to the rescue or that the right advice will solve the issue and allow progress at last. But in fact senior management often seems to think the manager is excellent or at the very least chooses to support the more senior person and the employee is left to decide to put up with it or leave.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      I feel like the ones with rather immediate updates are the ones that do have “seniors were horrified and fixed it immediately” responses. Springing to mind are the spicy food theft one (LW was given his job back with more money and fulsome apologies) and the LW who was made to collect manager er al from the airport in the middle of the night then disciplined for not wearing a suit (the write-up was removed from her file and I think the bad manager was in a lot of trouble). But I reckon you are right in that if people know about a problem and don’t care/don’t act, what other recourse is there but to leave?

      1. irene adler*

        My take is if the bad manager is not dealt with, that’s a strong signal upper management is fine with the abuses said manager doles out. IOW, it is easier for upper management to deal with consequences of bad manager (like turnover, poor performance, low morale) than to correct/train/discipline/terminate the bad manager. That’s not a good way to view the situation. So only option for the bad manager’s report(s) is to quit. Nothing is going to change.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Agreed that it’s a bummer that this is often the case and the LW’s don’t usually have the power to fix anything. Though there is an element of selection bias at play here; the people who write in are often (not always) in particularly tough situations, dealing with particularly difficult people. Personally, I had to deal with some sexism from a vendor a couple years ago. I told my boss, he took it very seriously, and it got handled. So I figure that the percent of people who were able to get good resolutions to problems is higher than what we see on AAM.

      On the flip side, I have definitely found it helpful to read these stories and recognize when I might be able to change things and when I’m in a situation that’s not likely to get better no matter what I do. Rather than bang my head against the wall in the latter scenario, I can be at peace focusing my energy on getting out.

    3. I hate phones*

      Yeah, I wrote in with a fear of phones and interviewing. There wasn’t really a point in updating “I didn’t get the job, and I’m still at the place I hate” until I got a new job, and at that point the job was receiving calls.

  19. Shirley B*

    Question — what would you do as LW1’s boss if she forwarded this to you to handle? Speak to HR, directly with the offender, or take it up with his boss?

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I think I’d loop in HR and the guy’s boss. For one, I’m not disciplining anyone not in my chain of command. For another, even if I was the guy’s boss also, I’d want a witness to the conversation, and ideally someone trained for this kind of thing (HR, hopefully).

      Sexual harassment accusations have a way of getting messy, and I’ve been burned before trying to sort out a messy situation by myself (not sexual harassment in that case, different unacceptable behavior, but it blew up in my face nonetheless).

    2. Lily*

      All of the above. He sent unsolicited sexual pictures to a coworker of the same demographic during a work meeting that she was presenting on. Even if you somehow put the sexual harassment aside, he texted her, his only female colleague, during her presentation that she was giving to him, among others. It’s unprofessional even just from that angle and would merit talking to the creep about it. And just to be completely clear, it is sexual harassment.
      The more I read the letter, the worse it gets, I keep on noticing details that make the whole thing creepier and creepier.

    3. Ginger*

      I’d most likely talk to their boss, then depending on their reaction, talk to HR if I felt like they weren’t concerned or going to address it.

      If I were HIS boss, we’d definitely be having a talk about how inappropriate it is and how even if he disagrees, if it happens again he’s a goner.

    4. Jay (no, the other one)*

      If it were the company I recently retired from, I’d be obligated to discuss it with HR and they would determine the next steps. I would also simultaneously tell his boss and if I managed him I’d tell him exactly what Ginger says.

    5. Generic Name*

      In the US, when an employee reports an incident of sexual harassment, the company must do an investigation and take appropriate action. I’m sure I’m mis-phrasing the details, but I do know it’s a federal law, and if the manager does nothing, that’s is in fact illegal. Usually HR is the one doing the investigation.

    6. BethDH*

      The first thing I’d do is lay out options for OP and ask her. I think I’d tell her I wanted to report it, but that I could make her anonymous. If she felt really strongly I might agree not to report it, but I’d strongly encourage her to let me get it on the record.
      Actually, the VERY first thing I’d do is tell her that the coworker was wrong, that I was glad she’d told me, and see what I could do to help her be comfortable at work both in the immediate-environment sense and in the career-professionalism sense. I feel like when stuff like this happened to me I often felt like I was unprofessional for mentioning someone else’s unprofessionalism, or that I wasn’t sufficiently adult for not “handling” it myself.

    7. LilPinkSock*

      When I reported an incident of sexual harassment to my boss, she listened carefully and validated my concerns. Then she asked me what I was comfortable doing. I felt empowered to take back control of the situation, and I knew my issue was being taken seriously.

    8. turquoisecow*

      I would take it to HR if I were the boss (assuming that there’s an HR) especially if I am not also the creepy guy’s boss. It’s possible the guy has creeped on people (or will) outside my purview, and since HR is for the whole company, they’ll more likely have the whole picture, if there is one. I could talk to the creeper and/or his boss, file it away as a warning thing, but if the next person he creeps on (or the last one) is not in my department, I won’t have that big picture. HR should. HR might say “oh yeah, he sent these photos to a woman in accounting last year, this is his final warning, he’s gone,” while a boss might hesitate to do much, and if Boss isn’t creepy guy’s boss, doesn’t have the power to discipline or fire the guy.

    9. Qwerty*

      My training was that the boss has an obligation to tell HR. By telling her boss, it has effectively been reported to the company. So if the boss handles it themselves and screws up, the company is still on the hook even if it never got escalated.

      Even without those requirements, I still would have turned to HR for guidance because this is firmly in HR territory. Someone is sending nude photos over work chat to a coworker. Someone in HR is more likely to better trained on how to protect the employee and what the legal obligations are. HR will most likely start an investigation to find out if this was part of a broader pattern of behavior.

  20. MK*

    Eh, no one specific person has an obligation to put themselves in danger (of any kind) in order to protect or promote the minority they belong to. It’s absolutely their job to advocate for themselves, and I would say it’s a moral obligation, if it is possible to do so without repercussions to themselves, to advocate for their group.

    And sure, it sucks that anyone has to fight for things that should be natural and self-evident rigths, but the world isn’t built like that.

    1. JSPA*

      At this point, we’re far from advocating, fighting, etc. “Notifying” is the lowest-stakes first step. (Or heck, even “inquiring.”)

      Anyone who’s certain that this is a pattern that the company knows about and tacitly approves, is dealing in fan fiction.

      As is anyone who’s sure this isn’t what’s happening.

      There are ways to report that have more the tone of information gathering than formal reporting.

      ” Boss, I was very startled to be sent a link, apropos of nothing, that led to a coworker’s hobby photography page, which was populated by scantily clad women in semi-explicit poses. Is that within the bounds of normal, random sharing here–in which case, how would I opt out of such things? Or does this ring the same alarm bells for you that it did for me?”

      You could even drop in, “Given the demographic match, it’s easy to feel targeted by this sort of thing, even if if turns out that wasn’t the intent.”

      That’s a way to say, ” This is problematic in a gendered way, even if you know Jones in purchasing, and are sure that he isn’t a creep” while focusing on the problem they may want to address, not on your emotional reaction (that is, you’re looking for results, not for comforting).

  21. Dancing Elaine*

    He sent you the personal messages and his inappropriate photo link because he’s a creep. Period.

  22. Asenath*

    LW 1 – I don’t think I’d say anything special about the photos being inappropriate at work – though they are – because some people, especially if they are from a different culture (as you note he is), and often if they aren’t, will think/act like “Oh, not at work. OK, I get it. But that means she’s interested in viewing them at home, so I’ll ask for her personal contact information so I can send more.” As to what to do – my initial response, I think, would be to ignore the link like I would any other social embarrassment, combined with being very cool (although totally professional) to him in the future. If, as I suspect, he followed up, maybe with “What do you think of my art?” I’d respond as coldly as I could while remaining professional “Please do not send me any nude photos.” A third approach, and I’d go to management, with the evidence that I’d told him to stop and he hadn’t.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Plenty of people have weighed in on the “other culture” issue and said it’s just as inappropriate there as it is here. Plus LW is American and if the company is USA based, then to my way of thinking, American mores apply and sending risque pictures to a coworker is just not OK.

      If I were LW1, I’d forward the email with the link to my boss (since she has a good relationship with them) and let somene with more authority handle it.

      It’s what I hope she does, but I completely understand if she just wants to ignore it because hundreds of years of “men being creeps and women being expected to suck it up” is a heck of a battle to fight on your own.

      1. Asenath*

        I did mention he was from another culture, but also included, well, North American culture (I try not to speak for the US since I’m not American). There’s a certain type of personality that’s familiar to me, the “give them an inch and they’ll take a yard” type, who might well respond to a cold “no nudes at work” message by thinking “she doesn’t mind the nudes, she just minds getting them at work”. And for that reason, if I were responding to this sort of behaviour, I’d say straight out, “no nudes”, and not emphasize the business mores side of things. Because I’d want it to stop, right now, no opening for excuses, however feeble, and it’s not my job to fix his professionalism. Well, unless I’m his boss, of course.

      2. Allonge*

        I think there is a misunderstanding on how exactly “American” and “European” (whatever those mean) mores differ on nudity.

        The more relaxed attitude attributed to Europeans just means that e.g. if someone accidentally discovers the Instagram account of a colleague and that has sexy pics, they are less likely judge them for it as immoral. Or if two coworkers meet on a beach, it’s not a scandal if someone is wearing a bikini or speedos. Or that a wardrobe malfunction is less likely to be treated as a question of morality.

        Otherwise there is not that much of a difference – most of Europe is very much influenced by the same Christianity-based values and mores as exist in the US, where nudity or anything approaching it is a major no-no in most circumstances, sex is both a selling point and a taboo subject at the same time and so on.

        And, as you say, this has nothing to do with what happened here: this person did something creepy.

        1. UKDancer*

          I’d agree entirely with your assessment.

          The other thing is that Europe is not a monolith, Finland is different from Poland which is different from Belgium. Mores and comfort levels with nudity differ across Europe.

          I’d say there’s more comfort in some European places with non-sexual nudity, so for example people routinely go topless on beaches in France without anyone thinking anything of it. Finns have a well known particular sauna culture. But it varies by location.

          But the broad culture on not being a creepy weirdo and not harassing your colleagues is pretty consistent. I’ve worked for companies in the UK, Germany, Belgium and I’ve lived in France and there’s a reasonable consensus in all of them around how to behave in a workplace which is consistent with the US in most respects.

          1. Grammar Penguin*

            Thank you for the comment on the diversity of European social mores. That was my first thought when a few commenters suggest this is a “European” thing. I’ve never visited but from here in the US I know there’s a big difference between, for example, Poland being generally more conservative than, say, the Czech Republic aka the original, literal Bohemians.

            There are similar regional variances just within the US. What’s acceptable in California may not be in Arkansas. For that matter, the culture of coastal California is rather different than the more socially and politically conservative central valley.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      Sexual harassment is not “social embarrassment” any more than harassment based on sexual orientation, race, or religion is. This comment describes a response that prioritizes appearances over the comfort and safety of someone who is being harassed. Who benefits from ignoring the link and keeping quiet? The creep. And while the LW can decide what’s right for her situation, I object to having the harassment minimized as a mere faux pas.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I mean of course it is just inappropriate full stop. I would be creeped out if a non work acquaintance made this move as their first attempt at connection because it’s dick pic level of entitled and creepy, as others have said. I do however think there’s an extra WTF element when a co-worker or someone in your network does this, because you have to manage the fall out of hurt feelings, denials and mind games without it hurting your livelihood, or day to day. It’s well worth having a HR department label this as sexual harassment at work *while* also having them stress they should not contact you outside work either! I think it’s worth saying “This was not ok ; please do not send me inappropriate pictures” if someone wants to, but equally, HR could say that for you.

  23. Hotdog not dog*

    All of the above. I (a woman) once had a guy in my office call me in to look at his computer (one of my many hats was on site tech support, so I was expecting something mundane.) He was watching porn and wanted to show me a woman he thought resembled a coworker. I picked up his laptop and marched straight into the boss’s office with it, dropped it on the boss’s desk and said, “this is beyond inappropriate. Get HR on the phone!” While there was still some waffling (!!!!!!wtf!!!) he was given a “final warning”. HR said they can’t just fire someone outright (calling BS on that!) so he needed to be given another chance. Credit to my boss and coworkers, multiple people shut him down when he tried the old “Hotdog is just uptight” shtick. What got him fired shortly after was that he tried to report someone for bullying because they responded, “Hotdog is fine. You’re a pig.” HR declined to act on it, and he got belligerent with our HR manager. So apparently a 50-something year old man can show porn to a woman, but he can’t back talk another 50-something year old man and still keep his job. Cool.
    The whole thing was highly disruptive and upsetting, but I’d probably do the same thing again.
    (Lest this seems like a story from Mad Men days, this was only about 5 or 6 years ago.)

    1. mlem*

      This makes me feel better about my company. I only heard about this by word of mouth, but as the story goes: Sometime not too long before the pandemic, there was apparently a guy who received an explicit image or video from an outside friend, and that image/video was seen by a passing colleague. Despite hand-wringing that he hadn’t known what it contained (“it wasn’t his fault”), my company still fired him for subjecting a coworker to explicit content.

      So, yeah, I second your calling of BS on the claim that your company couldn’t fire that dude outright.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      Disgusting that he was only given a final warning. My dad (an associate dean) had a couple of graduate students come to him to let him know that a faculty member had shown one of the grad students a porn video and ask what she thought about the sex acts shown in the video and if she would do them. The faculty member was fired QUICKLY. I don’t know if he was tenured but even so, if a person can be immediately fired in academia they can be fired elsewhere for BLATANT sexual harassment.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Agreed! Perfectly handled.

        Who wants to bet if Hotdog hadn’t grabbed the laptop and gotten a witness for what it was exactly, there would have been discussions that she “must have mistaken what she saw”? Uuuuurgh.

  24. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I think Alison and the community here get more credit for informing decisions to leave workplaces!

    I’ve seen many comment on their own letters and in updates that Alison’s answer and the community answers helped them see how bad it really was or that it is ok to leave.

    In my own case, I feel like AAM has normalized leaving as a solution (Its unlikely I can fix the org!) and taught me my own value as an employee. Both contributed to my success in leaving; bc I stopped trying to fix things above my pay grade and I “tossed my hat in the ring” for a job I wanted but did not think I’d get.

    I’m very grateful to Alison and everyone here!!

    1. AngryOctopus*

      I think that’s a very important point, about normalizing how leaving is a solution, and often your best solution. Some people can get so caught up in thinking they have to fix the problem, or they can’t leave because it’ll inconvenience others, and they don’t sit themselves down and realize it’s not on them to fix! It can be really helpful to have that outside perspective that says “Hey, you know, this issue 1-probably isn’t the biggest/only issue in your workplace and 2-it’s not on you to try to fix all this, and it seems like leaving will be a great option for you, and THAT will solve a good deal of your issues!”.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Or they buy the schtick — LOYALTY to the company. Yeah, you need to put what is best for you above that. Not in a selfish way like you crush others to get ahead or you lie, cheat and steal to get ahead. But in a professional way. This isn’t working, time for me to move on.

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I know several people still at an old job who are incredibly miserable and underpaid, but they’re either not looking or they’re not sure if they want to leave or not. It’s a bizarre combination of martyrdom, sunk cost fallacy, and a misunderstood idea of loyalty.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I should have added that my own leaving led to several coworkers choosing to leave rather than stay and be miserable – they unstuck themselves!

        The impact of this community is like the old Prell commercials, I tell 2 people and they tell 2 people, etc, etc. So my coworkers did not read AAM (despite my proselytizing), but the impact spread bc I read AAM.

  25. MurpMaureep*

    Re the nude picture creeper, even if there’s some explanation that paints him as not a creeper (and I’m deeply dubious of that), it’s never ok to send a colleague anything that borders on NSFW content over work communication channels. Doesn’t matter if you are fully remote; work time and work equipment/email/chat = work and there are things not suitablefor it.

    LW, if you are at all worried about this being blown off as “he didn’t mean anything”, you could use this stance. Intent doesn’t really matter. Someone sent you sexualized content from a personal site to you at work. That’s not acceptable even if a person were receptive.

    (Obviously I think this guy is skeevy as all get out and trying to make a connection with her on a personal level and needs to be called out and disciplined, but if LW is more comfortable approaching either him or her superiors from this angle, it’s an option).

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I mean, the only way I can see this being okay is if they have an established relationship where they regularly discuss a mutual interest in art/photography and *before sending* he says, “Some of this is NSFW–is that okay?” And even then, all bets are off if there’s anything approaching a hierarchical relationship.

      (Heck, I don’t even friend colleagues on Goodreads because I read a lot of romance/NSFW content and I don’t want people thinking that that, in any way, carries over to work.)

      1. Allonge*

        But even then – it’s literally Not Safe For Work. Anything that needs to be tagged NSFW just has to stay off work equipment, no need to ask.

  26. Chilipepper Attitude*

    LW#1, this was mentioned only briefly in the comments, but since it sounds like you trust your boss, ask her for advice about how to shut this down.

    Say much of what you said to Alison, here is what happened, I plan on telling him x to shut it down, or I plan on ignoring him but doing y if he follows up in any way. And ask her if she has a different recommendation for you.

    1. anne of mean gables*

      In the world where she trusts her boss (which agreed, sounds like LW does), I think she has an even more low-key option – I would summarize or forward the conversation and say something like “I don’t need to have a conversation about this, I am annoyed but not upset, but I would like this on your radar in case inappropriate behavior from X has come up before, or comes up again.”

      1. GreenDoor*

        Yes! I came to suggest reporting it so, for no other reason, the Boss is aware of it. He could be showing is “hobby” to other women and if I was the manager, I’d appreciate having a sense of just how widespread of a problem it is.

  27. CharlieBrown*

    Re: #1:

    Did this guy even take these pictures? Is photography really his hobby? Or did he just download these from somewhere and post them to his Instagram? Can he even tell you what kind of camera he uses?

    This guy is such a creep. I would report him immediately.

    1. Lily*

      Ha! That’s what I thought as well, he probably didn’t even take the photos himself, he’s probably just compiling other people’s pictures on instagram. Creepy creep.

  28. Ima Goodlady*

    I would definitely just forward it to the manager and try not to think about it further. If he’s just an innocent photographer he can explain that when he’s asked – by them.

  29. Maude*

    Just an observation relating to LW#2. I do not hire often and recently added an opening to LinkedIn. There seems to be some way for candidates to send canned messages to hiring managers requesting a phone call. I received the exact same message from several (all underqualified) candidates. This is really not doing the candidates any favors.

  30. I should really pick a name*

    There is also possibly a cultural or language disconnect — I am American and he is Northern European and not a native English speaker.

    Regardless of the region, there isn’t a (healthy) office culture that I’m aware of where this would be acceptable.
    Please resist the urge to provide excuses for the offender. It’s up to him to defend himself.

    Even if it somehow was acceptable (it wasn’t), you could still report it and he wouldn’t get in trouble. So this is not a reason to avoid reporting it.

    1. mlem*

      I agree that it’s on the guy to defend himself, but I understand the tendency to try to game out possible explanations … because if we don’t, we get blamed for not doing so!

      Such as in this comment section. I really do think there’s value in trying to imagine possible explanations for things to see how they would affect our responses, but sometimes (often) the nuance gets lost. Even in this case, the LW pre-provided a possible explanation, and one top-level commenter found it a plausible excuse for the guy’s actions even though all the Europeans with relevant experience have been saying, no, that’s not actually a thing here. Which means it’s possible someone in the workplace might react the same way. (Possibly by inventing the excuse themselves; I don’t think it would only happen if the LW seeded the idea there.)

      So reporting becomes partly about gaming out possible blowback. The LW fortunately trusts her boss, which definitely makes reporting safer.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        My concern is when imagining possible explanations results in someone assuming the explanation is correct and not taking action as a result.

        I would say what’s important is to be open to explanations (though not in this case as this behaviour isn’t justifiable) as opposed to gaming out explanations. Some commenters often get hung up on “it could be this” when that’s not really relevant. What’s needed is to take more of an approach of “Why did you do this?” as opposed to making assumptions (positive or negative) about why they did it.

        Emphasizing again that what I’m saying applies to other situations not this one. This is flat out unacceptable behaviour.

    2. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      LW here! I realized after I sent this to Allison I felt intensely ashamed that this had happened and engaged in a lot of trying to find explanations for his behavior and feeling bad that I was creating problems – after talking to my (very sympathetic and supportive) partner, I realized that I was just responding to a problem that HE created and I didn’t have to make excuses for how he made me feel. Anyway, I think that initial emotional reaction really comes across in my letter, but I apologize for slandering Northern Europeans with my efforts to excuse his behavior! Truly not my intention.

      I reported this to HR and they immediately responded with “yes, that’s completely inappropriate, we will raise it with him and update you if there’s any developments.” My boss has also been supportive!

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh I am so glad you have support.

        Please please do not feel ashamed. YOU did nothing wrong.

        Unfortunately that is also part of the socialization — because creps like that can’t be creeps, we must have done SOMETHING to make them do this. Nope, sometimes a creep is just a creep (Sigmund Freud).

        1. bamcheeks*

          I would really like Teatime is Goodtime to read this thread and realise HOW MUCH TIME in our own heads we spend defending/excusing/minimising creeps’ behaviour and how much we absolutely don’t need anyone else doing it.

      2. afiendishthingy*

        Oh I’m so glad HR and your boss, as well as your partner, have been supportive. And yeah this is part of rape culture that the victims tend to feel so ashamed that we blame ourselves for the perpetrator’s behavior.

      3. MurpMaureep*

        LW I’m so glad for this update and also so sorry you had to deal with this at all.

        Kudos to your HR and Manager for taking swift and clear action and validating your (totally correct) sense that this was Not OK.

        Lots of others will say this, but please know that this is not your fault in any way. Many, many men rely on women being conditioned to please, to question their own judgement, to “not rock the boat” when they act inappropriately. Even if you had done something that made him think you’d welcome this (which you did not!), he should know better than to cross such a line with a coworker. Seriously, even if someone said point blank “I’d love to see your boudoir photography” any sensible person should realize that wasn’t appropriate to a work setting. He knew exactly what he was doing from the start and he was probably hoping that the worst you’d do was ignore it.

  31. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I think you can do a couple things. You can be a gracious recipient and say thank you or write a nice thank you note, and leave it at that. That would probably be fine. You can reciprocate with a similar gift, which would also probably be fine, but might feel like “uh oh, you all gave gifts and I didn’t, so here’s a gift.” I’m going to suggest secret option 3: give your cube-mates Valentines! By mid-February it won’t feel like a last-minute reciprocal thought, and it’ll feel like a nice little present. And it doesn’t have to be much – could be a little bag of candies or a coffee card or something.

  32. Ah Yes*

    I love Alison’s rule on posting for LW1. As a woman, it’s really hard to constantly see people bending over backwards to defend men’s creepy behavior instead of taking women at their word and holding men to literally ANY standards. THANK YOU, ALISON!

  33. steliafidelis*

    LW #1–I made a resolution a couple of years ago to stop spending emotional energy on the comfort of people who are spending zero energy on my comfort. He does not care about how this makes you feel or what the consequences are, so however you decide to proceed, don’t let his comfort or the consequences to him inform your decision. He’s proved he doesn’t deserve that.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Excellent point. It’s highly unlikely that the coworker thought much at all about the LW’s comfort before or after sending the link. LW, you don’t have to care more about the consequences of his actions than he does!

    2. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      This is a really great way of framing it! I struggled with a lot of feelings of shame and like I was being an “inconvenience” or “problem” by reporting it initially, but talking with my supportive partner helped me realize that I was responding to a problem HE created.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment!

      1. BubbleTea*

        I find it fascinating how people who have been the unwilling recipient of unacceptable behaviour usually end up carrying the burden of the shame that the unrepentant offender ought, by rights, to feel. It’s like the shame floats around looking for somewhere to land, and Mr LookitMyNoods is so shameless that it is reflected off onto whoever is nearest.

    3. Random Dice*

      “Stop spending emotional energy on the comfort of people who are spending zero energy on my comfort.”

      Whoa that’s good.

    4. Hotdog not dog*

      I love this! It’s so logical, and yet in over a half a century on this planet I’ve never heard anyone express it like that. Thank you!

  34. Anony*

    LW 1, as a not-guy who also works in an area of almost entirely men, some of whom have a pretty questionable sense of workplace boundaries – emphasize the “nude” and “lingerie” part if you bring it up with him and/or your boss.

    For most workplace conflicts I *do* find it tends to go better if you frame it as “I’m sure you had [insert vaguely plausible good or neutral intention or external factor], but this still caused problems because [X].” Typically it elicits less defensive/confrontational responses, nips any “but look at my intent!” derailing in the bud, and covers your ass if it turns out the more sympathetic explanation was true.

    But I also understand why people feel . . . grosser with this technique when it involves issues like harassment, because Alison’s right, a lot of creeps use plausible deniability to get out of trouble for stuff like this. At least for me, sometimes it helps to heavily emphasize the “this is harassment and causing harm regardless of what you meant by it” part, if only to circumvent the predictable arguing about (unprovable and irrelevant) intent. And sometimes that mindset actually makes me a little more likely to report things, because it gets rid of my internal “but maybe they didn’t *mean* to and I’m misinterpreting. . .” loop – doesn’t matter if this was a cultural barrier or lack of social skills or whatnot, it would make most coworkers uncomfortable and the behavior needs to stop.

    Whether you want to bring it up with him or just go directly to a different authority is up to you, but if you do wind up talking to him I recommend doing it in a written form and likely looping in / CC’ing your boss. If calling him out does end up causing problems, you’ll want a paper trail and a witness. (And also it’s worth keeping in mind that teaching this guy basic professional boundaries is not your job – you don’t personally have the obligation to explain to him why this is an issue, that’s his manager’s job. If you do end up talking to him and he tries to do the “but I just don’t *understand*, is it cause it’s a hobby?” thing, you can just tell him to go talk to whoever in your company is actually responsible for the “this is sexual harassment and why it’s bad” informational talks.)

  35. Monday Monday*

    #1: Before going to your boss or saying something to this guy, take a couple of full-screen screen shots of the page in question and some of the nudes (with your computer/phone date and time stamp in the picture).

    I had a similar situation at work via Facebook and as soon as the guy realized I wasn’t going to respond/engage he deleted his page. I had screenshots that I could show to the investigators (it went up high in the company) and this guy was promptly walked out of the company. Apparently, it was not his first rodeo, and I was not his first victim. I was the last straw that got him fired. But I didn’t know that at the time. You may not be the only one to have this issue or have reported it.

    But please report it. This is so black and white inappropriate and I am sorry this happened.

  36. Hailrobonia*

    Re. #4: I was in my previous job for a loooong time. I liked it, but it was pretty much a dead end so I had to overcome my fear of change/risk and find other opportunities. It seems a lot of people in my department were in the same boat, because when I left it set off a minor wave of other people leaving. Some even confided in me that they wanted to leave for a long time but were too scared of change much like myself.

  37. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW4, very interesting question! And add me to the list of people who started composing a letter, realized what Alison (or Captain Awkward) would probably say, and didn’t send it.

    1. calonkat*

      I commented this once in a Friday open comment thread. I was stressing out about something, started writing an email to Alison, realized what her advice would be and did that. Worked out great too! It was basically “no point in making imaginary challenges, just talk to your supervisor who you have described as supportive”, I was just stressed and couldn’t seem to get over my worries until I “heard” Alison’s calm, common sense reply.

    2. Gracely*

      Yep, I’ve done the same–started writing the letter, then realized I knew what the advice would be, and so I acted accordingly. I’d have been one of those rare “I didn’t leave but it worked out because higher ups finally addressed the problem after literally every one of my coworkers and myself got together to demand a fix” updates.

    3. Delta Delta*

      I’m sort of in this boat. I found AAM several years ago when I was on a hiring team, and while I found the hiring/interviewing advice I found helpful, I also found the questions and answers to be very interesting. It started to make me realize my then-organization was a complete tire fire, and that things I was seeing in my work place were Not Normal. Then some Ridiculous Things happened that started to push me out the door, and I was able to refer to some of Alison’s answers to assure me that I was not the one with the problem.

  38. Risha*

    LW1, I’m so frustrated on your behalf. I’m really tired of men doing this kind of crap and we know he would not have done that if you were higher up than him (or if you were a man yourself). I just don’t understand what the point of this is, especially at work. It is my personal belief that there are many men who enjoy and get off on making women very uncomfortable. And don’t forget, there are lots of men who think women shouldn’t be working and should be at home.

    Please tell your boss. And if you feel comfortable, tell him that’s way past inappropriate to send to you. His reaction will tell you everything you need to know. If he was truly clueless, he should be very apologetic and even embarrassed. Part of working with people from different cultures is to ensure you don’t do something that’s innocent in your culture but offensive to them. So maybe it was innocent on his end, but I’m highly doubting it. Also, since he works with people from other countries/cultures, he needs to learn what’s offensive to other cultures. However, I’m 200% confident he did it to be a creeper. If it was truly innocent, how many of your male coworkers got that link? How many of your higher ups got the link? Why wouldn’t he want to share his photography with everyone instead of just you? We can’t always give men a pass because it may be their “culture” or whatever. I’m guessing that in his culture, it would be bad to send that type of thing to coworkers too (but I could be wrong, who knows).

    But if he reacts all defensively (which I think will be the case), then you know he did it to be a creeper. I wish the day will come that we can just exist in the workplace, do our 8 hours, then go home without any of this stuff.

    And don’t delete his email with the link. Save it to your desktop or somewhere outside of your email so that it does not get deleted. Save any emails to your boss or to him as well. If you have a verbal convo, follow it up with an email. Screenshot any IM chats and save them too. And pay attention to how he treats you after you address it.

  39. afiendishthingy*

    LW1 AHHHH. Huge creep. I would assume he’s also trying to feel out if you would let him photograph you nude. I do hope you tell your boss.

  40. PsychNurse*


    The first year at my job, I bought gifts for several of my close colleagues. One of them didn’t have anything for me, so she must have made a mental note to buy me one the next year. But of course, I had made a mental note that it wasn’t a gift-giving kind of place. So year 2, she gave me one and I didn’t give her one. I guess I’ll update after year 3, haha.

  41. Fungible token*

    Re LW1- I’ve been thinking about this all morning and trying to learn from the comments. I see both sides about whether the LW should/needn’t respond. As someone who freezes when confronted w inappropriate behavior, I do believe that responding in the moment or shortly thereafter is most effective.

    While it should not be their responsibility to report to protect others, I think it is a kindness to others and should happen when possible.

    Years ago at a photography focused magazine, many women shared warnings about a man with each other – a man who encouraged young women to pose for his photographs and held power over their careers. When MeToo came, I revisited this time in my life and still am ashamed that we didn’t do more to really protect each other and those who came after.

    1. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      I thought about responding directly but I so intensely did not want to engage with him in any way that I decided to go directly to talking to my boss and HR. They were both very supportive and I have not had any further communication with him.

      1. Fungible token*

        Right on. I’m truly sorry you had to deal with this. You have so many people standing along side you- including me.

      2. Risha*

        I’m happy you were able to speak up about it and that HR/your boss was supportive. I’m so angry on your behalf. Why can’t we just exist in the workplace without having to experience this nonsense.

        I had an entire response to you but in the past month or so, my comments haven’t been going thru. I don’t know why as I’m never offensive (even tho I do have a strong suspicion why this keeps happening to my comments).

        Just keep all communication between you and whoever you spoke to for at least a year just in case you need to refer to it again.

      3. jane's nemesis*

        It is absolutely understandable that you did not want to engage with him any further, and you absolutely don’t need to apologize for that, if you feel any need to! I’m very glad you were supported by your boss and HR!

      4. Nela*

        That’s great! I hope your boss and HR talk some sense into him. If you hadn’t told anyone about it, it’s quite likely he’d keep being inappropriate with you.

        1. Anony*

          Totally reasonable to not want to engage with the dude – I’m glad your boss and HR is being supportive!

    2. bamcheeks*

      As someone who freezes when confronted w inappropriate behavior, I do believe that responding in the moment or shortly thereafter is most effective

      I would — gently!— like to reframe this, because I think there’s a cultural idea that the zingy clap back or poised dismissal is the ideal response to harassment, and I think it’s basically a fantasy of “what if sexualised harassment (or racialised, or whatever) just didn’t exist, or just didn’t work? What if instead of feeling shocked, humiliated, lost, isolated and belittled, I just felt none of those things and was able to respond in this perfectly poised Buffy way and also everyone present was on my side?”

      As great and as satisfying as that fantasy is when it plays out on TV — or where you’re in the rare situation where the perpetrator has badly misjudged things and you actually DO have the audience or the power structures on you side — it’s actually not the case the majority of times. Most of the time, we ARE humiliated, lost of words, too shocked or disbelieving to speak— and that’s the point! That’s why they do it and that’s the whole thing, it’s not a failure on our parts for being in sufficiently sassy or confident or quick-thinking.

      1. Fungible token*

        I hear you. My point about responding in the moment isn’t so much about having the perfect come back – so much as any sign that what just happened was not ok. I’m working on it still and I’m 55. The first time I needed to respond, I was 12 in a movie theater w a masturbator next to me. I leaped over the seat in front. But since then I mostly just freeze- various sexualized comments from coworkers, ass pinching by bosses (in my 20’s ;)

        I just really love how Alison doubled down on this situation not being ok & all the support the letter writer is getting here. Great community.

  42. Mockingjay*

    LW2: To add to Alison’s advice, if you are receiving repetitive questions about remote work and other job factors or benefits, please ensure that the post describes these clearly. That should help weed out some calls.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I was thinking the same thing. I was surprised about the question regarding whether the job could be hybrid. In this day and age, I would expect that job postings be more blatant about in-person, hybrid, and remote expectations. Unless it’s for something obvious like bus driver, having information like this up front allows for candidates to pass on jobs that they are not interested in accepting and it saves time for the company because they don’t have to spend time interviewing someone who doesn’t want to be in person/fully remote, etc.

  43. ABCYaBYE*

    LW1 – It sounds like you’re comfortable going to your boss, so my post is going to keep that in mind. I’d have different thoughts if you weren’t as comfortable.

    I think it is worth talking to your boss, just to let them know this happened and that it made you extremely (add the adjective here) uncomfortable. I wouldn’t necessarily forward the link unless they specifically ask for it. Regardless of the content, the fact that it was shared anything like this with you very out of the blue and completely unsolicited makes you uncomfortable. Ask your boss’s advice for the next step. And see where it goes. They may help you with an HR report. They may contact the co-worker’s boss. They may tell you to ignore it and bring it back up if the creep continues to be a creep. The only place I’d push back is if they suggest sending anything in reply. I don’t think that’s your responsibility at all.

    1. Unwilling Racy Photo Recipient (LW1)*

      Thanks for your comment! That’s basically where I ended up, except I contacted HR first and screenshared my Slack messages with him and showed them the content at the link. The HR person was very blunt and said immediately “this is completely unsolicited on your part and absolutely inappropriate to share at work.” They addressed it on their end and I have not been a part of that process (nor did I want to be). I told my boss that I made a report and she was also very supportive. I didn’t respond to the message and haven’t engaged with him at all since then. Obviously the event sucked but the response from my boss and HR (and my incredibly supportive partner) have been really great – I feel lucky, overall.

      1. ABCYaBYE*

        That’s awesome. I’m really glad that HR and your boss were so supportive. I hate that this happened to you, and I’m glad things went the way they did for you!

  44. Christina*

    LW#1, here’s another quick email script if you want to deal directly with him to gauge whether you forward to your boss: “Hey – I opened the photography link you sent. It is inappropriate to send nude and boudoir photographs to a work colleague. We don’t know each other well, so as a professional courtesy, I’m going to assume that you sent me the wrong link by mistake, and I’ll refrain from inferring an intent of sexual harassment. Thanks!” If he apologizes or is gracious, great – chances are he won’t mess with you again and think twice about doing it to others. If he defends himself or otherwise extends this, forward to your manager. Honestly, you can forward to your manager even if he goes the apology route, such that there’s a record of this behavior in case it happens again, so he can’t call it a “mistake” the second time.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      No, please don’t advise sending emails that make it harder to deal with a harasser later on if (more likely when) he escalates or retaliates. This wasn’t a joke that landed wrong, he intentionally sent sexualized photos and nude photos unasked to a young female colleague. Giving a response that makes it seem like ‘hey, no biggie’ makes it harder, not easier, to deal with him.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      No!!!! Please don’t give the harasser an excuse to say they sent the wrong link by mistake. They knew what they were doing when they sent the link.

  45. Texan In Exile*

    The two times co-workers have shared links to their photos with me:

    1. Older American man near retirement who wanted to start a photography business. He and I had worked very closely on a project and had gotten to know each other. He sent me a draft of his website, which had wedding photos. Everyone was clothed.

    2. Thirtysomething Turkish/German man living in Germany. Again, we had worked closely on a project and had gotten to know each other and learned we both liked to cook. He sent me his IG, which had photos of his cooking, his wife, and his little girl. All the people were clothed and the food looked amazing.

  46. Marna Nightingale*

    I do think it’s possible that there are nuances being overlooked here.

    LW 1 could* reach out to her boss and also to carefully-selected coworkers to ask for their perspective. 20 or 30 should do it.

    Possibly put the whole exchange in the company Slack, just to get a fully-rounded take on it.

    Of course, in fairness to the photographer she’d want to include both the messages and the link so as not to only offer one side of the story.

    * Blame this comment on the fact that I’m currently, at Allison’s recommendation, reading Hench.

    LW1, unless you work for or aspire to become a supervillain, DO NOT DO THIS.

    Just maybe picture the fallout if you did while having a pleasant toes-up on your sofa, and cackle a little.

  47. Ex-prof*

    LW 1 — I would definitely skip the step of responding to the co-worker. LW’s expression of dismay is very likely where he was expecting to get his jollies. Deprive him and go straight to the boss.

  48. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    I know the impulse to explain it away, so there’s always the option to return the awkward to sender… “Why did you send that to me?”

    If it was innocent, like they got confused and thought it was you they had the photography conversation with, when it was really Imogen, then you’ll find out when they say something like: you mentioned an interest after the Llama meeting. You can then set the record straight.

    If it’s not innocent, which seems highly likely, you get to watch them squirm trying to explain it.

    1. Meep*

      I disagree. This is not a return the awkward to the sender moment. Sending a random link of nudes to any woman unsolicited is not something that can be remotely a mistake. Please stop being and encouraging being gross.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        Meep, I don’t see how I was being gross or encouraging it. I simply acknowledge the impulse the LW has and offered an option.

        I tend to agree with you assessment that it likely isn’t anything remotely innocent. However, I think the return to sender option is a good one to have in ones back pocket. In particular because sometimes it can be more effective if the people with power to change something are… Less than helpful.

        You are free to disagree, and tbh I don’t think it’s the best option here (those were already covered in my opinion). But calling me gross for offering an option isn’t exactly helpful.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        I don’t think that But Not The Hippopotamus is encouraging or explaining the behavior away. Questioning someone like this creep is actually a very good way to handle such situations at work. I do this any time someone makes a horribly offensive “joke” at work. I very blandly say “I don’t understand. Why do you think that’s funny?” It’s a way of confronting someone about their behavior without seeming to be confrontational. (…and yes, the squirming is rather rewarding.)

        I prefer saying “Dude, what the hell?!?” in the moment, but we often are so taken aback that the moment passes. In either case, screen shots for ones boss is the thing to do.

  49. Avril Ludgateaux*

    #4 to add on to what Alison wrote, I read something once that was like, when you are having trouble making a decision, the person you go to IS your answer. As in, if you were invited to go skydiving and can’t decide whether to do it so you go to a friend: did you ask your adventurous, outgoing, try-anything friend, or did you ask your more timid, anxious, cautious friend? The one you went to kind of betrays how you subconsciously feel about (whatever).

    With that said, I think many people come to this blog indeed with a feeling that is generally aligned with/supported by both Alison and the majority of the commentariat’s response. That’s not to say there is never a disagreement – some of the comment sections here have gotten quite heated – but generally, even if there are different interpretations of how to address a problem, there is usually agreement of what the problem is. And I think many times, the LWs know this, too, but they need the encouragement of uninvolved third parties. Even when it’s a question like, “I feel like I should be able to gargle warm milk poured out of a shoe at my desk. Is this really as nauseating as the criticism I’m getting from coworkers suggests?”… Assuming the LW has ever read this blog, they know the answer they’ll get.

    I should also note, though, that there may be some selection bias: people who are still stuck in their toxic workplace, struggling with an oppressive workload, butting heads with a manager or colleague, dealing with the same problems they wrote in about… probably aren’t as inclined to report as much!

    1. Bookmark*

      This is similar to the strategy of making a decision by coin flip when you’re stuck on something. You’re obviously not actually bound to the result of the coin flip, but the point is to see how you feel about the result of the flip. Are you relieved to have the decision made? Are you secretly hoping the coin went heads instead of tails? That’s useful information about what you actually want to do.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Yes, perfect comparison! When you flip a coin, it’s about what result was your gut hoping it would land on, more than the actual result. And when you come to AAM, you kiiiiiind of already know there is a dysfunction and/or misalignment that is often worth leaving over.

  50. Pam Poovey*

    LW 1: ewwwwww

    I’m a hobby photographer and while I don’t do portraits generally and don’t do nudes at all, I still wouldn’t send my work to a coworker unless they asked. And if I DID shoot nudes and someone DID ask, I’d at least say “just fyi, some of my shots are more sexual/nude/explicit in nature. I’m not comfortable sending that at work, but if you still want to see them I can text you my portfolio link later.” You don’t just send someone sexual content without their permission.

  51. Meep*

    LW#1 – Look at it this way – even if it is a “cultural thing” and you are “just a prude” (I mean I agree with the Europeans on not sexualizing boobs in a normal setting), men need to be put in their place and stop thinking of women as their play things. He had no reason to send you that. Not even if he was just looking for follows. He doesn’t know you!

  52. Jessica Fletcher*

    People who aren’t native English speakers also do not normally send nudes to their (younger, female) coworkers! They also know it’s wrong!

  53. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    LW1: BTW, if your coworker is posting nude photos of women to Instagram, that’s possibly actually not allowed under their guidelines. I don’t use Insta, but I found this by searching for “Instagram community guidelines FAQ’s”

    From that page:

    Appropriate Imagery – We don’t allow nudity on Instagram, with some exceptions, like photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.

    While I roll my eyes at how prudish people are about nonsexual nudity, I wouldn’t hesitate to report that guy’s Instagram since he’s using it to be a creeper. (The page tells you how to report even if you don’t have an account there.)

  54. bratschegirl*

    With the caveat that of course this shouldn’t be LW 1’s responsibility either, I think it’s important not to let this slide because I can absolutely imagine that being used against her when he decides to escalate to hitting on her. “Well, geez, how was I to know? She didn’t object to me sending her a link to my nude and boudoir photos, so it was entirely reasonable for me to take that as an invitation to keep going.” That is not defensible on his part either, but someone is going to think it is.

    Yet another example of how we are d@mned if we do and d@mned if we don’t. If we object, we’re humorless and uptight, and if we don’t then we should have known more was coming and we invited the “more” by not objecting. Good times!

  55. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    I see LW 1 took action already, but I’ll go ahead and comment: There is no question that this guy was being a creep. It was not a mistake, a cultural difference, or anything like that. The little fantasy movie in his head was “maybe I’ll get her to pose for me too!” I have encountered guys like this my whole career (I’m a guy); they are just fishing all the time. You absolutely did the right thing by reporting it. Just be sure not to back down if HR comes back to you for additional info trying to minimize it.

  56. Bad Wolf*

    LW#1 – “The fact that you sent me soft porn is inappropriate. But what’s really offensive is that the pictures are just not very good. Don’t quit your day job. Or do anything else to get fired.”

    1. MurpMaureep*

      I had the similar thought that she could respond with confusion over why he was sharing some sleazeball’s poorly curated IG and then “joke” about being careful using work email for this since it could easily end up with HR.
      (in all seriousness, she was exactly right to escalate like she did and I was pleased to hear the result was swift and decisive).

  57. Princesa*

    #3 I’ve bought gifts for my coworkers before and didn’t receive anything in return, and my feelings werent hurt! Hopefully people will understand that giving gifts doesnt mean you get one in return.

  58. peacock limit*

    #2 is kind of surprising to me, especially reading back on the original post from 2013. Maybe I’m in the 1% who isn’t asking annoying questions, but I’ve always done due diligence before applying, and that usually includes asking the recruiter or hiring manager specific questions about deal breakers so I don’t waste our time. Maybe I should be saving that for an interview, but I generally want to keep my potential candidacy private until I’ve decided to apply, and I have no way of knowing whether my colleagues might be on the hiring committee/review panel. I’m not in exactly what I’d call a niche field, but there’s enough cross-pollination in orgs/departments that we all kind of know each other, you know what I mean?

  59. El l*

    Yes, just even sitting down to write it out is often acknowledgement that there’s a significant problem. Same as with relationships.

    Where it does differ from relationships is: People’s problems with jobs typically aren’t just with one person, they’re with groups or company cultures. It’s harder. That’s why you can’t do the Mark Manson trick where every time he got relationship advice, he finally just wrote as boilerplate, “Before asking me, write out your response, and show it to your significant other.”

    I’m guessing that’s another reason the “I’m leaving” percentage is so high.

  60. Marna Nightingale*

    LW4: I once spent a miserable post-breakup period trying to explain to friends what happened without “being a bitch” or “starting DRAMA” and all I can say is that the day I realized that if talking about my ex without “accidentally” and “unfairly” making him sound like a gaslighting abuser was THAT HARD … maybe my powers of expression weren’t the problem.

    And another ex (a very very lovely one) has talked about that crystalizing moment when you tell a hilarious story about your childhood and look around to enjoy everyone’s amusement and they’re all staring at you in horrified sympathy.

    So yeah, I suspect writing it out helps, as does seeing other people react to what you write. And even realizing that things have gotten to the point where you’re writing Ask A Manager about your job.

    Especially, in some ways, when you know you’re doing your best to be fair and professional and yet everyone involved still sounds kind of terrible…

  61. Veryanon*

    LW1: Please say something to HR. If Creepy Guy did this to you, 100% he is doing it to others, and it’s entirely possible your complaint would be enough to push your company to taking some concrete action against this guy. Don’t fall into the trap of “oh maybe he didn’t mean anything by it” or “it really wasn’t that big of a deal.” He absolutely meant something by it and it absolutely is a big deal. No one should have to deal with this at work.

  62. Syph*

    Hey LW1: from one victim of sexual harassment to another, I know there’s a ton of shame attached to this. I found myself wondering if I somehow said or did something that made my harasser think it was okay, or that it would be welcome. And I was scared to go to HR, because a lot of times that blame gets applied externally, or somebody tells you “he didn’t mean it like that,” or demands to know why you’re making some Big Thing out of such a little interaction.

    But you know what? It doesn’t matter if you “somehow” encouraged the behavior. It was unwelcome, unasked for, and inappropriate, and you are okay to make as big a stink of it as you want or feel is necessary. If you’d rather just go on like it never happened, that’s okay, too.

    You are not obligated to soften this in any way. But if you want softer language for your (or his) boss, if you bring this up to them, I would forward the interaction to them in an email and flat out ask. “Is this me being a stuffy American? I just want to make sure this isn’t a cross-cultural miscommunication. In the USA, sending someone an unsolicited link to nude photographs and photographs of attractive women in lingerie would be inappropriate, and I want to make sure I react appropriately here.”

    Repeating: you’re not obligated to soften it, and it has a risk of playing down the offense and giving him an “out.” But if that would help you feel less guilty about reporting this harassment to your boss, it’s there.

  63. Wilbur*

    There’s a “Worst Boss of the Year”, but LW1 makes me think we need a “Worst Coworker of the Year” as well.

  64. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    #3 You could always bring treats in for your office mates as a thank you. Or even something for valentines day.

  65. JustMe*

    LW 1 – while I’m all for looking at previous conversations to ensure there’s no cultural miscommunication (I’m an American who works with people from other countries daily), that doesn’t sound like what’s happening here. If anything, it sounds pretty ABnormal based on the interactions I’ve had with Northern European people. The fact that he brought it up unprompted by chat indicates to me that he’s just being a creep.

  66. DJ*

    LW2 sometimes ppl need to ask questions to determine whether to apply for the position or not.
    It could be someone with medical restrictions/disability who don’t want to waste their time on a job that falls outside of their restrictions, i.e. heavy lifting etc. It could be someone who is meeting unemployment benefit obligations where they are not allowed to refuse work so want to ensure they do want this job before applying (it could be due to anything i.e. absolutely hating and being emotionally impacted by 100% fast paced customer service, travel over several transport connections etc).
    Have your vacancies on your website with links to further information and reference this on your advertisement. Perhaps it’s worth having a position factsheet with additional information that is available on your website. Include physical/emotional/intellectual requirements e.g. for a court monitor, will be required to sit for up to 3 hours in a court room without a break). Ergonomic/other adjustments provided e.g. for a call centre will be supplied with a headset, 5 minute break per hour, exclusive use adjustable sit to stand desk and chair
    I’ve seen job descriptions include a WHS related requirements analysis
    And for goodness sake say where the workplace is located so applicants can research public transport and parking options.

  67. LisaD*

    LW1: if you don’t set a boundary now, he will eventually ask you to pose for him. Source: happened to me at work when I was 19, coworker with the photography hobby was 37. Every one of these creepy amateur photographer dudes is the same. (I’m not proud to say I wasn’t brave enough to report him at the time, but he did end up getting fired later for giving a coworker an unwanted massage.)

  68. Curmudgeon in California*

    LW #2: I loathe this dichotomy. Employers write these long, detailed, everything but the kitchen sink, lists of qualifications that they want, but leave out some important details that matter a lot to me. This is particularly bad in tech.

    Here are some of them:
    * What is the pay range? – I keep getting pitches for jobs at less than 1/3 of my usual salary. I’m not just off the turnip truck, people.
    * On-site, hybrid or 100% remote? – So often they say “remote”, but they mean hybrid 4 days a week if you live within 100 miles of the office. Waste of both our time.
    * What is the tech stack? – Sure, you list every modern technology and tool as what you want, but that list is meaningless without knowing what you actually use, not what is nice to have.
    * Is the project a greenfield or a brownfield? – I’m not going to do a huge take-home project with innovative stuff just to maintain legacy systems.
    * What is the on-call frequency? – One week a month, 24 x 7 x 365, or something else. I actually have a life, so if the job is going to eat all of my spare time, I will ask for more money.
    * What agile practices are in place? – Some companies insist on Scrum for everything, even operations and accounting! Your company’s approach to agile is a big factor in fit for me because I’ve had some very bad experiences.
    * Is there a clearance involved? – Not everyone can pass a clearance, even a basic public trust clearance, so this is important to know before applying.

    I realize that recruiters don’t make the job descriptions. But I need to know this stuff if I’m going to realistically assess whether it is worth both of our time to interview. If you reach out to me with a job description, I’m going to ask these types of follow up questions. If I find the JD on a website, but there isn’t enough information to get a realistic picture of what the job is, I may ask these questions as well. If you get offended by that, then I’m probably not a good fit for your organization based on that alone.

    I’m not new in my field, so I do know some of the “gotchas” I want to avoid. While some people think I’m “too picky”, I really want to avoid the burn out situations that I’ve had. Giving me this information means a more efficient process for both of us.

    Thanks for listening.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      Yes! Also, with the tight market people are sometimes trying to hire after one 30 minute interview. I can only ask five minutes of questions in that, so I might know about the team, or the agile practices, or the client contract (important to know if it’s only got three months left). I most certainly won’t know all of that! Yet, it’s really important to me to know that stuff

      1. Cuddly Cactus*

        I really want to emphasize Alison’s point about not having a huge time-intensive application process too. The more time-intensive it is, the more I am going to want to know about whether it will be worth my time (although frankly I just don’t bother with unreasonable requests anymore – I know my value now).

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          Some ATS software will be so obnoxious I will click away. Like the ones that take in your resume, then make you re-enter your entire resume, and add the exact dates, the manager’s name, your pay rate, and the reason you left! Those I abandon. I might have wanted to work for your company, but I’ll never know because I couldn’t get past the gatekeeping machine that wants to know everything but my t-shirt size! Sure, you think it saves you time, but what it does is filter out the people who are not desperate.

          Another is when six different companies use the same clunky ATS. So you fill it out once, and then, instead of letting you just retrieve the one application and copy it over, makes you fill out the whole d***ed thing again! Multiply this by six companies, and you can easily blow an entire eight hour day applying to less than 10 companies.

          Applying for jobs is a numbers game. When I’m searching full time I can easily apply for five new positions in a day. Add phone screens, interviews and those horrible take-home “tests” that are supposed to take “just a few hours” but actually take a couple of days, and suddenly you are spending 12 hours a day and getting very discouraged, resentful, and burned out.

          The last time I was job hunting I often had three or more phone screens and interviews in a day (the most was seven, and I was wiped by the time the day was over), plus applications to fill my pipeline up for the next week. Add clunky ATS software to that, and it is just a horrible experience.

  69. Vio*

    Even IF the ‘photographer’ from letter 1 was genuinely acting within his own cultural norms (which I highly doubt) it would still be very much worth letting him know that those are NOT the norms of the cultures his colleagues are from and he needs to adapt his behaviour accordingly. Just like we would make reasonable accommodations to accommodate somebodies culture, we have the right to expect them to do the same for us.
    While it’s true that some European cultures have very different norms relating to nudity, I’m pretty sure that all of them would still consider it way over the line to send naked pictures to a co-worker who has never expressed any interest in recieving such things.

  70. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

    LW1: While I totally agree that no excuses should be made for creeps, you mentioned something in your letter that started me wondering: you stated that your colleague is from a northern European country and isn’t a native speaker of English. How long has he been here? And how old is he?

    Both of these are relevant because workplace norms vary widely according to culture. Plenty of things that Americans take for granted as normal are considered totally out of line elsewhere! If your colleague has only recently moved to America, he may not be aware that what he did is indeed considered “creepy” here. And that goes double if he’s very young; he may not have the experience or sophistication to realize that he needs to immerse himself in finding out what is and what isn’t appropriate on the job in America.

    When I lived in Germany, I saw “guest workers” from a different part of the world come to grief because they totally misinterpreted what they saw in their new country. At that time, ordinary newsstands openly sold magazines that would make Playboy look like Readers’ Digest. Seeing these images, many male guest workers assumed that all young German women were sexually available for the asking and they behaved accordingly. Needless to say, they acquired terrible reputations and THEIR entire culture was slammed as being the producer of creepers! Did this excuse these men’s behavior? No! But it did explain it. And it also suggested that early, bluntly honest talk about the difference between what they saw in magazines and movies and the reality about how European women expected to be treated would have gone a long way towards preventing this debacle. LW1, some frank talk with your colleague might be in order here, too. At the very least, it would put him on notice that what he did was NOT acceptable here, that he’s now been warned about it and that from now on there’ll be no possible excuse for his continuing to do it.

    1. Eyes Kiwami*

      As many others have pointed out, this isn’t appropriate behavior in Europe either. “Cultural differences” is not an excuse, and it’s not for LW to teach him–let HR do that, with consequences.

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