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Provocative photographs of men led to firefighters' dismissals

By Sonny Long
April 7, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2011 at 11:07 p.m.




Photographs of nude men, some in provocative poses, were among the images displayed at Victoria Fire Station No. 2 that led to the dismissal of two Victoria firefighters.

About 10 photographs were joined together in a montage that included a scantily clad crotch shot, a shot of one nude man kissing another nude man's body, a cartoon of two men kissing, a shot of one nude man looming over another with his hands on his shoulders, a bare-chested man and a shot of a man's scantly clad rear end.

The montage also includes face shots of two Hollywood actors.

After a complaint was filed with the city last month and an internal investigation conducted, the two firefighters were fired, according to a city news release Wednesday.

The city released few details about the incident so it is undisclosed exactly where the images were displayed.

The Advocate is waiting for reports of the investigation requested from the city under the Texas Public Information Act.

"To protect all parties involved in internal investigations, the city will not comment on individual cases," said communications director O.C. Garza.

Greg Mitchell, president of the Victoria firefighters union, also would not comment about the firings.

"I would like to make a comment on this situation but, unfortunately, since the parties involved are not association members, city policy prohibits me from doing so," Mitchell said.

CITY POLICY

Garza did say that the incident violated the city's conduct policy and employees are routinely reminded of their responsibilities in that area.

"Reinforcement of the city's personnel policies is an on-going process of education and training," said Garza. "If an incident occurs that signals a need for additional emphasis on specific policy expectations, we will prepare and deliver training to remind our workforce of the expectations of being a city employee."

Garza said the city uses every opportunity to reinforce expectations of employee behavior.

Department heads, he said, are reminded at bi-weekly staff meetings of various issues that affect city business, including personnel issues.

"We have high expectations that our department heads hold their employees accountable for following personnel polices," said Garza.

WORKPLACE HARASSMENT

Workplace polices concerning sexual harassment are in place more for an employers' benefit than their employees, says Casey Akins, a University of Houston-Victoria criminal justice professor.

"While it would be ideal to state that policies are in place to protect employees from sexual harassment, the reality is that most policies exist to protect the employers from harassment civil suits," Akins said.

Those policies, however, do have their place.

"I believe they are essential for establishing an expectation of responsible behavior in the workplace," Akins said. "Effective policies will outline appropriate boundaries to protect employees and identify what affected employees can do to bring a grievance."

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Akins, who teaches a course on sex crimes and has been an advocate for sexual assault victims for more than 15 years, said that sexual harassment has some direct causes and effects.

"Harassment doesn't stem from sexual attraction, as is commonly thought," Akins said. "It usually stems from a desire on the part of the harasser to demonstrate power over the victim - to show that they have the ability to intimidate, demean, denigrate or shame another individual.

STRAIGHT VS. GAY

If the situation involves straights and gays, as it appears to be the case in the Victoria Fire Department, "It also may be a subtle or deliberate attempt to marginalize a person," said Akins, who said she does not know any of the people involved or particulars of the fire department case.

"Sometimes in a case where straight people harass homosexual people, it may be an attempt to create an 'us' and 'them' separation; a clumsy or immature attempt to demonstrate their own 'straightness' through not-so-subtle intimidation," Akins said.

Akins added that, "Straight on gay harassment is under-reported and when it is reported, it is often not necessarily classified as 'sexual harassment in the workplace."

She emphasized that sexual harassment of any kind can have a widespread impact.

"Sexual harassment doesn't just impact the direct victims," Akins explained. "It pollutes the entire working environment because it creates an atmosphere of distrust, communicates to the entire work group that there are some people that are allowed to try to humiliate other people and undermines the notion that professional competence is valued above all else."

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