In January I wrote a post on Instagram expressing my anger and disgust at Vice’s brand presence at the Women’s March.
At the time, I was months into a so-called investigation that the company themselves encouraged me to take part in, only to have proceeded to treat me with such minimal respect and sensitivity, that a big part of me regrets ever agreeing to be involved.
My personal experience in this process has ranged from the company being repeatedly cold, unresponsive and inconsistent in their correspondence with me, to far more serious incidents, including senior HR staff mixing up two completely different confidential victim testimonies in Vice’s official written records. That is to say, they included private information that another woman gave them, in a file with my name on it, then sent it to me.
In my case, some of the events I’ve had to recount took place when I was just sixteen years old. The process of detailing these incidents to complete strangers is deeply traumatic on a number of levels. I was a precocious teenager, but also a very vulnerable one. In saying out loud the multiple ways I was taken advantage of by men twice my age, who I trusted completely, the abuse has become a lot more real, and triggered a huge amount of stress and anxiety in me, that I was in no way prepared for. But its the company’s response, after having persuaded me that coming forward was the ‘right’ thing to do, that has been the real twist of the knife. For me, the most truly upsetting part of this story, including the abuse itself, is the present day, and Vice’s ongoing attempts to cover up a culture that is dangerous from the top-down.
Since writing what I did on Instagram, I’ve been approached by a number of publications and TV networks asking me to comment further on my experiences, and how the company is now handling the case. I’ve declined every offer, including those with a fee attached. This was partly due to fear of legal repercussions, but also because I felt that continuing to speak on the matter would be emotionally damaging, and I genuinely held out hope that there might be some resolution. The idea of further associating my name with the company, including in the context of this article, is very difficult for me to consider. I take no pleasure in coming out to expose Vice, and am doing so because I feel they have not given me, and others who have come forward, the closure we deserve.
It is torturous for us to see the repeated attempts by Vice to pose as allies of the Me Too movement, while they continue to ignore victims’ emails and lie to the public. This blatant, ongoing hypocrisy has lead me to the decision to come forward about my case.
I feel that Vice’s consumers, investors, and the general public at large deserve to know how one of the world’s biggest and most influential media companies is actually handling the widespread reports of sexual abuse, harassment, and inappropriate behavior.
I’ve no doubt that the company will consider issuing a counter statement to this piece, most likely full of inaccuracies and misleading information about me. I respectfully ask that Vice, for once, considers prioritizing the feelings and wellbeing of the women who were abused on the company’s watch, instead of putting their energy into discrediting our stories, and orchestrating smear-campaigns against those who have been brave enough to speak out.
Further to what is included below, I have several hours worth of recorded phone calls which indicate a shocking level of incompetence and disorganization, as well as emails dating back almost ten years. All of the material is backed up and safe. I currently have no intention of publishing this material unless I am asked to in an official legal capacity.
I have confirmed one unpaid TV interview with an Ofcom regulated news platform following the release of this piece. After this, I ask that editors and producers please refrain from contacting me asking for my comments on this story as it progresses.
I do not want to be defined by this, or what I suffered, and I hope that in showing you the truth about the way Vice are handling this, that the company will realize that they cannot lie to or mislead the public without people calling them out.
Collating this information in one place has been an incredibly distressing process, so forgive me if the edit is a little clumsy. Its both a complicated and emotional situation, not easily put into words.
I was literally shaking with rage as I wrote the post on Instagram. Myself and others involved in the investigation were in a state of shock as images from the marches surfaced.
For the company to be making such a desperate and tone-deaf attempt to remain relevant, under the circumstances, was completely farcical. As they handed out branded tote bags and badges to crowds marching in Los Angeles and New York, I was at home having to take time off work, barely able to function normally day-to-day, as a result of the severe stress and anxiety caused by their poor handling of the investigation. The same was true for several other victims.
I’d been struggling to get any answers to my questions or real follow-ups from HR about crimes that I had been a victim of, and how the company was going to handle the knowledge they now had about men at the company. To see that there was, however, energy and funding being thrown at this PR stunt, naturally made me feel even more insignificant.
Without warning me beforehand, Vice’s PR department responded to my post by issuing a statement directly to the press, that was both factually incorrect and tonally very misleading. It essentially discredited my claims, and implied that I hadn’t even made Vice aware of some of what I’d mentioned.
I’d told people at the company that their mishandling of the case and my personal information was causing me a huge amount of stress. I told them I’d suffered panic attacks and wasn’t sleeping properly, due to their consistent disorganization and unresponsiveness. With all this in mind, they still didn’t think it was necessary to speak to me about the fact they were releasing this:
“Ms. Porter has raised some of the allegations in her Instagram post with us and we have worked quickly and decisively to investigate them and take appropriate actions where necessary. We have encouraged her to give further details surrounding any allegations, so we can investigate those as well. We encourage any current or former employee who believes they are the victim of a crime to file a police report. We will co-operate with any law enforcement enquiries that follow.
We want Vice to be a working environment in which all colleagues feel valued and respected and have put in place clear procedures for colleagues to raise grievances, and a rigorous and transparent process for handling them.”
I had of course raised all of the allegations in my Instagram post, in great detail, along with several other extremely serious incidents. My first conversations with Vice’s new HR team were back in November. The information included in my post was not news to them, and at a time where I was constantly having to chase their ‘investigators’ for updates and information, its both absurd and wholly unfair for them to have implied that I was the one withholding details. Their desire to try and paint me as being uncooperative in a public statement, during such an upsetting time, is indicative of their levels of human decency and compassion in general.
With regard to them encouraging me to file a police report, this also isn’t strictly the case. After having asked several different members of staff whether or not the police had been notified about the crimes I’d been a victim of, I eventually received an incredibly impersonal note, letting me know I was ‘free to do so’ myself if I wished.
In this clip from a call I recorded with a senior member of Vice’s Human Resources team, elected to deal with the investigation, she doesn’t once suggest that I consult police, and genuinely seems to struggle to even remember the severity of the things I told her in the complaint she convinced me to make.
Here is a portion of an email I sent a senior member of Vice’s Global Counsel team only a day before my post on Instragram. I appreciate it might be difficult to fully understand this message without any background, but I think its a good indication of how little I was being listened to and informed in this apparently ‘rigorous and transparent process’:
And here is just a handful of the other instances in which I’ve been ignored by the company and their investigators, while they proclaim to the outside world to be ‘working quickly and decisively’ to support people like myself.
You see, no matter how much time and effort the company might shovel into improving their public image, at the heart of it, there hasn’t been an ounce of energy put into making this process as easy and straightforward as it can be for the victims.
I have consulted several other people who have been part of this investigation who say they have also had to repeatedly chase the company for responses to their emails, and don’t receive updates about their cases unless they specifically ask (over and over again) what is going on. One person told me that the staff investigating her case had gotten her name wrong on several occasions.
I cannot explain how mentally draining it is to re-live painful events from your past, after years of internalizing certain memories. To have to repeat specific upsetting details so a stranger can make notes - its a humiliating process, even when you have nothing to be ashamed of.
For Vice to then add insult to injury, to this extent, by forcing people who are in a fragile state to beg for basic information, is inexcusable. The victims are not the ones who should be walking away from this process feeling degraded.
To me, the past is not the smoking gun here. Though some of what happened to me as a teenager might sound scandalous to those who aren’t familiar with the Vice brand, the fact that an organization- run by a man who boasted about featuring women in the magazine in order to sleep with them-doesn’t exactly respect its female staff, isn’t the shocker of the century. We are, after all, talking about a company that long championed the work of Terry Richardson, and has for years promoted the barely legal aesthetic in fashion. I was myself asked to model in a shoot for the website in a see-through wet T-shirt, aged seventeen (very high concept), and was openly encouraged by several of my senior male colleagues to behave in a way that was highly sexualized.
When I had my first company business cards printed, they included the title ‘Lolita Life Ruiner’ — a nickname I’d been given at age sixteen by the magazine’s then editor.
What I’m saying is, the salacious tales of drug use and group sex at a company whose personal brand was based on that lifestyle, isn’t exactly an exposé. The more sickening matter is how badly they’ve chosen to deal with their past in the current climate.
I myself got involved in the investigation after I was approached by a journalist who I’d never met, who said she‘d been advised I might have information I’d like to share in a piece about the toxic work culture at Vice.
At the time I was finishing up on a Viceland production, and I was conflicted about how I should handle the situation. I didn’t really feel ready to talk publicly about what had happened to me, but I also felt that it was an important time to speak up if it meant it could lead to real change.
I confided in a friend at the company, who said that there was a new HR person and external investigator who were dealing with all matters of this nature. They also mentioned that there might be an obligation for them to pass on details about certain things that had happened to me to this new HR person, regardless of if I chose to myself or not.
The same friend enquired internally about what I should do, whilst protecting my identity. I was then forwarded an email from senior management, who advised that I spoke to HR. I was extremely reluctant, but took an initial confidential call with a woman who had just been hired in, partially to oversee these investigations. I had severe doubts about what good my coming forward would do, as there were men at the company who seemed untouchable. I was told, repeatedly, ‘no one is above the law’.
From our very first phone call, before I’d disclosed a single piece of information, or even my name, I found myself crying uncontrollably. I realized just how much I had buried, and how I’d almost grown used to the weight of it all. For the first time as an adult, I was mentally confronting events that I’d never properly dealt with.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I also felt a sense of disloyalty to the company, by even speaking to this woman on the phone. Vice, during certain periods in my life, had been a huge part of my identity. When I’d first begun working for them, I had a very difficult, on-off relationship with my parents, who were struggling with a drug problem at the time. As a result, my colleagues at Vice often felt like my family. I regularly confided in them about problems I’d experienced growing up, and I was naively under the impression they cared about my wellbeing. The recent realization that my vulnerability had actually made it much easier for men to take advantage of me has been extremely difficult to stomach.
I expressed concerns to HR about how partaking in the investigation could affect me mentally. The thought of entering into a process that sounded like it could potentially lead to a criminal case, seemed like something that should be handled with real sensitivity. I was worried that it could pull the rug from beneath my feet emotionally, financially… in every way possible. I was reassured by HR that I would remain in complete control of the investigation at every stage. I was told I would be given ‘protection’, though this was never elaborated on, and never materialized. I was assured that I was dealing with people who had experience in matters of this nature. That I could trust them. That they knew what they were doing. There was also an undertone to our conversations that made me feel like my choosing not to move forward could leave Vice as an unsafe space for other women.
Eventually I agreed to take part. I gave my full name, and set a call where I spent hours detailing all the inappropriate things that had happened to me at the company, starting from when I was first working with Vice, aged sixteen. What happened afterwards, as I’ve now illustrated, has been borderline chaos.
Since my post on Instagram, I’ve been contacted by a shocking number of women all over the world, who shared with me heartbreaking accounts of their mistreatment by Vice staff. Some of these were ex-employees themselves, others current staff, and many had no professional links to the company. Many of the instances they mentioned had been reported to management and HR, and dealt with in a similarly disorganized and insensitive fashion.
I’ve chosen to write this article, because I can no longer bear to see Vice mislead people into believing that they have any sort of stringent plan in place to deal with the company’s wrongdoings.
The past cannot be erased. There is nothing that can undo the unspeakable things that happened to me, and other people, at the hands of Vice staff.
But to coerce people into giving painful, personal details about their past, and then not to deal with these appropriately, is sickening, and a form of abuse in itself.
The recent news that Shane Smith will stand down as CEO making way for a female replacement (and personal friend of his) will no doubt momentarily reassure some people that positive change is upon us. I’d ask that you question the timing of this move, and what is truly behind it. Its important for people to note that Shane still holds an extremely senior position at the company, and will continue to work across, in his own words, ‘content and deals.’ This rather transparent restructuring decision has taken effect while certain internal investigations are left unresolved, and while dangerous men remain gainfully employed by Vice.
We all deserve more than this relentless superficiality. Our experiences were real — so too should be the response from a $5.7 billion company.
I implore the corporations who have a stake in Vice to dig deeper into the company’s past, and to oversee the current investigations. Those who continue to invest in and collaborate with this company, knowing the information that is now public, should at the very least release statements explaining their continued involvement with an organization that has been so dishonest.
To journalists who are covering the ongoing investigation at Vice:
I felt it was important for me to disclose the information I have, but I do not wish to become the spokesperson for this story as it evolves. Please refrain from contacting me for comment. I have to try and move on from this for my own health. If you are looking for a story, I’d encourage you to investigate the recent wave of voluntary redundancies offered to people at company.
To those who are in a similar position as I have been: I promise it gets better.