Models and others in the fashion industry may be especially vulnerable to sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment
For a limited time, the Adult Survivors Act allows models and other victims of sexual assault to sue the perpetrators for damages – even if the assault occurred many years earlier
For many of us, the term “fashion industry” conjures visions of beautiful people strutting down runways, traveling the world, and dancing the night away at glamorous parties. While this is certainly the reality for some models, many have suffered for years with a much darker side of the fashion industry: endemic sexual assault and harassment.
Sexual Assault In The Fashion Industry
Of course, although sexual assault in the fashion industry is prevalent, it is not unique to the fashion world: every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.¹ However, several factors mean that models – and other fashion industry workers – are often particularly vulnerable to abuse.2
First, the fashion industry remains plagued by gender inequality. While the majority of models and entry-level employees are women, leadership in the fashion industry remains overwhelmingly male – a dynamic referred to as “the glass runway” or “the fabric ceiling”.3 For example, while women work over 70% of entry-level positions in Fortune 1000 apparel companies, only 12.5% of these companies are led by a female CEO. 4
This is not to imply that men cannot be victims of sexual assault. To the contrary: nearly one-third of American men have experienced sexual violence, including many models and others working in fashion.5 In one high-profile example, photographer Bruce Weber – known for his work with Vogue, Calvin Klein, and Abercrombie & Fitch – recently settled a lawsuit after more than a dozen male models accused him of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1990s. 6
A second factor increasing models’ vulnerability to sexual assault is their age: models tend to be young adults, with many starting to work as teenagers. The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30, with 69% of all victims being under 35. Young women are particularly vulnerable: women aged 18-24 (who make up a sizeable portion of fashion models) are 3-4 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population.
Third, financial dependence and precarity contributes to models’ vulnerability to sexual assault. Especially at the beginning of their careers, models are often required to work long hours for very little pay. Authority figures – whether photographers, agents, or modeling executives – may exploit models’ financial vulnerability by promising career advancement in exchange for sexual favors, or threaten to ruin the career of a model who reports sexual misconduct. This dynamic also means that many models may have avoided coming forward with claims against their attackers – for fear of personal or professional retaliation.
Models who immigrate from other countries may be at even greater risk of exploitation if they face language barriers or depend on their employers to maintain their Visa status in the United States. Kaja Sokola was just 16 when she moved from Poland to New York to pursue her dreams of modeling. A young teen in a foreign country, Sokola reports she was sexually abused by notorious predator Harvey Weinstein, whom she met at an event organized by her modeling agency.
Finally, the nature of modeling work itself can put models at risk. During many parts of the job, including photoshoots and bookings, models may be left alone with just one or two other people in the room. Many photoshoots involve a degree of nudity, blurring boundaries of acceptable behavior; models may feel uncertain about whether a photographer’s remarks or conduct has crossed the line, and therefore hesitate to speak up.
Of course, it’s not just models who are victims of sexual assault. Many other fashion industry workers – from makeup artists to photographers’ assistants – are vulnerable for similar reasons.
The impacts of sexual assault can be serious, long-lasting, and felt in multiple spheres of life. As well as physical impacts, sexual assault may impact victims’ mental health, professional or academic performance, or interpersonal relationships.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or harassment, you may be entitled to compensation. This may be true even if the crime occurred many years ago: for a limited time, under the Adult Survivors Act, the Statute of Limitations for certain sex crimes is suspended until November 23, 2023.
At the Bongiorno Law Firm, our team of attorneys has the compassion, skill, and experience to fight for sexual assault survivors every step of the way. If you are considering a lawsuit, please do not hesitate to contact us today. Consultations are free, confidential, and no-obligation.
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¹ https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem, Citing Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2019 (2020). Note: RAINN applies a 5-year rolling average to adjust for changes in the year-to-year NCVS survey data.
6 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/style/mario-testino-bruce-weber-harassment.html; https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9948873/Legendary-fashion-photographer-Bruce-Weber-settles-second-sex-assault-lawsuit.html.