Allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein, have prompted thousands of women in varied industries to open-up publicly about their own workplace sexual assault and harassment accounts. This should not be surprising. According to a 2015 survey, 1 in 3 women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
As one can imagine, fashion models have their own frighteningly similar sexual assault stories. Model Cameron Russell has transformed her Instagram page into a forum for models to share their anonymous accounts of personal incidents with predator photographers. She recently launched the #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse hashtag asking for stories of sexual harassment in the modeling industry. By Wednesday, Russell posted 79 separate anonymous allegations of sexual assault on her Instagram account.
The stories she posted may not be surprising to those familiar with the wake of allegations against fashion photographer Terry Richardson in 2014. Richardson seems to continue to enjoy a career as a working fashion photographer today.
If not shocking, the numbers are nonetheless extremely unsettling.
Christy Turlington, one the world’s most recognized supermodels, told WWD that: “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experienced at some point in our careers.”
Turlington considers herself lucky. Her mother protected her early in her career. She admits, however, that her status might have unwittingly served to lure other models to unsavory photographers. “In hindsight, I fear I may have played the “honeypot.”
“Wherever there is male culture there are sexual predators. They come in all different shapes and sizes and they work in all different places. They do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or economics. That is a really huge issue,” Former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Kelly Cutrone told WWD.
“God bless Eileen Ford. She was known for being so strict — for a reason,” said Suzanne Lanza, a model whose career spans 30 years. Lanza herself recounts her first modeling trip to Europe ad a high schooler. She was ridiculed when she refused to go topless preferring to wear her own turtleneck one-piece bathing suit. The other models were 14 years old, she recalls. They were provided bathing suit bottoms. Nothing else.
A common thread among the models stories is their age at the time of the assault. They were usually young teens. Many, if not most, of the models recount incidents that occurred when they were 14, 15, and 16 years old.
“You sign up for a job that’s tough and you’re getting paid a certain amount, but these are little kids. . . . The adults on the set should have been looking at us as children and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t let this photographer talk to that little girl like that.’” Former model Jennifer Sky told WWD recalling her modeling days between the ages of 14 and 17 modeling in New York and abroad in the Nineties.
One may wonder why these allegations are only recently emerging. Reading the accounts, one gets the sense that either the modeling industry is changing or models are changing–choosing to bravely spotlight abuse rather than remain silent or ashamed.
“I feel ashamed – how dumb is that?” ~ Anonymous
TRIGGER WARNING ⚠️ Thank you strong friend. Even stories that don't end in rape are important to share. As a young mode I know I had a hard time listening to my intuition because industry norms around physical and sexual boundaries are so loose, and often vile. This behavior is rampant and not okay. DM me your story to remain anonymous or post using #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse
“Nothing in these stories should be a revelation for those working in our industry. Instead, it was the beginning of a power shift,” Russell posted on Instagram.
Cameron Russell and the women (and men) who have come forward to spotlight how widespread assault and harassment are in the workplace should be applauded for their bravery. A similar chorus of courage can be found in the 66,000+ replies to actress Alyssa Milano’s viral “Me TOO” tweet.
Created 10 years ago by Activist Tarana Burke, the phrase turned into a movement due to the now-famous celebrity tweet.
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” she tweeted.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Useful helplines and websites: