It was a year when sexual harassment claims emerged from the shadows, setting off a rapid-fire string of scandals that led to the firing, resignation and suspension of a slew of powerful men in a range of industries.
The New York Times published its first bombshell report on Oct. 5, detailing a series of allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein from women such as Ashley Judd, who claimed that he sexually harassed them. That article, followed by one written by Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, opened a floodgate of further allegations, with many women discussing their experiences with sexual harassment or assault.
A hashtag #MeToo, which aimed to show how rampant assault had become, became viral. From entertainment to music to politics to academia, photography and fashion, men faced numerous accusations leading to their downfall. Among them were producer and director Brett Ratner; conductor James Levine; New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins; playwright Israel Horovitz; NBC’s Matt Lauer; CBS This Morning and PBS talk show host Charlie Rose; MSNBC’s Mark Halperin; The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza; comedian Louis C.K., and chef, TV star and restaurateur Mario Batali. Earlier this month after facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Def Jam cofounder and Phat Farm founder Russell Simmons was quick to permanently step down from his businesses. Within hours of that news, J.C. Penney said it had dropped Russell Simmons’ Argyleculture brand. Simmons has since been accused of three incidents of rape, all of which he has denied, while the New York Police Department said it would begin an investigation into the allegations.
In the world of politics, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, in an emotional speech on the Senate floor, said he would resign from Congress, Rep. John Conyers stepped down after reports of confidential sexual harassment settlements, and Roy Moore — who faced multiple allegations of sexual molestation and sexual assault — was narrowly defeated in the Alabama Senate race by Democrat Doug Jones. These stores were all unfolding under the shadow of a president, Donald Trump, who himself has faced multiple accusations of sexual assault.
As the number of allegations increases daily, and at times nearly hourly, some organizations such as Rotten Tomatoes and the Times have compiled lists to help keep the public up-to-speed. Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster named “feminism” its word of the year for 2017. On Friday it was revealed that entertainment industry leaders from companies such as Disney, William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, Amazon, Warner Bros., Screen Actors Guild, CBS Corp. Sony and Netflix have formed and funded a commission for eliminating sexual harassment and advancing equality in the workplace. The commission, which will be led by professor and attorney Anita Hill, who shared her story of sexual harassment during the Senate confirmation process of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, will work to achieve safer, fairer, more equitable and accountable workplaces especially for women and marginalized people.
The fashion world immediately became ensnared in the controversy. First, because Weinstein in his role as head of Miramax wielded immense power over glossy magazines and their access to potential cover stars and because he is married to Marchesa cofounder Georgina Chapman (who has since said she plans to divorce him).
Secondly, as more and more allegations poured out against more and more men, fashion models, both female and male, began to step forward to claim they worked in an industry where harassment — both sexual and verbal — was rife.
Yet even before the Weinstein scandal broke, the leading luxury groups Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton came together in September in an unusual joint effort to issue a charter aimed at protecting models within the fashion world.
A month later, Terry Richardson, well-known for his hypersexualized shoots and allegations of misconduct on and off-set, fell foul of Condé Nast on both ends of the Atlantic, which said they would no longer use him. Hearst and The Wall Street Journal’s luxury supplement WSJ quickly followed suit.
The U.S. and international arms of Condé Nast issued separate statements distancing themselves from the controversial photographer, with one statement saying, “Sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.” The ban won’t have much impact, however — it’s been about seven years since American Vogue worked with Richardson and the other Condé titles do not use him.
A representative for Richardson said the photographer was “disappointed, especially because he has previously addressed these old stories. He is an artist who has been known for his sexually explicit work, so many of his professional interactions with subjects were sexual and explicit in nature, but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.”
In October, model Cameron Russell turned her Instagram into a public forum of sorts, a place for models to anonymously post their tales of sexual misconduct and harassment. The names of the alleged abusers have also been blacked out. Russell’s agents have not responded to numerous requests for comment.
The following month, model Edie Campbell penned an open letter, published in WWD, in which she argued that the fashion industry has a serious problem.
“We operate within a culture that is too accepting of abuse, in all of its manifestations. This can be the ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits. We have come to see this as simply a part of the job,” Campbell wrote.
A vocal member of Russell’s online campaign to raise awareness around the harassment of models at the hands of photographers and members of the fashion industry, Campbell said she was sure the scandal would soon engulf male models.
“There has been scant mention of the sexual abuse suffered by male models in the mainstream media, despite the fact that many men bravely told their stories through Cameron’s Instagram,” she wrote.
“Abuse suffered by young men is more complex. I would assume that it is more difficult for the victims to speak out: The language doesn’t exist, and the conversation is currently weighted heavily in support of young female victims. The shame felt is probably greater as there is a stigma involved. The abuse can be perceived as emasculating, and then there is the delicate subject of homophobia.”
While many affirm that harassment and sexual mistreatment is a decades-long problem, and widely tolerated, in the modeling scene, few photographers, modeling agents, casting directors, designers and stylists have had the gumption to go public with any assertions. And legal action has been limited at this point.
Still, a few weeks after Campbell’s letter was published, Jason Boyce filed a complaint against Bruce Weber in the New York State Supreme Court for allegedly forcing him to rub his own genitals. Boyce’s former agent Jason Kanner of Soul Artist Management are also named in the suit, as is Weber’s production company Little Bear Inc.
While Weber’s office did not respond to requests for comment, the photographer had addressed the problem of sexual harassment in more general terms a few weeks ago.
Asked by WWD about what was believed to be a New York Times story in development about sexual harassment in the fashion industry, Eva Lindemann-Sánchez, producer of Little Bear Inc., said, “Bruce believes everyone should, at all times, be treated fairly, correctly and with respect.”
But a handful of models have painted a different outlook. In the wake of the Weinstein news, Christy Turlington Burns told WWD via e-mail the industry could use “more protections for the younger women and men especially.” Recalling her own early trips to Milan, Paris or London, she said there were many times she could not believe who she was left under the care of. “I would get off of a flight and find some creepy playboy type there to meet me,” Turlington wrote. “In hindsight, I fear I may have played the ‘honeypot’ that has been described in the stories about these predators who make other women feel protected. Unknowingly, but still an accomplice of sorts.”
Turlington Burns also noted how fashion is the one entertainment industry that doesn’t have a strong union of its own. She said keeping young models in school and off sets until they are adults is the best way to protect them. But the problem is greater than that. “We need to teach our girls, and young boys, how to protect themselves and defend themselves against predators in every area of their lives. Sexual harassment can happen anywhere and at any time,” she said.
Former model Michael Boyd Hager highlighted some of the unprofessionalism he experienced by an unnamed Red Model Management agent. By airing his experiences, he hoped to present a cautionary tale for inexperienced younger models.
Last month Elliott Sailors told WWD about the need for older models “to speak up about speaking up when something happens, not just after the fact, not just #metoo. I understand that all these voices make a difference. It’s [more a matter of] in the moment actually saying something and actually doing something. I know how uncomfortable that could be. I’ve been there. I’ve dealt with unwanted sexual advances, what they talk about in dealing with weight issues and now ageism.”
Another model, Suzanne Lanza, whose career spans 30 years, said, “There are all these people saying that it’s not an issue in the fashion industry. That’s a total joke. I don’t know anyone who I know personally who hasn’t had some form of harassment in the fashion business.”
Sara Ziff, a model and the founder of the Model Alliance,a nonprofit research, policy and advocacy organization in the fashion industry, offered specific suggestions in an op-ed to WWD. “In the absence of unions, the best alternative for enforcement of company codes is an independent, nonprofit monitoring organization in which workers — both employees and independent contractors, like models — have a strong voice.”