PROTECTING MODELS: With the treatment of models under scrutiny in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic has introduced legislation that would protect models against sexual and other forms of harassment.
Flagged as the “Models’ Harassment Protection Act,” the bill is the result of months of research with the Model Alliance, the New York-based group that champions labor rights for models and other workers in the fashion industry. Rozic said, “If there is anything we are learning from over the past few weeks is that we have reached a turning point whether to accept sexual harassment as a norm, or end the cycle by enacting protections and providing a path of recourse. No one should ever experience sexual harassment in or outside of the workplace.”
Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff, a former model, noted that she and other models have spoken about “the systematic sexual harassment and abuse on the job — and yet, powerful individuals have tried to silence us and tacitly given approval that this behavior is OK.”
Diff said she met Rozic through the National Eating Disorders Association, an organization that the Model Alliance has partnered with on past efforts to address the problem of eating disorders in the modeling industry. “My work on this bill actually started about two years ago, when the Model Alliance partnered with the Legal Clinic at Fordham Law School on a research project. I worked with professor Elizabeth Cooper and her students to explore pathways to address models’ concerns, including sexual harassment. The Models’ Harassment Protection Act grew out of our research together,” she said.
Harassment includes but is not limited to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and harassment based on age, race, national origin, color, sexual orientation, sex and disability.
In recent weeks, numerous models have posted accounts of sexual harassment and abuse on model and activist’s Cameron Russell’s Instagram page. Christy Turlington Burns also acknowledged the industry problem in an interview last week.
A key piece of the legislation is that the provisions apply to models regardless if they are employees or independent contractors. Models are more often than not considered independent contractors in the U.S. That status excludes them from protections against harassment and discrimination that are provided to employees under state law. One point of contention is that in New York modeling agencies are licensed with other employment agencies under general business law but some agencies claim they serve as management companies. By doing that, these self-described model management companies exploit the “incidental booking” clause under New York’s employment agency laws. Agencies that claim to be management companies escape licensing requirements, avoid caps on commissions and accountability to the models they represent.
Karen Elson, model and Model Alliance advisory member, said, “Models, like actresses, are often shamed into silence or expected not to complain when conditions at work make them uncomfortable.”
Casting director James Scully noted, “How can a model stand against an abusive photographer, stylist or casting director when people in the industry have built a wall of protection around predators and are willing to look the other way to protect their own interests, regardless of the well-being of the model or the industry as a whole?”