PARIS — Jean-Luc Brunel, a former French model agent with links to Jeffrey Epstein, was found dead in his Paris prison cell in the early hours of Saturday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
The 76-year-old cofounder of MC2 Model Management, who was alone in the cell, died of hanging in what is believed to be a suicide. An investigation to find the cause of death has been opened.
Brunel was in detention, where he awaited trial on charges of rape of a minor and sexual harassment.
He had been part of the inner circle of Epstein, the disgraced financier, who while jailed in New York City on federal sex-trafficking charges involving teenage girls, committed suicide by hanging in August 2019.
Brunel was detained in mid-December 2020 — as he was about to leave France for Senegal — on accusations of rape, sexual assault of minors, human trafficking and being part of a criminal conspiracy.
Brunel had been accused in American court documents of rape and of procuring young girls for Epstein. He denied any wrongdoing.
One of his accusers, Thysia Huisman, a model and “Close Up” author, described the news of his death as “shocking,” and she questioned how he died. Having reported her allegations of rape against Brunel in September 2019 and pressed for his prosecution in France, Huisman said Saturday: “It feels frustrating that we as victims will never have a day in court. After more than two-and-a-half years of fighting for justice, it’s a huge disappointment he will never face a judge.”
She continued: “For me, it’s difficult to believe he committed suicide. I am angry with French authorities that he wasn’t on suicide watch and this could happen. It’s exactly what happened with [Jeffrey] Epstein. It smells like a huge cover-up.”
Huisman said most of all, she wanted to share that coming forward as a victim of sexual violence is empowering. “Only when victims come forward, we can put predators like Brunel, Epstein and many others behind bars. Silence is the enemy,” she said.
Asked for comment Saturday, Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff reiterated a statement that her group shared on Instagram. “Today is a heavy day for survivors of sexual abuse in the modeling industry. Jean-Luc Brunel, a French modeling agent and [alleged] accomplice to Jeffrey Epstein, was found hanged in his Paris jail cell. Brunel was arrested in December 2020 for sex trafficking of minors among other crimes.”
The statement continued: “Let’s be clear: this is not about just one or even a few bad actors. This is also not simply about the past. Still today, modeling agencies remain largely unregulated, perpetuating the systemic sexual assault and trafficking of young women and girls across the globe. And because of the antiquated statutes of limitations, many survivors have been time-barred from holding their abusers accountable in a court of law. Indeed, modeling boss Gerald Marie walks free despite dozens of reports of [alleged] sexual assault by women who have courageously come forward with the [alleged] abuses they faced as young models. We urgently need to correct this system of abuse, but we cannot do it alone. We look forward to working with lawmakers in the U.S. and France to expand pathways to justice for survivors and ensure this type of abuse doesn’t happen in the future.”
The Model Alliance noted that any survivors in need of support can contact the organization confidentially via its site.
The actress known as Carre Otis, who advocates for models, said she is “digesting” the news about Brunel’s death.
“I’m in Maui right now. I just woke up to all the headlines. I am mostly incredibly sad for all of my fellow survivors,” she said. “This is not the justice that we seek. This does not address the need for change. Jean-Luc is emblematic of a much bigger problem within our systems. This does not work to serve justice. It’s incredibly heavy for survivors everywhere.”
Otis has spoken publicly about the alleged rape and sexual assault she faced as a model by former Elite executive Gerald Marie.
“What we have seen here is that within this system, there was sort of global trafficking. One thing that we have in common with the perpetrators that we see right now in the headlines is the common denominator was that they all worked with modeling agents to traffic their victims,” she said. “Jean-Luc [Brunel] I knew of. He was not my agent, but I have followed these stories [of alleged abuse] very closely because it was all around the same time that I was in Paris, enduring my own abuse.”
As for what the awareness of Brunel’s death may result in, if anything, Otis said: “I don’t think it will have results. I don’t think it’s the path forward. It’s like this crazy Houdini truck. Yet another has gone away without survivors, and those impacted, seeing justice. For survivors such as myself, the justice certainly isn’t in one person dying. It isn’t just in somebody going behind bars. Justice is seeing a change within the very system that enables these perpetrators.”
Noting how Brunel’s case is now closed unless someone else comes forward who is within the statutes, Otis said: “I don’t know how it will impact [convicted sex offender and Epstein’s accomplice] Ghislaine Maxwell. She was found guilty, but she certainly hasn’t been sentenced. So it’s a sad day.”
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