As conversations about creating safer workplaces continue in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the fashion industry has begun to embrace change. Much of that is thanks to Model Alliance, a nonprofit founded by Sara Ziff that provides resources and protection for models. This February the organization teamed up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to create private changing areas for models; now they’re working on a code of conduct.
Their latest initiative looks to create a protocol for helping victims of sexual misconduct and, hopefully, eliminating conditions that lead to it. It was announced today in an open letter signed by Teddy Quinlivan and Milla Jovovich, along with more than 100 other models. “Over the past year, many courageous individuals have revealed the dark truth of sexual harassment and assault by powerful people in the fashion industry,” begins the letter. “These concerns have yet to be addressed in a meaningful, sustainable way.”
One proposed solution is giving models more agency and, at the same time, safer work conditions. “As models, our images serve a commercial purpose, but our bodies remain ours,” reads the letter. “Agreeing to be photographed or filmed as professional representatives of a product or brand does not constitute agreement to be groped, fondled, involuntarily disrobed or worse.”
Considering one in three female models has revealed that she has experienced sexual misconduct, according to Model Alliance, the new RESPECT program is critical. As the letter states, “Sexual harassment does not exist in a vacuum — models are often body-shamed and bullied, pressured to lose weight and jeopardize their health in order to book jobs, or to work in debt to their agencies and remain silent even when paid late, or not paid at all, for their work.”
Instead of being treated “as public relations crises,” Model Alliance is urging that reported instances of sexual misconduct be handled as “human rights violations.”
“Every company in our industry says it abhors sexual harassment and wants to protect those at risk of abuse. We believe that if a company is serious about protecting us, it will be willing to go beyond mere promises to do better and embrace enforceable standards, with real teeth.”