Fashion Model’s Support of Controversial Photographer Demonstrates the Difficulty of Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

Sky_Ferreira_at_the_Chateau_Marmont.jpgAn up and coming fashion model recently made public statements supporting a photographer who has gained notoriety for his sexualized imagery of young female models. This has led to allegations of sexual harassment and exploitation. She essentially states that models simply should not work with this photographer if they do not want to face the sort of sexual requests for which he is apparently known. The issue of sexual harassment in fashion has only recently begun to gain widespread notice, with some New York fashion models standing up against the lack of privacy and sexual expectations that seem to be part of the culture.

The fashion blog Refinery29 quoted a now-deleted blog post by model Charlotte Free regarding photographer Terry Richardson, in which Free wrote “Terry likes to do sexy stuff…If you don’t wanna be part of it, make it clear in the beginning.” Free’s remarks seem to ignore the power imbalance between a young fashion model and a famous photographer, and assume that models in an uncomfortable situation would have the ability to refuse demands from the person who has the immediate power to fire them.

Free goes on to say that there are “plenty of other girls waiting in line, so he’s not forcing you…” Refinery29 describes this as “victim shaming.” Free also makes overt references to models providing sexual services in exchange for the opportunity to work with Richardson. The implication, it would seem, is that anyone not wanting to work in sexualized conditions can be replaced. This contradicts her earlier statement, when she suggests that models should refuse requests with which they are uncomfortable. Work for fashion models may not be so plentiful that anyone could refuse work after they are already on the set.

Some prominent models have spoken out about their experiences working for Richardson. The general feeling within the industry, according to Fashionista, is that he works with young models who are new to the business and shoots them in a variety of sexual scenarios. Model Rie Rasmussen stated that Richardson primarily works with models who are too naive or fearful for their career to refuse his instructions. In some cases, according to Huffington Post, the models are under the age of eighteen. Fashionista‘s informal survey of the modeling world, however, found little indication that Richardson will face any consequences for his conduct on the set.

Refinery29 quotes Sara Ziff, co-founder of the Model Alliance, who says that the belief that New York models are free to refuse photographers’ requests on the set, or to “resist mistreatment,” is “incredibly naive.” A model standing up for her, or his, right to refuse sexual requests faces termination and potential career damage. Models on runways and fashion shoots have uncertain legal protections against harassment, and Ziff’s organization intends to address that problem. Any situation in which a person’s employment is contingent on performing acts of a sexual nature to which the person has not consented is, at best, sexual harassment, and is unacceptable.

The lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of fashion industry sexual harassment and discrimination in New York City and surrounding areas, fighting to protect their rights at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Former “Price is Right” Model Wins $8M Verdict in Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 20, 2012
New York Models Sue Agent for Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 29, 2012
New Survey Shows Extent of Sexual Harassment in the New York Fashion Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 15, 2012
Photo credit: By Terry Richardson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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