The spotlight turned to the fashion industry not long after the Weinstein investigations were published in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The model Cameron Russell solicited and began posting anonymous stories from fellow models of their own experiences on her Instagram account, along with the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse. Her account is now filled with wrenching stories from both women and men in the industry.
Trish Goff, a former top model, discussing her experiences with Mr. Weinstein, told The New York Times, “The horrible thing is, as a model, it wasn’t that unusual to be in a weird situation where a photographer or someone feels they have a right to your body.”
The issue was first brought to Ms. Rozic’s attention a few months ago by Sara Ziff, a former model and the founder of the Model Alliance, a research and policy organization established in 2012. Ms. Ziff had been doing a project with the legal clinic at Fordham Law School on the working conditions of models, and, said Elizabeth B. Cooper, an associate professor there, when it came to sexual harassment, “we were all mortified by what we found, and surprised by the limited scope of the current law.”
“I’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; we all know someone who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Ms. Rozic, who, when she was elected in 2012, was the youngest woman in the state legislature.
Ms. Ziff, who began modeling when she was 14, remembered “being made to sit on the lap of my booker, who was a man; being sent to castings and told to go into a room alone with a photographer who then asked me to take off all my clothes; going to shoots and being routinely asked to go topless with no warning — all this behavior that in any other industry would be recognized as inappropriate, but in fashion is treated as no big deal.”
Karen Elson, a top model and singer who is on the advisory board of the Model Alliance, said the biggest threat for her was when she was a teenager working in cities like Milan and Paris. “I was repeatedly followed, sexually harassed and intimidated,” she said. “A model scout who worked at my old agency in Paris tried to coerce me into having sex with him and his friend at a nightclub in Paris when I was barely 16. I sensed the danger and ran out. Then, the next day, I told my agent and the scout threatened to have me kicked out of Paris.”
On one of Ms. Elson’s shoots, for a “major U.S. retailer,” she said the photographer was standing over her and “got out his penis and asked if ‘I wanted it.’” She then told her agent. “I know he complained to the client, but nothing happened,” she said. “I turned 18 and became successful and I was lucky to have great agents who were very protective of me, but that’s not always the case for a lot of models.”
Now, when she is on a job, “I insist that the set be cleared and at least one woman stays on set,” Ms. Elson said. “I can demand this because I have respect in the industry, but it should be the norm.”
Though Ms. Cooper did acknowledge that under the current law it was possible for a model to go to the police or district attorney with an abuse complaint, she said in practice that making a complaint was unlikely given the characteristics of many models, which can include their very young age, a lack of language fluency, or lack of support system.
Fashion has grappled with this issue before, most recently in 2014, when the photographer Terry Richardson was accused of sexual harassment by a number of models — though his behavior had been public knowledge since 2009. That year, a documentary directed by Ms. Ziff and Ole Schell, “Picture Me,” contained an allegation from a model named Sena Cech, who said on camera that Mr. Richardson and his assistant had asked her during a casting call to strip, “do something a little sexy,” and then touch his penis.
Though some prominent magazines such as Vogue pledged not to use him after women began to describe their experiences working with him, by 2015 he was again shooting covers, for Harper’s Bazaar and Rolling Stone.
“There has been a sense that simply speaking out is enough,” Ms. Ziff said. “It’s an important first step, but it does not solve the problem. If there aren’t basic legal protections in place, than real change does not occur.”
The bill would amend the current law to explicitly include models, explicitly forbid sexual advances and commentary or other forms of discrimination linked to their employment, and would require clients to provide models upon booking with a contact and avenue for filing any complaints. It would attempt, in effect, to create a human resources department in an industry that has had none.
“For me, personally, it would have held a lot more people accountable for their actions sooner,” said Ms. Elson.
Ms. Rozic is hopeful that a groundswell of public support will ensure that both legislature houses pass the bill by June, so it can be signed into law by the end of 2018.
“It’s impossible to imagine, given the events of the last two weeks, why anyone would oppose this,” Ms. Cooper said.
Ms. Ziff had a somewhat different take on the situation. “It is timely,” she said. “But it’s been timely for a long time.”