Is It Possible to Put An End to Sexual Abuse In the Fashion Industry?

The Model Alliance is a NYC-based organization aiming to end sexual abuse in the fashion industry. But will brands and media outlets get on board?


Sexual abuse in the fashion and modeling industries is nothing new. It’s a serious issue, but it’s also an issue without a clear solution. Sure, models and outspoken fashion industry professionals have used their social media platforms to call out the worst culprits of sexual harassment and abuse, but to what avail?

Shit Model Management is an Instagram account helping models anonymously share their stories, but that anonymity makes the claims much less credible and much harder to prove. Offline, many veterans in the industry have used their professional influence to blacklist certain photographers, stylists, et al, who have been accused of sexual assault, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those individuals will face any real repercussions.

Enter the Model Alliance: a growing New York City organization, formed by and for models, that’s looking to finally put an end to sexual abuse within the industry in a meaningful and sustainable way.

“We know that companies and executives at the top bear responsibility for ensuring that our rights are respected when we’re at work, but they too often treat the discovery of abuses as public relations crises to be managed, rather than human rights violations to be remedied,” the Model Alliance states on its homepage. “We also know that lofty-sounding standards without genuine enforcement will not work.”

On Wednesday, the alliance offered a solution to the problem. The “Respect Program,” a legal agreement that aims to keep models safe from unwanted advancements and “provides an industry-wide blueprint for protecting models and their colleagues from harassment.”

The program was announced in an open-letter format, which it will present to major media and fashion brands in the coming weeks, according to a statement. The letter outlines the five practices it will implement for its members, which include a standardized code of conduct, educating models and stakeholders on their rights and responsibilities, forming a transparent governing body of the program, enforceable repercussions for rule breakers, and an agreement that all companies must pay their models in a timely fashion (because, BBHMM). 

Model Alliance

via Model Alliance

Some of the “RESPECT” program’s supporters are prolific models like Milla Jovavich, Edie Campbell, Teddy Quinlivan, and Karen Elson. And the list of people who signed the original open letter is somewhat lengthy, at around 100 signatures (a lot considering most people in fashion would rather keep hush hush about controversial topics), which means this growing call to action will finally end sexual abuse in the industry—right?

On paper, it sounds pretty solid, but this conclusion begs the question: besides “doing the right thing,” what incentive do publishers, brands, and agencies really have to sign this petition?

Of course, misdeeds aren’t as easily swept under the rug as they used to be, thanks to the social justice warriors of social media. But it’s that same social media machine, full of unhinged online critics, that quickly jumps from one backlash bandwagon to the next—scandals materialize as quickly as they dissolve, giving rise to the next “cause” we are all rallying for.

For brands, publishers, and agencies, there’s little benefit of joining a program that ultimately restricts its business relationships and practices—even if it does give them a glowing, “socially responsible” image. In order for the Model Alliance’s “RESPECT” initiative to be adopted as an industry-wide standard, it would require people to care more about other people than business (and business is, unfortunately, the name of the game for many brands, publishers, and agencies).

In an ideal world, this program could work, but the fashion industry is certainly not a utopia. While this solution is a step in the right direction for the industry, it’s difficult to say if it will actually take hold. Instead, the Model Alliance should support and equip one another with ways to address inappropriate sexual behavior directly and on-the-spot, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for them. 

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