Signs of Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

  • Amy Bebbington

Allegations of sexual harassment have been filed against acclaimed photographers. Both female and male models have courageously spoken out about sexual misconduct in the fashion world; an issue that has always been hovering over the industry yet just left there to dwell. Never truly explored, left as a common fact that just happens.

Until now. The post-Harvey Weinstein world has united actresses with the launch of the Time’s Up movement and the #MeToo campaign. Their force and support has encouraged female – and male models – to speak out about their experience.


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Why Has It Taken so Long for the Movement to Begin

Lots of models have now shared their experience of working with photographer, Terry Richardson, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. However, many ask why  haven’t they come forward sooner? What took them so long? The answer is simple. Their position of power. Many have known about the sexual misconduct surrounding the fashion industry yet nothing has been done about it. Models were scared to speak out against someone with so much standing in the industry. They had the power to make sure they never worked again. Designers and magazines consistently hired them despite the rumours. Many felt they would not be believed and the predators felt safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t get caught. Those who did speak out were doubted and dealt poorly with by the media and the justice system.

However, women and men feel empowered to tell their story with the movement so strong. Models are believed and actions are taken. Burberry and Michael Kors have vowed to not work with Mario Testino again and Conde Nast who own the likes of Vogue have not renewed Terry Richardson’s contract. They have also issued their Code of Conduct for models and photographers, to make it absolutely clear what will not be tolerated. With actions being put in place, models have a voice and are no longer silenced. They do not need to feel shame or embarrassed about what they have experienced at some point in their career.


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Model and activist Cameron Russell started this powerful hashtag on social media to allow models to tell their story. The response has been huge with victims sharing their stories of photographers pressurising models to take off their clothes, uncomfortable meetings in hotel rooms and so on. She believes there a lot more professionals need to be added to the list as the industry is surrounded by predators. 

It is a common misconception that it is mostly women who are harassed in a sexual nature. However, male models are at risk too. Unfortunately, they are in a vulnerable position where they so are easily replaced. Being paid an eighth of what women do, they are not as valued in the industry. Predators who thrive in the fashion world use their power to target young males who are too shocked and appalled to speak out. The lines are blurred with many believing that men should just fight them off. However, it is not so easy to just attack photographers with their standing in the industry. Also, a lot of the time young males are being groomed to think this is the norm or that they will get sacked if they speak up. However, the time is now to have your say, don’t wait, explain what happened to you immediately. 


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Making the Fashion Industry Safe

Many are working towards a safe future for models where photoshoots and fashion shows are no longer a place surrounded by predators. Those accused of sexual harassment will be banished from the industry and measures need to be put in place to keep models safe. In particular, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is working towards making safety a priority rather than an afterthought. Diane von Furstenberg urged for designers, show producers and photographers to use venues that can accommodate privacy when models are changing. Models modesty is always forgotten with expectations to undress in public.

CFDA states: “The CFDA firmly believes that everyone in our industry deserves the right to feel safe and respected. We have zero tolerance for unsafe environments and strongly encourage everyone in the fashion industry to report abuse in the workplace.”

They urge anyone who is a victim of unwanted sexual advances to contact The Model Alliance. Do not feel intimidated or scared, the time is now to act.


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Signs of Sexual Harassment to Look out For

Some signs can be very subtle to begin with. You start to feel a little intimidated but let it go, as it was quite a minor touch. A brush of your neck or squeeze of your thigh might make you feel uncomfortable but you don’t want to overact. However, this is how sexual misconduct escalates and professionals in a position of power should never touch you in this way. They may be testing the water to see how you react and before you know it they might be groping your breasts – it is not okay. With models scared to speak out due to risking their careers or not being believed this behaviour has been circulating the industry for far too long. Until now, photographers have been getting away with it and therefore, do not stop.

Make sure you are aware of what is classed at sexual misconduct to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Remember sexual harassment is a crime and should not be tolerated.

  • Inappropriate comments that make you feel intimidated.
  • Crossing professional lines via touching.
  • Request of sexual acts.
  • Forcing you to perform any kind of sexual behavior.
  • Suggesting that your career is at risk if you don’t follow his instruction.
  • Making you undress in front on them.
  • Asking for you to touch yourself.
  • If they undress in front of you or/and touch themselves.
  • Invasion of personal space i.e. follows you into the toilet, dressing room etc.
  • Stalker like tendencies – phone calls/emails you repeatedly, shows up at your home, place of work – makes you feel scared to leave your home.
  • Sending you inappropriate images or videos.
  • Asked to meet in a hotel room – do not go!

If you are unsure, we urge you to tell your parents or guardians. Speaking out early can stop a situation escalating.

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Posted by Amy Bebbington

I express my love of fashion through writing, blogging and styling. My creative personality ensures that I produce unique and original work. I am a keen knitter and enthusiatic dancer.