On Tuesday morning, over 100 models, including Christy Turlington Burns, Edie Campbell, Karen Elson, Milla Jovovich, Doutzen Kroes, and Gemma Ward, signed an open letter addressed directly to Victoria’s Secret. The letter petitioned the lingerie brand to take concrete actions in protecting models against sexual misconduct.
The letter was properly addressed to Victoria’s Secret’s CEO John Mehas and it pulled no punches:
We are writing today to express our concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria’s Secret. In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria's Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation. From the headlines about L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s close friend and associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, it is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls.
The letter then proceeds to invite Victoria’s Secret to join the RESPECT Program —a program of the Model Alliance—is the only existing anti-sexual harassment program designed by and for models.
Signatory companies make a binding commitment to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job, and reduces models’ vulnerability to mistreatment. Models have access to an independent, confidential complaint mechanism, with swift and fair resolution of complaints and appropriate consequences for abusers. Further, RESPECT includes a robust training program aimed toward prevention, to ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.
“Corporations tend to treat the discovery of abuses as public-relations crises to be managed rather than human-rights violations to be remedied,” says Sara Ziff, the founder and executive director of the Model Alliance. “The RESPECT Program provides Victoria’s Secret an opportunity not only to right the wrongs of the past but also to work towards prevention.”
Ziff recently penned an essay for the Cut detailing her own encounter with Epstein as a young model. She highlighted just how long an imbalance of power and lack of protections have “plagued” the industry. She wrote: “Now, we need the support of agencies, publishing companies, and fashion brands who want to do better by the talent who they purport to protect.”
In November, the Model Alliance issued a statement following disgraced L Brands Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek’s infamous Vogue interview in advance of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Razek retired from Victoria’s Secret on Monday.