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Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry

On the surface, the fashion industry appears to be about beauty, glitz, glamor, trendy clothing, and being in the limelight. Unfortunately, there is a dark underside to the industry that has been covered up for years. Now as the world has become more aware of sexual harassment in other industries, the truth about what has been taking place within the fashion industry is coming to light.

Given the focus on beauty and sex appeal, there have been those who have pushed that envelope too far and subjected their employees, which includes models, photographers, and others, to ongoing and abusive sexual harassment and assault.

This misconduct has been allowed to continue because many perpetrators were in positions of authority, and those they targeted feared it would be detrimental to their careers if they spoke out. That is not the situation anymore, and now those who are being sexually harassed have options. Hiring a sexual harassment lawyer can help one take the necessary steps to ensure such behavior does not continue and impact someone else.

What is Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry?

An example of sexual assault in the fashion industry is when an industry leader, influencer, or employee engages in unwanted sexual advances, contact, forcible touching, or grabbing of an employee, job applicant, intern, or contractor within the fashion industry.

There are multiple individuals who can be guilty of criminal sexual conduct, including photographers, magazine editors, writers, videographers, producers, directors, models, agents, designers, and anyone within the fashion industry.

Many of those who engage in sexually harassing behavior have been known to take advantage of particular models from foreign countries or those who are just starting their career. These individuals feel particularly vulnerable because they believe that they do not have any rights. They fear that their career will be ruined if they say anything, so they continue to suffer through it.

Sexual assault in the fashion industry is a systemic problem according to a report from the trade group Model Alliance. The report found that 87 percent of the models it questioned said that they had been asked to take off their clothes without any prior notice. Another 30 percent said they were encouraged to engage in inappropriate behavior on the job, and another 28 percent said they were propositioned for sex at work.

A few examples of this type of behavior within the fashion industry include:

  • Groping of any part of the body
  • Groping of the genitals or breasts
  • Forced kissing
  • Penetration using a finger or other object
  • Rape
  • Forced oral sex
  • Threats to blacklist models and others who do not respond to or report sexual assault
  • Promises of career advances in exchange for sexual favors

Although many may feel helpless or alone when dealing with these actions, they can speak up. The attitude is changing in these areas, and those who engage in sexual harassment or assault are being held accountable for their actions. However, the behavior will not stop unless those who are targeted stand up and file a complaint. A sexual harassment lawyer can be there to help through what can be a long and difficult process.

Who is a Target of Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry?

No one is immune from being a potential victim in these attacks within the fashion industry. Although women have predominantly been the ones victimized, there have also been a growing number of men who have come forward with stories of unwanted groping and touching. However, models have been the prominent targets for these actions and are among the most vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Many are not American citizens.
  • They do not know their rights.
  • There are those who believe sexual harassment is how things work in the fashion industry.
  • They fear that if they resist or report the incident, they will lose their job and become blacklisted in the industry.

No matter the target or their situation, no one has the right to take advantage of another person or have them engage in any action in which they do not wish to participate.

Are Independent Contractors Able to Sue for Sexual Harassment?

Another major reason why models do not speak up about the treatment they receive is they work as independent contractors and fear they have no standing for protections under the law. They are partially correct.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the sexual harassment of employees from co-workers, including anyone with authority over those employees. The law covers companies with 15 or more employees. The federal law does not offer any protections for independent contractors.

Fortunately, they do have protections when it comes to the state laws. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits harassment in the workplace because of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, or national origin. This protection extends to all employees, including independent contractors.

In New Jersey, the NewJersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also protects employees from sexual harassment, although initially the law did not provide any protections for independent contractors. That changed in 2003 when the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, held that independent contractors are protected against discrimination under NJLAD.

What Forms can Sexual Harassment Take?

When influencers or others in the fashion industry are sexually harassing or assaulting the people who are in their employ, it is taking on two separate forms. Those two are:

  • Hostile work environment: When a person is constantly harassing another individual, they are making the work environment very uncomfortable for that individual. This situation is called a hostile work environment. Having to face their attacker or harasser at work can be very difficult and emotionally traumatizing. It can impact a person’s desire to want to continue to work in that industry.
  • Quid pro quo: A quid pro quo situation occurs when someone promises a person a job or offers specific work perks in exchange for sexual favors. In the case of the fashion industry, an industry leader or influencer may threaten a model’s career unless they agree to their sexual demands.

What are My Options if I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?

Those who have endured years of sexual assaults and harassment have several options to get the misconduct to stop and to make the harasser pay for what they have done. Since sexual assault is criminal sexual conduct, it can be a matter for the police to handle, although it does not have to exclusively be a criminal matter. There are several options:

  • Pressing charges: Since assault is a crime, those assaulted can elect to go to the police and press criminal charges against their attacker. The first step in that process is filing a police report; at that point, the district attorney’s office will look at the case and decide whether to move forward with charges. They must prove the person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no time limit for how long someone must file a police report. If the attacker is found guilty, their punishment can include a fine, jail time, or placement on a sexual offender registry.
  • Report to a government agency: Targets of sexual harassment can report the abuse as a workplace problem. At the federal level, they can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Pennsylvania, they can file with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC); those in New Jersey can file a case with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General.
  • File a lawsuit: Once a complaint is filed with a government agency, they will give the target of the abuse the approval to move ahead with a lawsuit. Although this will not force the attacker to go to jail, it will give the target the opportunity to extract just financial compensation to make up for the abuse that was suffered.

Although there is no statute of limitations on criminal charges, there is a small window for filing a civil complaint. A person has 300 days to file a complaint with either the EEOC or the PHRC. New Jersey provides a little more flexibility in offering two years.

Do I Need to File Criminal Charges to File a Lawsuit?

Although pressing criminal charges against an attacker can go a long way in stopping them from assaulting someone else, it has no bearing on any civil case. An assaulter need not be convicted of the criminal charge of sexual conduct for the civil lawsuit to move forward. In certain instances, the outcome of the criminal case can be out of a person’s hands. The prosecutor can elect not to move forward with the case for a variety of reasons. In addition, even if they do file charges, conviction is no guarantee. Regardless of the criminal outcome, a civil lawsuit may proceed.

How can Sexual Assault be Stopped in the Fashion Industry?

As stated, the momentum has shifted whereby sexual assault and harassment are no longer tolerated within the fashion industry. Bad actors and actresses are being called out and made to answer for their offenses, but there is still more that should be done. For those who are impacted by this behavior, there are steps that can and should be taken that will help stop this type of behavior from continuing. Those steps include:

  • Speaking out: Victims of sexual assault or harassment or witnesses to these incidents need to speak out or support the people who do. Many have expressed shock of the behaviors that have come to light or said they did not realize how bad it was. The more people speak out, the more others will be confident to confront their abusers.
  • Push for industry change: The industry needs to do a better job of policing itself when it comes to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. Those in the fashion industry need to allow for models and others to report these incidents and to take them seriously and not dismiss them.
  • Push for legislative change: There are states that have implemented specific laws that provide talent such as models with educational materials about sexual harassment and retaliation. However, not all states have such provisions, and more can be done at the state and federal level.

The industry is making effort to change itself, as the Council of Fashion Designers of America released several reforms that are aimed at protecting its models from predatory and abusive behavior. Among the changes implemented are ensuring that models are guaranteed private spaces so that they can change clothes without fear.

Other changes addressed younger models. The new policy bans unaccompanied models under the age of 18. It also gives models more say as to the type of photo shoots in which they participate. All models must approve any nudity or sexually suggestive poses in advance before the shoot. Finally, all alcohol and illegal drugs are barred from the shoot.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Those Who Face Harassment and Assault in the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry can be a fast-paced and demanding industry filled with people with massive egos. Although there are people who you may think can make or break your career, that does not give them the right to put their hands on you without your permission. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will help you stand up against those who have tried to take advantage of you. We will help you with whatever legal remedies you wish to pursue. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey, as well as in New York.

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