From Modeling to Sex Trafficking: A Slippery Slope

In the past two years, bright lights have been shone on big names such as Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Larry Nassar, pointing out their continuous predation. Beyond the shock of these tragedies, people have responded with confusion as to how these horrifying acts can continue to occur in such established industries.

The modeling industry is no exception

While media attention focuses on the often too-thin women who continually try to be smaller, behind the scenes lie the true devils—predators who force models into sex work. A woman’s name is everything in the modeling industry—if she loses her name, she loses it all. When a powerful man asks a woman to do something horrible, she does it because there is no regulation, and her career will vanish if she speaks up.

“Some people might say, why didn’t you just say no? But, when you are put on the spot at that moment, and you’re with someone who is in a position of power and influence, that’s much easier said than done.”—Harpers Bazaar model

Comply or your career is over

The problem is the misplacement of power. No aspiring model goes into the industry thinking that her future contains forced sex work to further her career. But it happens anyway, because power is in the hands of predators who know that it’s a competitive industry with a thin margin of error, and the victims often have no recourse.

During the photoshoots, models are often told to perform sexual acts. If there is resistance, they won’t get paid and will be reported to their agency for not meeting expectations. A model told Harpers Bazaar, “He told me to do other things that I didn’t want to do. I started to do what he wanted, then I was mortified and started to cry. He kept taking photos even when I was crying.”

After a horrific incident with a photographer, one model tried reporting it to her agency, but was told, “That’s just Terry.” The agencies, photographers, and rich men have all the power. You do what you are told, or your career is over. One model reported that “Sometimes it’s alluded to during the arrangement; sometimes it’s agreed to beforehand. But in most cases, sex is just expected. Comply, or you don’t get a plane ticket home…”

“He raped her when she was 16; waking up with a “bruised vagina and a sore” “but did not want to name the photographer for fear of legal repercussions.”—Huffington Post

What about payment for modeling services?

The modeling industry has no unions or policies, and nothing more than a recommended age limit. An agency represents models, but since they are considered independent contractors, it exempts them from certain labor laws. This arrangement allows agencies to treat models as a number in their yearly profit and creates a haven for predators.

To add insult to injury, most models earn less than $20,000 per year, often having to fight to get their paycheck at all. The lack of consistent pay and jobs makes way for predators to approach models and offer them money to sleep with wealthy clients who will supposedly further their careers. A London model, Jazz Egger, reported that “‘big agencies’ and ‘established models’ are involved in seedy underground dealings, with young women paid up to $2 million (£1.54million) to spend the night with male clients. CNN reports on a case where several young women were so desperate for modeling work that they fell victim to a fake business that allegedly drugged them and used them to create pornographic films.

#MeToo and #Timeisup

The #MeToo and #Timesup movements have spread like wildfire as they expose many horrors that women around the world have experienced. Prominent figures have been exposed and many painful stories have been told, but it hasn’t resulted in much modeling industry policy change.

Exposing predators and traffickers is essential, but it is imperative to focus on the systems that allow them to flourish. Agencies such as Model Alliance are working hard to bring “fair treatment, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry.” Until these are established, the modeling industry will continue down its dangerous path.