As the conversation around sexual harassment and abuse continues, those who turn a blind eye are being called out.
Model Edie Campbell has written an explosive open letter in which she hits out at modelling agents and other key players in the fashion industry, urging more of them to take action over sexual predators.
Campbell says she and her fellow models work within a culture that is “too accepting of abuse” and tells those who turn a blind eye to it: “Your inaction is complicity”.
“It comes down to responsibility, and this falls to agents to do their job,” Campbell writes in the missive, published by WWD. “Some of them are, but many aren’t. They are responsible for the physical and mental wellbeing of the models they represent. Don’t sell your model out to protect your relationship with a photographer or stylist. When a model comes to you, listen.
“If all agencies, casting directors, stylists took the same hardline approach against those that you know to be abusers, we might be closer to finding a solution,” she adds. “And to all the others: Don’t stay silent. Your inaction is complicity.
“As one, now-retired, male model I spoke to put it: ‘The real story is the enablers: The people who work with them [the abusers] and don’t do anything. They knowingly put young men and women in dangerous situations.’”
More and more men and women are coming forward with their experiences of abuse and harassment, initially prompted by the allegations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October, claiming sexual misconduct over decades. Since the story broke, several big names have been accused in various industries, and survivors of sexual abuse and harassment have been telling their stories on social media, via hashtags such as #MeToo.
Campbell, who has modelled for major brands including Burberry, Dior and McQueen, has been a vocal advocate of fellow model Cameron Russell’s campaign to broadcast anonymous accounts of sexual assault from the fashion world on her Instagram account.
In her letter, Campbell accuses the media of concentrating solely on allegations relating to photographer Terry Richardson. The once-celebrated luminary of the fashion world has been banned from working with a number of leading fashion labels and publishers after accusations of inappropriate behaviour that date back two decades surfaced against him.
“Media coverage has been frustratingly limited to Richardson,” says Campbell. “Broadsheet newspapers write clickbait articles that avoid the more nuanced and complex truth, which is this: the models that shared their stories with Cameron were not all talking about the same photographer.”
Additionally, she says, male victims are being ignored. “Abuse suffered by young men is more complex. I would assume that it is more difficult for the victims to speak out: the language doesn’t exist, and the conversation is currently weighted heavily in support of young female victims,” writes Campbell.
One of the few male models to have spoken publicly about abuse in the fashion industry is Cory Bond. “Inside the modelling business, I have been the victim of inappropriate touching, sexual assault and was drugged once in the course of my 19-year career,” he wrote in a 2016 Facebook post.
“I haven’t spoken much about it out of fear of not working and doing the job that I love. You just want it to go away. But trust me, some men in power think that they can do whatever they want to because of their powerful position.”
The discussion about sexual assault so far, says Campbell, has “possibly rightly” focused on female victims. Overall, the issue is accepted as disproportionally affecting women, but Campbell claims “when you zoom in on the fashion industry, I would assume that the numbers are much more evenly split between male and female victims”.
“Within fashion, the discussion then becomes less about toxic masculinity and patriarchy, and more about abuse of power,” she writes.
Campbell points out that she is “very lucky” not to have had first-hand experience of sexual abuse in fashion over the course of her 12-year career.
But she believes the “fun” culture of fashion, and the way in which it idolises diva behaviour and “artist-geniuses” helps to facilitate the sexual abuse of models.
“Fashion hates boring or uncool people,” Campbell writes. “But I think we have to reassess what exactly qualifies as ‘uncool’. Being 15 – or, actually, being any age – and not wanting to be topless, or strip naked in front of what are essentially your ‘work colleagues’ is not prudish. Not wanting to make out with someone for a picture is not ‘being difficult.’”
She continues: “If you are creative, and if your work is good, you will be forgiven anything. You are given carte blanche to express that creativity […] And if that creativity only flows after midnight, and if it only responds to semi-nude young men or women, then so be it.”
Although fashion is “a closed world, and fiercely self-protective”, Campbell believes that now is the time for key players to start questioning whether the behaviour they’ve previously normalised is really acceptable or not.
Images: Rex Features