New York bill aims to protect models from exploitation | Rights issues

Kaja Sokola was a shy teenager from Wroclaw, Poland, when she received life-changing news: modeling agents saw her picture during an open casting call and they wanted her to walk around during a a show in Warsaw.

Sokola had taken a walk or two in a dress or skirt, but the show was mostly in her underwear. She was 14 years old.

“Being a 14-year-old girl, walking around in a push-up bra and tiny underwear, through crowds of men and women over 40, and clapping and staring at each other like everything was normal , [it] looks like a horror movie right now,” she said. “It was ‘normal’ back then and it still is now, I think, unfortunately.”

Soon after, Sokola was thrown into an industry notorious for worker abuse that ranges from age-inappropriate assignments — at 15, she was pictured in a completely see-through blouse — to financial exploitation and trafficking sexual.

“On many levels, from emotional to physical to financial, fashion has abused models for years and years and years,” said Sokola, who is among many women to have accused the criminal. sexual misconduct Harvey Weinstein.

Sokola, who now works as a clinical psychologist, is also among former and current models advocating for the Fashion Workers Act, a New York state bill that aims to prevent abuse by instituting labor protections. The bill, which aims to protect everyone from models to makeup artists, was introduced in the spring of 2022 and will be considered again in the 2023 legislative session, which begins in January.

The renewed attention to this bill comes at a pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement. Weinstein and actor Danny Masterson will soon be on trial for rape in a Los Angeles court, and Kevin Spacey’s civil trial for sexual abuse began Thursday in Manhattan.

These high-profile lawsuits suggest the movement hasn’t slowed since its inception five years ago. The growing focus on model rights suggests that #MeToo is expanding beyond the world of entertainment into other industries where power imbalances – whether economic or gender-based – can pave the way for abuses.

“It’s really an outgrowth of advocacy by survivors of sexual abuse,” said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who is sponsoring the bill. “They were engaged with the Child Victims Act and then the Adult Survivors Act.

“This collective of survivors, most of whom are younger women, came together and helped craft this bill, so the next generation of creatives and fashion workers won’t go through the same thing.”

Under the Fashion Workers Act, management agencies should compensate models within 45 days of completing a job and provide them with copies of their employment contracts. If management companies collect royalties for a model or creative that they no longer represent, the agency should inform them.

Management fees would also be capped at 20% – and they would also be prohibited from pocketing onerous signing fees and above-market rent in agency accommodation. Proponents argue that if models and other creatives in the industry are indeed paid, they are much less vulnerable to exploitation: a paycheck can buy a plane ticket away from a dangerous situation or cover the rent of a a secure and stable home.

There was some opposition to the bill; non-model management trade groups, such as the Artist Management Association and American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) argue that this could have damaging financial ramifications. The AAAA notes that agencies play the role of “middleman” between those they represent and brands; if these brands do not pay management on time, the agencies will have to cover the costs of their clients.

Model Carré Otis said she has experienced the exploitation that comes with reliance on agents. In August 2021, Otis filed a lawsuit alleging that Gérald Marie, the former boss of the modeling agency, repeatedly raped her at her Paris home when she was 17.

Carré Otis speaking at a press conference in Paris after filing a criminal complaint in New York last month against Gérald Marie. Photography: Aurélia Moussly/AFPTV/AFP/Getty Images

“When I arrived in Paris, France, my passport was confiscated from me. I didn’t have the possibility to leave and I was in an even more vulnerable place, because I didn’t have the financial means to ‘help go,” said Otis, who is a leading fashion worker law advocate. “I was entirely indebted to my agent, who was actually a well-known author at the time. “

In a statement to the Guardian, Marie’s lawyer said he “categorically denies” the allegations, calling them “false and defamatory”.

Sara Ziff, Founder and Executive Director of Model Alliance, described how girls and young women in the industry face an “alien world” where the financial power of agencies can control almost every aspect of their lives.

“Imagine that you are a young immigrant woman who has signed up with a modeling agency in New York: when the agency sponsors your work visa, you are only allowed to work through the agency,” said said Ziff. “You cannot book other jobs and yet the agency says it has no obligation to book jobs for you.”

The model could even live in an agency-owned apartment — where 11 models could cram into a two-bedroom apartment, paying $2,000 each for a bunk bed — and receive a pitiful allowance from the agency. “A lot of times these teenage girls trying to be models are in thousands of dollars in debt, and the only way they’re going to eat or afford to do anything is to go to these dinner parties with men. business,” Ziff said.

Ziff said the alliance has regularly heard of agencies hosting these meetings, “which are kind of presented as a business opportunity, but ended up being something very different.” Says Ziff: “It’s no coincidence that Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby, Peter Nygaard solicited girls through modeling agencies.”

Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who is also leading the charge for legislative change, said the track record of many models further strengthens the balance of power.

“A lot of models, when they start this job, they believe it’s beautiful, and it’s something they want to do so badly that they won’t even think about what our rights actually are based on the fact that we are workers,” said Gutierrez, who has also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct and will testify at his upcoming trial.

“Some of them are from very poor countries, and they don’t know any better,” she said. “I just feel like they’re targeting a lot of these young women and young men.”

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