For models working the runways during New York Fashion Week, behavior that would be considered sexual harassment elsewhere is an accepted part of the job. The modeling industry is largely unregulated and generally disregards child labor laws, with many girls starting to work at 14 and 15 years old. Up to this point, little has been done to protect their rights as employees of some of the world's largest and most powerful brands.
Fearing that they will lose opportunities to work, many girls and women choose to stay quiet when working conditions or requests by employers make them uncomfortable. Models have also reported increased anxiety and depression as a result of the demands of their employers.
Model Sara Ziff founded the nonprofit Model Alliance group recent to combat the oppressive behavior and advocate for workers rights. Members of the group have described the model workforce as overwhelmingly young, female and impoverished.
The models are asking for more privacy and help preventing unauthorized nude photographs taken while they change for a runway show. They also want to establish a program to provide confidential advice to workers dealing with sexual harassment. The model alliance is also working for fair pay, since many designers encourage girls to take clothes, rather than cash, as compensation.
Sexual harassment can include a wide variety of behavior. Repeated sexual innuendo, obscene jokes, lewd remarks, and inappropriate nicknames are forms of sexual harassment. A workplace culture that condones this behavior does not make it O.K.
While organizing within the workplace is certainly an option to stop widespread harassment, it is also important to consult with an attorney and know your rights. Everyone deserves a safe and respectful workplace.
Source: Reuters, "Models form Rights Group Ahead of New York Fashion Week," Feb. 6, 2012.