This is the first episode of Model Citizen (!) the new video series I’m writing, producing, and hosting with Vox Media's fashion brand Racked (!).
Model Citizen uses the fashion industry as a lens to take a closer look at major social and political issues. In this first episode, we explored the grey areas on set that contribute to sexual harassment—and found the specific legal loophole behind a lot of it.
For this series I’ve surveyed dozens of models, written programs to scrape data from modeling agencies’ websites, read study after study (there aren’t as many as there should be), and invited one model as an expert into each episode. This episode features the brilliant Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, a non-profit that works on labor protections for models.
Model Citizen is years worth of my rewarding, interesting, painful, alarming experiences as a model learning the structural parts of the industry that no one talks about. We should explain those parts. Better yet, we should let models do it. With this series, Racked is.
Why is it important?
Around 40% of all women endure sexual assault in the workplace, according to a recent study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But a study conducted by the Model Alliance found that over 80% of models experience sexual harassment on the job.
The root of the problem is the legal structure of modeling itself, specifically a loophole called the "incidental booking exception." This exception allows modeling agencies to avoid the laws that would hold them accountable for a model being sexually harassed or assaulted on a job.
- Fordham Law on the incidental booking exception
- "It is in modeling agencies’ best interest to be considered management companies so that they do not have to comply with the provisions of General Business Law Article 11. Managers can continue to procure employment and still be exempted from regulation through an incidental booking exception. Under the incidental booking exception, a manager is allowed to book jobs so long as the booking is only incidental to the manager’s other job of managing the talent."
- The New York Times on the new Models Harassment Protection Act
- "Models in New York State would require specific provisions because of their convoluted employment chain. Many are classified as independent contractors, with their agencies claiming to act in an advisory capacity. This means that a client (a photographer, retailer, clothing brand) books them through the agencies but does not actually have a contract directly with the model. Like other independent contractors, including nannies and housekeepers, models have fewer legal protections than workers whose employment contracts are more tightly regulated."