New York State Introduces Legislation to Protect Models Against Harassment

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D) announced the introduction of legislation on Monday that, if passed, will provide models with protections against sexual and other forms of harassment while on the job. The bill, referred to as the “Models’ Harassment Protection Act,” follows months of research and coordination with the Model Alliance, a New York-based research and policy organization that advocates for labor rights for models and other workers in the fashion industry.  

“If there is anything we are learning from over the past few weeks is that we have reached a turning point whether to accept sexual harassment as a norm, or end the cycle by enacting protections and providing a path of recourse,” said Rozic on Monday. “No one should ever experience sexual harassment in or outside of the workplace.”

“Models lack basic rights and protections as workers, including protection against sexual harassment,” said Sara Ziff, a model and the founder and executive director of the Model Alliance. “For years, other models and I have spoken out about systemic sexual harassment and abuse on the job – and yet, powerful individuals have tried to silence us and tacitly given approval that this behavior is okay. Sexual harassment is not okay and should not be tolerated by models, nor should it be tolerated by our industry.”

According to Rozic's office, critical to the bill is establishing that the provisions apply to models regardless of their status as employees or independent contractors; the latter is the most common classification for models in the U.S., and largely excludes them from protections against harassment and discrimination afforded to employees under state law. 

The bill would address loopholes in current law by making it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a modeling entity, whether it be a management agency or company, to subject a model to harassment, regardless of their status as an independent contractor or employee. Harassment includes but is not limited to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and harassment based on age, race, national origin, color, sexual orientation, sex, and disability.

“Models, especially the younger ones, are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators and abuse of power within the fashion industry. Models, like actresses, are often shamed into silence or expected not to complain when conditions at work make them uncomfortable,” said Karen Elson, supermodel and Model Alliance advisory board member. 

“How can a model stand against an abusive photographer, stylist, or casting director when people in the industry have built a wall of protection around predators and are willing to look the other way to protect their own interests, regardless of the well-being of the model or the industry as a whole? Models need protection against sexual harassment on the job and they deserve to have a voice to hold the industry accountable when they are expected to remain silent,” said James Scully, casting director and Model Alliance advisory board member.

"Through the Model Alliance, the young men and women who have been victims of this rampant abuse of power can learn their rights, file complaints, and rally together to gain the protections they deserve," Scully further stated. 

“Because our work is based on physicality, certain people assume the boundaries with sexuality are blurred and that it gives them the right to abuse their power. I don’t know anyone, man or woman, in our industry who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career. We might work as independent contractors, but we still need legal protections. This is a tipping point in our society across so many industries, and it is time to truly address the elephant in the room,” said Kenza Fourati, top model and Model Alliance advisory board member.

Rozic added, “This legislation is no different from any other measure that aims to protect the well-being of workers on the job.” Her announcement coincides with her recent sponsorship of legislation that would prohibit the use of non-disclosure agreements to conceal cases of sexual harassment following the Harvey Weinstein revelations. Both bills would serve as steps towards challenging the status quo that permeate workplace culture across various industries.

The bill will be voted on in 2018, during the next legislative session.