Models demand respect, write letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO

On February 1, The New York Times released a shocking report detailing the extensive sexual harassment and abuse allegations against former Victoria’s Secret CEO Ed Razek and L Brands founder Leslie Wexner. As a response, over 100 models from Model Alliance have signed an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas to address and change their, “culture of misogyny and abuse.” 

“We write today because the New York Times investigative report “‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret,” shows that the culture of misogyny, bullying, and harassment at Victoria’s Secret is even more egregious and more entrenched than previously understood,” the letter writes. 

“The Times reports repeated complaints of inappropriate conduct towards models and employees: body shaming, lewd remarks, crotch-grabbing, retaliation for rebuffing advances, unauthorized use of models’ images and pressures to pose nude without pay for a photographer’s personal shoots,” the letter continues. 

Models like Iskra Lawrence, Christy Turlington Burns, and Gemma Ward have all signed the letter, which comes out of the newly formed RESPECT program. The program—created in May 2018 as a response to models coming forward about their unsafe and abusive working environments—aims to provide an “industry-wide blueprint for protecting models and their colleagues from harassment.” 

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Victoria’s Secret is at the heart of the industry problems that RESPECT and Model Alliance (a 501(c)3 organization) are trying to address. Only last September, Model Alliance met with L Brands CCO Tammy Roberts Myers to address the harassment allegations. The open letter references this, stating, “In a follow-up email she [Myers] told us that Victoria’s Secret was not ready to take any concrete steps towards addressing these allegations — rather, the company is simply, ‘in the process of continued learning and listening.” The company has made it obvious that they do not see the need for any kind of system-wide change. 

The executives at Victoria’s Secret continue to deny the allegations against them, instead arguing that, “We share a common goal with Model Alliance to ensure the safety and wellbeing of models.” Ed Razek, who was at the center of the New York Times investigation, responded to the Times, saying the allegations were, “categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context.”

Despite this, it does not seem like the members of Model Alliance will be backing down. Instead, they have made it clear that the company’s refusal to enact any real change on behalf of its models is inexcusable and pointless. The letter writes, “The time for listening is long past; it’s time for Victoria’s Secret to take action to protect the people they profit from.”

Victoria’s Secret has been continuously stuck on a downward trajectory, struggling financially as well as coming under fire for Wexner’s ties to child sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The 2019 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was also cancelled after the company faced backlash for its lack of diversity and transphobic comments made by Razek in 2018. 

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