Sexual Harassment; What It Is and How to Stop It

Enough is enough...

The Harvey Weinstein allegations were the sparks that lit the roaring fire. Now, months after the first allegation, many more sexual harassment cases have come to light. I thought I’d share my input as a model in the fashion industry.  Just like Hollywood, the sexual abuse prevalent in modeling is astounding and has been ignored for far too long. [1]

To start, it isn’t to be ignored that abuse of all natures is prevalent in many industries, not just film or fashion which have been highlighted in the past few months. I’ll be touching base on my opinions of abuse in modeling but am by no means saying it is the only industry where this happens. 

So what is sexual harassment? [2]

This list is what sexual harassment in a work environment involves. It includes many things... 

Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
Unwanted pressure for sexual favors.
Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.
Unwanted sexual looks or gestures.
Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature.
Unwanted pressure for dates.
Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey.
Whistling at someone.
Cat calls.
Sexual comments.
Turning work discussions to sexual topics.
Sexual innuendos or stories.
Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history.
Personal questions about social or sexual life.
Sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks.
Kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips.
Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person's personal sex life.
Neck massage.
Touching an employee's clothing, hair, or body.
Giving personal gifts.
Hanging around a person.
Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking.
Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
Standing close or brushing up against a person.
Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes).
Staring at someone.
Sexually suggestive signals.
Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips.
Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements. 


Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey
Whistling at someone, cat calls
Making sexual comments about a person's body
Making sexual comments or innuendos
Turning work discussions to sexual topics
Telling sexual jokes or stories
Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history
Asking personal questions about social or sexual life
Making kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips
Making sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks
Repeatedly asking out a person who is not interested
Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person's personal sex life


Looking a person up and down (Elevator eyes)
Staring at someone
Blocking a person's path
Following the person
Giving personal gifts
Displaying sexually suggestive visuals
Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements
Making facial expressions such as winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips


Giving a massage around the neck or shoulders
Touching the person's clothing, hair, or body
Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking
Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person
Standing close or brushing up against another person

Reading through this list, I think it’s safe to say that many of us have experienced sexual harassment of some sort. 

Mid October of this year, model and activist Cameron Russell took it upon herself to share on Instagram not one or two but over 70 stories, anonymously sent to her by models both male and female of their experience of sexual abuse in the industry. [3]

From the submitted posts on Cameron’s Instagram page, I read through stories of rape, stories of unsolicited sexual acts, models who were forced to do things they did not want to do. [4] Models who were frozen in gut-wrenching situations where they were unable to move, unable to act, unable to react or stand up for themselves. It’s so much easier to say get up and stand up for yourself but when you’re in an industry that glorifies sexuality, sometimes as young as 15, 16 years old, what’s considered “normal” is often skewed. You have to live your life in a new lens that is confusing. There are photographers, stylists, agents, casting directors who have an unsurmountable control over a model’s career and oftentimes we are left silent, unable to speak because we need work, we need to pay the bills, and we’ve gotten lost along the way by trying to make it. 

 “…He put his fingers deep down in my v few times as he was shooting pics of me, saying this will make pics look more sensual. To a 15 yo….”

“…Making me feel like I was the one who had done something wrong by not wanting to sleep with him…”

“… He looked me in the eye and asked me after 5 minutes of meeting me if I would suck his dick…”

“…After about 2 minutes in front of the camera he told me I needed to “let loose” and “be more sexy” and he kept telling me to touch myself…”

“…Telling me to come in the bathroom to take photos of us while he masturbated…”

When I read through some of these stories, my heart broke to even be in an industry where sexual harassment happens so frequently. I thought, thank god I haven’t been in a situation like this. But as I really thought back to when I first started modeling, the blocked memories began to surface and I realized that a lot of what I had dismissed was in fact sexual harassment. From having to change in front of multiple people on set, changing backstage as photographers snapped away, having stylists touch every inch of my body (oftentimes exclaiming “don’t worry I’m gay”, which never made them shoving their hands down my crotch to tuck in my shirt feel any better…) shooting topless which I told myself I would never do but now “depends on the situation”, texting and phone calls from photographers, dealing with unwanted flirting, tolerating creepy photographers because they’re “big” and have the power to “make my career” … The list goes on and on. And I’ve normalized all these actions and have forgotten about a lot of them because this abuse often seems like a caveat to being a model. We just have to “deal with it” or are told it comes with the job. 

Enough is enough. Agent’s need to stop sending models to photographer’s houses/castings when they know they have a bad track record. Look out for us! We are entering a mature industry, oftentimes at such a young age away from our families. You are our family! Treat us as you would your own kids. Would you send your kids to someone who you’ve heard has done bad things? It shouldn’t even be a question. Not everyone is lucky like me to be with an agency that consistently values their models health and well-being. This should be an industry-wide standard that we don’t have to ask for. 

Magazines need to stop hiring these perpetrators and take note of those like Condé Nast International, who are finally stepping up to do the right thing. (Recently, the publishing house finally cut ties with longtime perpetrator Terry Richardson). [5]

Advertisers, stop hiring these people. There are far too many stories circulating. You know who they are. Step up and say no! There is no lack of talent. Find someone else to shoot it. Find someone else to style it. Find someone else to do the hair and/or make-up. 

In the wake of these scandals, many people have been sharing their sexual harassment experiences using the hashtag #MeToo. Years ago, Tarana Burke, founder of Just Be Inc, an organization that promotes the wellness of young female minorities shared her experience as a survivor of sexual violence. She used the hashtag #MeToo to shed light on the fact that no one is ever alone and use it as a way to heal together. When talking about the issue, Burke exclaims “We are experiencing a moment of mass disclosure, which can be very triggering for folks. There are a lot of people who are turned off by this movement — and I get it. There’s not a clear message or outcome. It’s not like people are saying, “Yes, me too” and then getting a list of steps to follow to heal and make change on this issue. And that’s what I hope to provide for folks in the coming weeks and days. But in the meantime, be gentle with yourself, take your time, figure out what you need, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, don’t let anyone shame you into feeling like what you need is dumb and don’t let anyone diminish your experience." [6]

While some have publically stepped out by using such hashtags, many have not and are oftentimes questioned for it. What people need to understand is for some, the there is a necessity (short-lived or long-term) of remaining anonymous and hiding these abuser’s names. There is legality at play and the safety and reputation of those who decide to submit their stories. Deciding to step out and share their stories is one of the most heroic things someone can do. With jobs, reputations and safety at play it is in the media’s best interest to respect the privacy of these victims until the right lawyers and investigative journalists are hired to expose the abusers. Reopening old wounds or revisiting new ones are hard now, are hard then and should not be looked upon lightly. Let those who have been abused heal in whatever manor they wish to and refrain from questioning any of their motives. 

This is only the start and meaningful change will happen. Step up, stand up, and be a part of this movement. Help those who don’t have a voice. Help those who have been hurt. Educate young ones on the meaning of consent. Invite men to our conversations. Collectively, we have the power to fight sexual harassment. And it needs to happen now more than ever.