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Behind the Scenes: Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry

By March 19, 2019January 29th, 2020Blog
sexual assault in the fashion industry
This post was written before the passage of AB-218. For information regarding the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault/abuse, click here or contact our team of experienced representatives.


Reports of sexual assault in the fashion industry have come to light in recent years. According to trade group Model Alliance, 87% of models say they’ve been asked to take off their clothes without warning, 30% have encountered inappropriate behavior on the job, and 28% have been propositioned for sex at work.

Federal law prohibits sexual assault in the workplace, protecting those employed by companies of at least 15 employees. Unfortunately, this law doesn’t always apply to those in the modeling and fashion industry who are often employed as independent contractors or freelance agents, not protected by standard labor laws.

If you have experienced sexual assault in the fashion industry, work with a civil attorney to explore your legal options.    

Exploring Legal Options and Calculating the Statute of Limitations

Victims of sexual assault in the fashion industry can decide to either press criminal charges, file a civil lawsuit, or both.

  • Press Criminal Charges: Oftentimes, the result of pressing criminal charges leads to the perpetrator of sexual abuse having to pay a fine, serve jail time, or be placed on a sexual offender registry. Once a police report is filed by the victim, the District Attorney chooses whether or not to pursue the charges. The evidence in a criminal case must be conclusive proving that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As of January 1, 2017, there is no time limit for pressing charges in cases of sexual assault. Prior to that, California had a 10-year statute of limitations.
  • File a Civil Lawsuit: Typically, a civil lawsuit offers a survivor of sexual abuse a chance to obtain compensation for personal damages suffered as a result of the abuse. Cases are decided based on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning the judge and at least nine out of the 12 jury members must agree that it’s at least 51% likely the alleged act was committed. The statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit is two years from the date of the incident for the sexual abuse of adults and before age 26 for the sexual abuse of minors.

California civil courts allow for “the rule of delayed discovery,” which allows plaintiffs up to three years from the discovery of harm to file a civil lawsuit. This rule is significant because models may not realize the full extent of the damage done until years later.

“I’m naturally shy, so I just froze, continued shooting, and tried to be as professional as possible. I didn’t want to make a scene,” recalls model Sarah Varacalli, who claims a client asked her questions about her romantic life and propositioned her for sex in exchange for jewelry and cash. “I thought I’d be able to get over it, but the experience has weighed on me. I keep revisiting what happened; it’s difficult to discuss the actual language used in detail or feel closure.”

In cases like Varacalli’s, one might wonder who can be held liable for sexual assault. As it turns out, the perpetrator isn’t the only one who could face repercussions for sexual assault.  

Who Is Liable for Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry?

Plaintiffs often presume they are limited to suing the fashion photographer or whoever committed the act of sexual assault. This may be true in criminal court, but civil court allows for a broadened scope of liability. It is possible to sue the modeling agency, agents, clients who were aware of predatory activities, and—if you were a minor at the time—any mandatory reporters who knew or should have known about the abuse taking place.

How to Stop Sexual Assault in the Fashion Industry

Seeking personal redemption, punishment for wrongdoers, and compensation for losses could be some of the reasons models come forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Others may hope to enact broader changes within the industry. In order to do so, anyone who has been affected can work to stop sexual assault in the fashion industry by:  

  • Speaking up. A culture of compliance is necessary for sexual predators to continue to abuse others, which is why speaking up is an important first step. Some of the people enabling the sexual predators confess they didn’t fully realize what they were doing until years after leaving the industry. So many sexual assault reports are stifled because models assume nothing will come of it. Along with awareness comes intolerance for injustice.
  • Pushing for industry change. Last year, the fashion industry unveiled new guidelines to tackle sexual harassment and assault. The Council of Fashion Designers of America demands that designers, show producers, and photographers provide “spaces where models can change in privacy.”
  • Pushing for legislative change. As of January 1, 2019, California models are protected by the Talent Protections Act (AB 2338), which, in part, requires talent agencies to create educational materials about sexual harassment prevention and retaliation. Any minor starting in the industry and their legal guardian will receive training on preventing and reporting sexual abuse.

Across the country, bills are being proposed that clarify where legal liability for fashion-industry-related sexual harassment lies.

Contact California Sexual Assault Attorneys for Justice

Criminal lawsuits may only hold a single person accountable for an act of sexual abuse, but civil law allows for many others to be held responsible. There are many different laws that attorneys can pursue to hold modeling agencies accountable for their actions or inactions. For this reason, it is imperative that you find a law firm with particular expertise in litigating sexual assault cases relative to the fashion industry. An experienced sexual abuse attorney will know exactly who to sue for sexual assault in the fashion industry.

Large organizations may try to shield themselves from liability but the experienced civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn have what is required to prevail in a civil lawsuit against a modeling agency.

Whether you’re advocating for your child or are an adult seeking closure for abuse suffered, Lewis & Llewellyn has the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.