Victoria’s Secret Refused to Act to Protect Women, Models Say

By Kim Bhasin and Jordyn Holman | February 6, 2020

Victoria’s Secret is under fire again from models after new allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced over the weekend.

The Model Alliance, an organization that advocates for the protection of models, sent a letter to Victoria’s Secret Chief Executive Officer John Mehas on Wednesday, calling what it described as the retailer’s lack of action to shield women from abuse “utterly unacceptable.” It’s signed by more than 100 people, mostly models, including stars like Christy Turlington Burns and Edie Campbell.

Models and executives were bullied and harassed for decades due to an “entrenched culture of misogyny” at the lingerie chain, owned by L Brands Inc., according to a New York Times investigation published last weekend.

“The time for listening is long past,” they wrote in the letter. “It’s time for Victoria’s Secret to take action to protect the people they profit from. Human rights violations can’t be stopped with a corporate rebranding exercise.”

An L Brands spokesperson said that the company is proud of the progress it has made and remains committed to continuous improvement.

Models also sent a letter to Mehas last August calling for Victoria’s Secret to guard them against harassment.

Changes Proposed

In Wednesday’s letter, the group said it met with representatives of the chain in September and proposed changes to protect models and other employees from workplace harassment. The suggestions included a training program and a binding commitment to require employees, photographers and modeling agents to follow a code of conduct. They also want Victoria’s Secret models to have access to a confidential complaint line.

Victoria’s Secret made it “abundantly clear,” according to the letter, that it wouldn’t take the allegations seriously, and that management wouldn’t take any concrete steps to address the problem. Instead, the company told the group the business is “in the process of continued learning and listening,” the group said.

L Brands said that it is always open to engage with those looking to make improvements in the industry.

‘Common Goal’

“We absolutely share a common goal with Model Alliance to ensure the safety and well-being of models,” the spokesperson said. “Our robust Photo Shoot Procedures, including training and oversight, were implemented in May 2019” and reflect elements of the Model Alliance’s program.

L Brands and Victoria’s Secret have been awash in scandal for some time. Questions remain about the company’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the late convicted sex offender who in years past managed finances for L Brands CEO Les Wexner. The new allegations came shortly after reports that L Brands, which also owns Bath & Body Works, was in talks to break up the company and that Wexner may step down.

“This is an opportunity for Victoria’s Secret,” said Sara Ziff, executive director of the Model Alliance said in an interview. “It should be both a wake-up call and opportunity for them to do the right thing.”

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