As the media, entertainment, and tech industries continue to watch its powerful figures fall from grace, the fashion industry joins suit. After the ousting of Terry Richardson by Condé Nast, more and more models have come forward with claims of alleged sexual abuse within the industry. As reported by the NY Post, the latest fashion photographer to face such claims is Bruce Weber, who is known for his images in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, including brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren. Model-actor Jason Boyce filed a lawsuit to the Manhattan Supreme Court alleging sexual misconduct and abuse against the photographer.
In the suit, Boyce details his experience from a December 2014 casting session in the photographer's Manhattan studio. The claims include Weber asking Boyce to remove his clothes — a request usually made, but not required with the current state of protections for models, in advance of a project — and forced him to rub his own genitals, including sucking on Boyce's fingers. The model obeyed his demands, and much more, all of which are detailed in the suit papers obtained by the Post. Boyced was instructed by his former agent to "nail" the job because of Weber's influence in the industry. At the time of the alleged incident, Boyce was 28, and Weber, 68.
Boyce further claims that after frequent attempts made by Weber to get in touch, he states to have either delayed or denied any further interactions with the photographer. After reporting back to his then-agent at Soul Artist Management that the experience was "weird," Boyce moved to California and never returned to modeling again. According to court papers, the aftermath induced bouts of anxiety, depression, and high stress levels. "Mr. Boyce felt intense dread at the thought of a modeling career in an industry where Mr. Weber was considered by many to be a top photographer and primary champion of male models. He was worried that he would continue to run into Mr. Weber throughout his career."
Though the Post reports that the suit includes claims of Boyce's former agents at Soul Artist Management being cognizant of similar allegations with other male models, inadvertently suggesting there may be more stories to come, Boyce's motion is the first official claim filed against Weber. Following the similarly prolonged ousting of Richardson, the industry has been vocal in its attempt to right similar wrongs. But many, like Weber, continue to work.
In addition to models themselves speaking up about their own and other's abuse, former model and Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff has devoted her career to the ethical treatment and protection of models. Most recently, she was instrumental in introducing a House bill alongside New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic that seeks to legalize the protection of models from sexual harassment on the job, as currently, there are none. Upon hearing news of the allegations put forth against Weber, Ziff provided Refinery29 with a statement that both reiterates that sexual abuse within the modeling industry is widespread, and doesn't discriminate between genders.
"The issue of sexual misconduct has come to the fore in various industries, and fashion and modeling are no exception. Sexual abuse in the workplace is rampant in the modeling industry, which currently lacks adequate legal protections for its mostly young, vulnerable workforce. Although female victims more often tend to be the focus, men are also vulnerable of being victims of sexual abuse. It can be doubly difficult for male models to report predatory behavior by other men in the workplace because there remains a stigma.
"Many models have spoken out about sexual abuse on the job, but our safety and wellbeing has clearly and consistently come second to the business interests of industry figures with longstanding working relationships. Modeling agencies are supposed to represent the best interests of their talent, but too often they have turned a blind eye to predatory photographers and others who are known to abuse their power.
"More needs to be done to address the pervasive problem of sexual abuse in the fashion and modeling industries. The Model Alliance is working closely with government officials and industry stakeholders as we move toward implementing solutions. We aim to bring about much needed, systemic change to the fashion industry, and are working to create a safe work environment."
Ziff adds that anyone who wishes to report sexual misconduct experienced or witnessed in the fashion industry can contact the Model Alliance for help and support. We've reached out to MVA Management, whom Boyce lists as his current representation via his Instagram bio, and Bruce Weber's studio for comment and will update this story if/when we hear back.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).