There's a lot going on in Hollywood at the moment. After the exposing of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, each day has seen more women speak out, detailing their own experiences with sexual assault. The revelations have sparked a movement, encouraging people to tell their stories in hopes of spreading awareness and working towards a safer world for everyone.
Under the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse, model and activist Cameron Russell is helping other models share their sexual assault experiences by photographers and teams on photo shoots. Russell is lending her Instagram to those who direct message her with stories to share, posting screenshots of each one as permanent posts. The stories, so far, range from verbal abuse to physical, and post-traumatic — and every single one is downright heartbreaking.
In some cases, models note that their agencies placed an importance on not losing the photographers as a client over their safety and well-being, putting them in difficult situations. On her Instagram Story, she explained her decision to help others tell their stories, and why she decided to black out any names mentioned in each post.
"Dear friends and followers, tonight was a lot. So many familiar stories. So many familiar names. And so many I didn't know," she wrote. "Hearing about vile industry norms and experiences from so many real people who are hurting. I have 99+ messages and to maintain trust will not be passing off my Instagram to anyone else."
Russell went on to clarify that her legal advisers suggested she conceal the names of men called out in the messages, but insisted there will be "follow up meetings" where she and her team can explore ways to make "at least some" of the names public. And she plans to invite anyone who can attend to join her. "There are many Weinsteins in our industry, they aren't hard to spot. If you know one, act now. Don't wait for 30 years for a New York Times expose [sic]," she wrote.
Russell also noted that she's received many inquiries via comments suggesting the person in several stories was famed photographer Terry Richardson, who has been previously accused of sexual assault. While she didn't deny the claims, she brought up an important point about outing the accused. "Our industry has a culture of exploitation and sexual harassment and assault. This means the perpetrators are numerous, not one, not five, not ten, but likely in the hundreds. They are well known [sic], and unknown, many are still working," she wrote.
She went on to request that the anonymity of the people who shared their stories with her. "We cannot challenge this culture of violence if people are afraid of exposure backlash and being singled out," she explained. "Sharing publicly will take building trusted community and likely months if not years of organizing. Exposing one or two people today will only act to scare people who have already been silenced, make it harder for them to speak up, and to find the support they need."
After her viral Ted Talk in 2012 on the flaws of the fashion industry — and how dangerous of an environment it can be for young women to work in — Russell has spent the past five years raising awareness for the nurturing and protection of models, including them in her activism work (earlier this year, she took her 'Model Mafia' of 30 models to Washington, D.C. for the People's Climate March). In addition to her social projects, Russell continues to front major magazine covers and advertising campaigns around the world.
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).