Why models needed union protection

Model campaign demands better treatment in fashion industry

Two models have described why they campaigned for the right to join Equity, the actor’s union.

Victoria Keon-Cohen and Dunja Knezevic – who between them have worked for Versace, Armani, Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Vogue – say they were spurred into action by the exploitation of young women in the fashion industry.

Their pioneering campaign for better treatment within their profession persuaded the union to allow catwalk and photographic models to join its ranks for the first time.

They told The Observer that the mistreatment and exploitation includes sexual harassment by clients and photographers, ranging from ‘lewd and suggestive comments’ to attempts to persuade models to sleep with them.

They say models are often too intimidated or embarrassed to complain – and that some agencies ignore their concerns.

‘Models start in this industry at 14, 15, or even 13, and they definitely need protection from exploitation, harassment and bad attitudes,’ said Knezevic, 26, who has been a model for 10 years.

‘We want to get to a situation where the parents of models will not be frightened of their child going into modelling because they know they have protection and support. But there’s a lot of work to do to achieve that.’

She added: ‘For such a long time this industry has acted as if it’s crazy, wild and glamorous, and as if commonplace laws don’t apply to it. But I and a lot of other models do believe that the laws should apply to it.’

They plan to use a new models committee within Equity to advise models and work with the Association of Modelling Agencies to raise standards.

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