The #MeToo movement is slowly cracking down predators from different sectors. It has yet to gain momentum in fashion where circumstances can also put talents in difficult situations, but there is no mistaking that it already has begun. Last year, The New York Times released an exposé on renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber, in which Jason Boyce and 15 other models accused Weber of sexual assault. Weber has denied the allegations, but more models have spoken up since then.
Five talents, only identified through their initials, came forward to file a lawsuit against Weber for improper conduct during the times the models have worked with him. Lisa Bloom, the attorney who represented Boyce, set things in motion in federal court on behalf of the male models. Four out of the five plaintiffs live in the United States, while one is residing in the Netherlands. The allegations took place in the years 2008 to 2011.
Like some of the models who previously accused Weber of harassment, plaintiffs from the latest lawsuit also describe of instances during which the photographer felt them up while they did Weber’s so-called ‘breathing exercises’. Complying with Weber’s wishes promised of help in their careers, going against his requests would have unpleasant consequences. A model only referred to as K.B. was told that he’d go far if he’d relax, while another identified as B.A. received threats of losing the job should he reject the photographer’s advances; things turned out differently for the two who had worked with Weber for Abercrombie & Fitch campaigns. B.A. also spoke of incidents outside the professional setting which had Weber call him and ask him highly inappropriate requests and sex-related questions. Weber’s breathing would supposedly get heavy during those phone calls.
Weber denied the allegations thrown against him in the New York Times exposé. This time around, his lawyer Jayne Weintraub spoke for him, saying that the claims were outrageous and that Weber has never touched a model he has worked with inappropriately.
In the last year, Weber took on a low profile and appeared to have lost connections after the allegations prompted major fashion magazines, such as those under Condé Nast Inc., to turn their backs on him. But the succeeding months saw Weber back in the fashion world’s events, such as the June cocktail party that honored him and his work with Azzedine Alaïa, as well as the New York celebration of Facing the World, the 18th volume of his All-American series at a Paul Smith store. When asked by WWD regarding the case against him filed by Boyce, he said “You can’t talk about it so much but I still feel the same way about it. I trust myself, I know who I am and I know what the truth is.” The photographer has started exploring options though in order to protect his legacy. Weber’s team recently fired back at Boyce’s claims through a Memorandum of Law in Opposition, calling the model a failure and accusing him of being after cash with sensitive photos from the model and his agency as proof.
Bloom is hopeful in seeing more models testify against Weber, especially since the misconduct can be treated as sex trafficking. The attorney uses Harvey Weinstein’s case as basis, during which the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was interpreted to also shield vulnerable job seekers from potential employers who might use their position to ask sexual favors from applicants in exchange of employment. The law has a 10-year statute of limitations compared to others, which could be in the favor of previous victims. Bloom spoke of those who chose not to proceed with legal actions because of the time that has passed since the offense, expressing that some could find themselves with a case if the offense is filed under sex trafficking.
Image credits: Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images, Antony Jones, NY Post, WWD, Bruce Weber