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Amid Jeffrey Epstein uproar, models urge Victoria’s Secret to sign anti-harassment vow

Years later, Epstein’s victims discuss the lasting impact of sexual abuse

Victims of Jeffrey Epstein share the emotional toll that sexual abuse has taken on them — even years after the abuse occurred. Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown interviewed the young women, most speaking for the first time about Epstein.
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Victims of Jeffrey Epstein share the emotional toll that sexual abuse has taken on them — even years after the abuse occurred. Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown interviewed the young women, most speaking for the first time about Epstein.

The fallout from Jeffrey Epstein’s association with Victoria’s Secret owner Les Wexner is reverberating across the fashion and modeling worlds, with more than 100 models signing a letter Tuesday demanding that the lingerie brand do more to combat the sexual abuse and harassment that has plagued the industry for decades.

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Leslie Wexner, CEO of the company that owns Victoria’s Secret, was once a close associate of Jeffrey Epstein.

The models, including Christy Turlington, Milla Jovovich and Karen Elson, called on L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, and its CEO, John Mehas, to join RESPECT, a program that would legally bind companies to a code of conduct involving zero tolerance of sexual misconduct.

Sara Ziff, founder of Model Alliance, which developed the program, said it is particularly important that L Brands lead the way on the issue of sexual harassment.

Last month, two photographers who have done work for Victoria’s Secret were accused of sexual abuse. One of them allegedly wrote a series of messages to a young model and interior design student asking her for nude photographs in exchange for him doing a fashion portfolio for her.

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Actor-model Milla Jovovich, left, with actor Steve Zahn.

“We are calling on Victoria’s Secret to join the RESPECT program in light of many allegations of sexual misconduct against multiple photographers known for their work with Victoria’s Secret and L Brands’ CEO, Les Wexner, who had a close relationship with Jeffrey Epstein,’’ said Ziff, a former model who leads the nonprofit, which advocates for better working conditions for models and others in the industry.

The letter comes one day after the company announced that its chief marketing executive, Edward Razek, is retiring. The company’s profits have dropped and it’s facing a backlash as a result of Wexner’s close ties to Epstein, an accused sex trafficker. Epstein was indicted in July in New York on charges that he sexually abused underage girls both in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.

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Various reports have stated that Epstein’s wealth stemmed in part from his management of Wexner’s fortune.

The New York Times reported recently that Epstein took advantage of his connection with Wexner to lure young women by claiming he was a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret.

Wexner, who had remained silent on Epstein’s legal troubles over the years, said at the time of the multimillionaire’s latest arrest that he disassociated himself from Epstein more than a decade ago and that he was shocked to learn of Epstein’s alleged abuse of underage girls.

Ziff said the company needs more than a new marketing strategy to boost its brand.

“This isn’t a marketing problem, this is a human rights problem,’’ said Ziff, who authored a column last month in New York Magazine titled “What modeling taught me about Jeffrey Epstein.’’

A spokesman for L Brands responded: “We are always concerned about the welfare of our models and want to continue to have dialogue withe Model Alliance and others to accomplish meaningful progress in the industry.’’

Ziff, who says she met Epstein early in her modeling career, contends that complaints from models to her nonprofit have surged since Epstein’s arrest.

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Christy Turlington

A Miami Herald investigation of Epstein’s legal case, called Perversion of Justice, described how the hedge fund manager was part owner of Mc2, a Miami-based modeling agency run by Jean-Luc Brunel. In a deposition obtained by the Herald, one of Brunel’s subordinates described how Epstein and Brunel recruited models, some of them underage, to attend parties. The modeling agency’s bookkeeper, who worked for the company from 2003 to 2006, testified in the deposition that she took several of the younger models under her wing and advised them against going to some of those assignments for fear they would be pressured to engage in sex acts.

“Too often, women across all industries are forced to choose between speaking out about sexual harassment on the job or advancing their careers,’’ said Rebecca Goldman, Interim CEO of TIME’S UP, an advocacy group founded in the wake of sex allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Goldman said the RESPECT program ensures that those in the modeling industry can safely report abuse and be protected against retaliation.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Local Reporting Makes a Difference

In her year-long investigation of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown tracked down more than 60 women who said they were victims of abuse and revealed the full story behind the sweetheart deal cut by Epstein’s powerhouse legal team.

Since the Herald published ‘Perversion of Justice’ in November 2018, a federal judge ruled the non-prosecution agreement brokered by then South Florida U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta was illegal, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in New York state, Acosta resigned as U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell.

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