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CFDA’s Initiative for Health Safety and Diversity defines sexual harassment, encourages precautions

CFDA’s Initiative for Health Safety and Diversity defines sexual harassment, encourages precautions
Models backstage. (Cheuk-Yin To)

While the fashion industry continues to deal with sexual misconduct allegations, the Council of Fashion Designers of America is trying to make safety more of a priority. In her pre-fashion week e-mail to members, Diane von Furstenberg emphasized the importance of creating a safe environment, asking designers, show producers and photographers to consider using venues for shoots and runway shows that have areas where models can change in privacy.

In recent months, a number of models and individuals have made sexual misconduct claims against photographers like Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Russell Simmons and Guess' Paul Marciano. Condé Nast International released its Code of Conduct for models and photographers on Thursday, echoing the one done by its U.S. counterpart. Hearst and the Wall Street Journal's WSJ have also taken precautions to address the issue of sexual harassment.

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Von Furstenberg wrote, "The current climate has been marked by brave women and men and their revelations about an unacceptable culture in politics, sports, and entertainment, as well as in fashion."

To that end, the CFDA spelled out its point of view. "The CFDA firmly believes that everyone in our industry deserves the right to feel safe and respected. We have zero tolerance for unsafe environments and strongly encourage everyone in the fashion industry to report abuse in the workplace."

Recipients were reminded that sexual assault — "any involuntary sexual act in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to engage against their will" — is a crime. The letter urged anyone who felt they were a victim of sexual assault to file a police report. And models who feel they have been the subject of unwanted sexual attention on the job were encouraged to contact The Model Alliance.

As an indication of the CFDA's commitment to creating a safe environment, the group has renamed its Health Initiative as the Initiative for Health Safety and Diversity. Last fall the CFDA-led group aligned with Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff to include sexual harassment and assault among its tenets in order to help women and men who have suffered abuse in the industry.

Leaving no room for any gray area, von Furstenberg's letter refers to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's definition of sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

• Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment, or

• Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual, or

• Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

For further guidance, the Initiative for Health, Safety and Diversity provides contact information for the New York Police Department's Sex Crimes Report Line at 212-267-RAPE; the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network's National Sexual Assault hotline is at 800-656-HOPE and its secure online one and SafeHorizon's 24-hour Rape, Sexual Assault & Incest Hotline is at 212-227-3000.

There will soon be another agency to help fight mistreatment in the fashion industry. Tuesday night the Humans of Fashion Foundation will hold its kickoff event, touting a platform that will connect "individuals in the fashion industry who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse, misconduct and assault in the fashion industry with pro bono and subsidized legal professionals, counselors, and support networks." Model Kristina Romanova and singer-songwriter-lawyer Antoniette Costa have joined forces to start the NGO.

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