A modeling agency renowned for being a pioneer in the fashion world has joined the ranks of other New York institutions accused of allowing the abuse of children in their care.
Wilhelmina Models ordered one of their underage models to be photographed nude on one occasion, and allowed her to be photographed in sexually suggestive positions with another underage model, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan court last week.
The plaintiff, whose name was not revealed in the lawsuit, accuses the agency of asking her to pose for photos in a sexually suggestive manner by photographers to whom the agency sent her.
The court record also shows a glimpse into the world of modeling in the early 1990s.
A world filled with drugs, fear and no adult supervision was a potential breeding ground for abuse, and the industry knew it, according to the court filing.
“While she was an employee of Wilhelmina, the agency, along with other prominent modeling agencies, had a culture of compliance with sexually predatory behavior by photographers,” New York attorney John Beranbaum wrote. in the trial. “As part of this culture, models, especially minors, would not disclose the sexual abuse they suffered for fear of losing their jobs.”
Wilhelmina has been a leader in the modeling world since her debut in 1967.
The agency launched the careers of Gia Carangi – one of the first models, and Naomi Sims – one of the first African-American supermodels – as well as celebrities like the late Whitney Houston and current stars like Zoe Saldana and Iggy Azalea.
Currently, the agency represents Nicki Minaj and Nick Jonas, among other celebrities.
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After signing with Wilhelmina, the plaintiff called Jane Doe was housed with six other underage girls in New York without a chaperone, according to court documents.
Wilhelmina told the complainant’s mother that her daughter would be chaperoned at work and kept safe.
The complainant accuses a photographer of having touched her chest and buttocks during a photo shoot.
Also named in the lawsuit is a tanning product company.
Prior to her contract with Wilhelmina, the plaintiff said there was another incident in 1993 during a photo shoot for a tanning products company, then known as California Suncare and today as by California Tan. The complainant, then 16, had her bikini top forcibly removed and given drugs in an effort to overcome her discomfort at being photographed naked.
The crew also encouraged her to continue working topless and asked her to “Consider doing naughty things with your boyfriend,” according to the costume.
These photos were later used for a national ad campaign for the tanning company.
The plaintiff left modeling in April 1994.
This is the latest case filed under the New York Child Victims Act, a law that allows people to sue for abuse regardless of the statute of limitations.
Wilhelmina did not respond to request for comment, her website says her offices are looking for “Women | Age – 16-30 | Height – 5’9″ or taller | Dress size 0-6 | Favorite pictures.”
Follow Frank Esposito on Twitter @FqEsposito.