Models slam 'disturbing' Victoria's Secret claims of 'sexual assault, alleged rape and sex trafficking'

Lais Ribeiro is speaking out about claims that Victoria's Secret is involved in "sexual assault, alleged rape and sex trafficking." (Photo: Getty Images)

8/8/2019 UPDATE: Victoria’s Secret has since released a statement in response to Model Alliance’s open letter.

“We are always concerned about the welfare of our models and want to continue to have dialogue with the Model Alliance and others to accomplish meaningful progress in the industry,” a Victoria’s Secret spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

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Advocacy organization Model Alliance is joining forces with Time’s Up to take aim at Victoria’s Secret, imploring the brand to remedy the threat of “sexual assault, alleged rape and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models.” But some of the brand’s models are fighting back, characterizing the callout as “unfair.”

In an open letter shared on Instagram Tuesday, Model Alliance makes mention of recent headlines regarding L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sex trafficking dozens of minors, as well as a number of allegations of sexual misconduct by Victoria’s Secret photographers, including Timur Emek, David Bellemere and Greg Kadel.

“We are writing today to express our concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria’s Secret,” the letter begins. “We are calling on Victoria’s Secret to take meaningful action to protect its talent and those who aspire to work with the company. Victoria’s Secret has the opportunity to be a leader, to use its power and influence to bring about the changes that are urgently needed in our industry.”

Although former Victoria’s Secret Angel Doutzen Kroes co-signed the letter alongside other big names in the industry, a group of Victoria’s Secret models is now speaking out against Model Alliance’s plea, and insisting that Victoria’s Secret has always been respectful of its models.

“This is so unfair!” Lais Ribeiro wrote. “They are the most respectful brand I EVER worked with.”

While Sara Sampaio wrote, “looks like @modelallianceny is just jumping on the hate vs bandwagon to get publicity, instead of getting the facts right! The industry 100% needs more protections for models, but you are going after a company that always been supportive, respectful, and attentive to their models!”

Sampaio also agreed with Ribeiro’s claim that the brand effectively handled complaints about Bellemere and fired him the day after Ribeiro made executives aware of the photographer’s behavior.

“They are the most caring client i have ever worked for in my 10 years of modeling,” fellow Victoria’s Secret model Jasmine Tookes wrote. “If there has ever been ANY sort of uncomfortable situation for any of the girls it is taken care of immediately. Get ya facts!”

Victoria’s Secret has yet to publicly address the open letter. In their comments, the models re-iterated that there are other people and brands to place blame on, especially those involved in luring women who are just starting out in the industry.

Still, Model Alliance wrote that Victoria’s Secret could have a big impact on bettering the industry for aspiring models since some photographers leveraged the brand in their attempts to allegedly abuse women.

“Aspiring models are the most vulnerable to abuse and this is why the Respect Program covers both working and aspiring models — with the goal of increasing transparency and setting some basic standards for rules of engagement,” the organization commented in response to the pushback.

Tookes wrote, “It’s not the companies [sic] problem if young models think shooting with certain creepy photographers on the side will get them the gig...leave the company out of it.”

Some people throughout the comments agreed with the current Victoria’s Secret models’ statements and even praised them for starting an important conversation. However, many others also pointed out that the models might be misunderstanding Model Alliance’s intentions.

“It’s a shame that people feel the need to defend VS when they were not really being attacked directly here,” one commenter wrote. “@modelallianceny is asking VS to take a stand. The photographers named may or may not have worked with VS however they used that to leverage young models into dangerous situations. VS should separate themselves from those predators and if they have never worked with them, then they should let the public know. That would help expose these photographers a little bit more.”

Another clarified, “if [Model Alliance’s] intention was to accuse VS of something that’s beyond their scope, then that’s wrong. If their intention, however, is to encourage VS to join the like of the TimesUp movement to take a stand against something that’s perverting the industry...then I don’t see the harm in demanding a company to take that stand. Taking a stand is not the same as taking blame.”

Neither Victoria’s Secret nor Model Alliance immediately responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.

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