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Sexual harassment in fashion industry exists beyond job sites, U. researcher says

Recent University research analyzed the prevalence of sexual harassment in the fashion industry. – Photo by Yogendra Singh / Pexels

Earlier this month, the Women's Studies International Forum published research from Jocelyn Crowley, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, regarding sexual harassment in the fashion industry.

Crowley said her research's goal was to explain that sexual harassment not only occurs in occupational settings but also in more casual spaces.

"It can occur in other situations, in 'party-like' atmospheres," she said. "We need to be really cognizant that they can happen in other types of social environments and can be just as damaging."

For her research, Crowley utilized a dataset on Instagram that involved experiences from models regarding sexual harassment in the fashion industry.

She said she chose to discuss the instances of abuse that occurred prior to a model landing a job, actually on the job and following the job.

Crowley defines several terms that are a part of her research, including "entrepreneurial labor" and "gendered power relations."

"Entrepreneurial labor is what models have to do in order to get the next job," Crowley said. "So, in addition to being represented by an agent, ... models have to engage in entrepreneurial labor, which means actually going to social events, whether they (are) lunches, dinners, coffees, any types of meetups, parties and so forth in order to show that they're relevant, show their faces and hopefully get more jobs."

Although this particular form of labor is not usually brought to attention, models must engage in it, which can lead to sexual harassment, she said.

Regarding gendered power relations, Crowley said that many people think of high-profile supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Christie Brinkley and Iman when imagining the fashion industry. In reality, most women in this industry have significantly less power than men, which can lead to an environment where problems like sexual harassment can occur, she said.

Regarding the implications of her research, Crowley said that individuals must be aware that sexual harassment can happen in places other than on the actual job site. Networking is a significant part of working in the fashion industry, which means that there must be awareness of what happens outside of actual job sites.

"Most of the players in the fashion industry are independent contractors, and there's not an overall employer who is responsible for enforcing anti-sexual harassment policies," Crowley said.

She said that although most in the Rutgers community are not models, they can still benefit from learning about this issue. Models' accounts of sexual harassment provide insight into the nature of this issue in not just the fashion industry but in other fields as well.

"I think that looking at sexual harassment in the fashion industry tells us a lot about sexual harassment in other industries as well," she said. "It's very hard to get data on sexual harassment because oftentimes people don't report it. They don't want to talk about it, or if they do, they're subjected to nondisclosure agreements by their supervisors. So these model accounts that I do give of sexual harassment tell us, exactly, in the words of these models, what happened to them."

Crowley continued, saying that sexual harassment is not limited to the fashion industry.

"As Rutgers students go out into the world, they should be aware of this problem," she said. "And think about the ways that they themselves can protect themselves, but also advocate on behalf of others who might be experiencing sexual harassment and be their allies as well."

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