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Sexual Harassment in The Modeling Industry

Tonya Munson Fashion Model

My Modeling Headshot from Paris 1979

“Sexual Harassment was an everyday occurrence when I was modeling,” I said to my husband as I watched the news reports about Harvey Weinstein. “He is just like so many of the agents and photographers I encountered as a fashion model.”

I thought back to the fall of 1979…

One humid August day, soon after my sixteenth birthday, I got an urgent call from my modeling agent, Valerie Cragin.

“An agent from Paris is coming here to meet some of my models,” Valerie said with excitement in her voice. “Could your parents drive you up to my office later this evening so you can meet him?”“Of course!” I replied.

Jean-Luc Brunel was part owner, with Karin Mossberg, of the prestigious Karin Models in Paris—a reputable agency, associated with The Fords in New York. Karin’s represented many beautiful girls at the time—including Sharon Stone.

Other girls were there, and he looked at all our portfolios. Mine consisted of a few amateur pictures in a manila folder. Jean-Luc was very taken with me.

Teenage Fashion Model

Photograph From My Modeling Class

Top Model

Jean-Luc was giving me a chance to be a top model. He assured my parents that the offer was legitimate, that he chose me from more than 200 other young models from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. He said that I would be traveling all over Europe, modeling in fashion shows, and be photographed for advertisements in leading fashion magazines. I was numb with shock. My parents agreed to let me go after they were assured I would be well looked after.

When I arrived in Paris I was euphoric because my dream was coming true. I got settled, went on go-sees and began working.

sexual harassment in modeling

My First Job For A Fashion Magazine

Jean-Luc often took me and other models to expensive restaurants, private clubs, and exclusive discos where he introduced us to many charming, wealthy men who asked us out. He organized dinner parties and invited his friends and his “Girls.”

One evening Jean-Luc took me out alone.

As we were driving down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées in his expensive sports car, he told me, “Bay-bee, if you vont to be a famous mod-ell, you will haf to make luv wit me.”

“Jean-Luc,” I said, repulsed, “I can’t do THAT with you.”

With his jaw clenched tight, he gave me an icy stare as his foot pressed the accelerator and his hands gripped the wheel. Jean-Luc drove faster and faster as I leaned against the car door and tried to put some space between us.

I was young, scared and alone in a foreign country.

Turning Jean-Luc down nearly ended my modeling career. I persisted and worked but it was a difficult life for a young girl. There were many, many men like Jean-Luc in the industry that is referred to in Michael Gross’s book as The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. After a couple of years of modeling, I returned home and started a new life.

Jean-Luc never changed. He eventually ended up in the news when CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a show in December of 1988 titled American Models in Paris. They investigated Jean-Luc Brunel of Karin Models. Diane Sawyer interviewed Eileen Ford, of the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency. The show interviewed five models that said they were drugged by Jean-Luc, and there were also allegations of rape.

Goggle Jean-Luc and you will find out that nearly four decades later, he is still a scoundrel. Jean-Luc’s treatment of young girls was cruel. Often his “finds” limped back to their hometowns used and broken. I had a friend that couldn’t go home and turned to drugs and another friend became a prostitute.

Protection against Sexual Harassment

I was glad to read recently that they are making changes in the fashion industry. It is an industry that preys on very young girls. Sara Ziff , a model, has started a not-for-profit group advocating for model’s rights to help protect them against sexual harassment.

“Should I let My Child Model?”

Lauren Hutton, a famous model, told the New York Post: “I worry about these girls. These agencies are taking children, kittens, and throwing them with sharks and wolves 20 or 30 years older.” She also said, “I’ve told many a mother who asks me how their 14-year-old daughter can become a model to wait until she has finished college. Otherwise, you might as well get a gun and shoot her.”

Often, mothers asked my opinion about their teenage daughters wanting to become models or actresses.

My best advice is, “Have the girls wait until they are finished with college and pray they change their minds.”

Click here to read my post about success in modeling



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