A model and activist is leading the charge to protect her colleagues from sexual harassment, after suffering from the abuse herself when she was a girl.
Sara Ziff, now 35, was scouted aged 14 in New York City, her hometown, near Union Square. Soon, she was booking runway shows and advertising campaigns, appearing in Seventeen magazine and even walking on Calvin Klein's catwalk.
But as she took her first step in the industry, Ziff also quickly discovered the shocking sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior that models such as herself are regularly exposed to.
Activist: Model Sara Ziff (pictured in 2004) , now 35, is leading the charge to protect her colleagues from sexual harassment, after suffering from the abuse herself when she was a girl
Career: The model (pictured left in 2006 and right in 2005) was scouted aged 14 in New York City, her hometown. Soon, she was booking runway shows and advertising campaigns
At the onset of her career, Ziff went to a photographer's apartment for one of her first castings; her parents were unable to go with her because the appointment was set up on short notice.
'The photographer said he wanted to see me without my shirt on. Then he told me to take my pants off,' Ziff recounted in Cosmopolitan.
'I was standing there in a pair of Mickey Mouse underwear and a sports bra; I didn't even have breasts yet. “We might need to see you without your bra,” he told me. I did what he told me to. I was just eager to be liked and get the job. I didn't know any better.'
Ziff previously told the New York Times that when she was 15 years old, she went to a photo shoot where drugs were circulating freely, and she was made to pose in front of a backdrop of explicit images.
At age 18, Ziff began to work on what became a documentary in 2010, shedding light on the rampant abuse models face on a regular basis.
Speaking out: When she was 15 years old, Ziff (pictured in 2014) went to a photo shoot were circulating freely, and she was made to pose in front of a backdrop of explicit images
Opening up: The model (pictured in an archive shot) has also revealed that during one of her first casting, a photographer asked her to remove her clothes
Exposing: At age 18, Ziff (pictured in an archive campaign) began to work on what became a documentary in 2010, shedding light on the rampant abuse models face on a regular basis
'In the film, a model at my then-agency described a casting with a famous photographer, who instructed her to take off her clothes, then took off all his clothes, and asked her to touch his penis,' Ziff wrote in Cosmo before naming that photographer as Terry Richardson, who was just revealed to be banned from working with high-profile publications such as Vogue.
'When she told our agent what had happened, she said he didn’t seem to see the problem,' Ziff added. 'That photographer, Terry Richardson, has long been at the center of sexual harassment and assault allegations regarding his behavior on-set (and off-set) with young models.'
In order to defend models' rights, Ziff created the Model Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, in 2012. The group advocates on behalf of models and strives to bring more regulation to the industry, for example by protecting models against eating disorders, or by making their workplace safer.
Now, Ziff has worked with Assemblywoman Nily Rozic to push for a bill protecting models against all forms of harassment at work.
Most models currently operate as independent contractors, meaning they benefit from minimal protection under the law compared to other workers, including employees.
Change: Now, Ziff (left) has worked with Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (right) to push for a bill protecting models against all forms of harassment at work
Taking action: In order to defend models' rights, Ziff created the Model Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, in 2012
Responsibility: Ziff (pictured a year ago advocating for health and workplace protections for models in California) wants those who harass models to be liable
The Models' Harassment Protection Act, a New York State bill, would make it illegal for agencies and companies to subject models to harassment, regardless of whether they are considered independent contractors.
In doing so, it would close loopholes that currently undermine models' efforts to obtain justice after they are exposed to harassment.
'Models, especially the younger ones, are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators and abuse of power within the fashion industry,' supermodel Karen Elson, who is also a board member at the Model Alliance, said.
'Models, like actresses, are often shamed into silence or expected not to complain when conditions at work make them uncomfortable. Thanks to the Model Alliance, at least we are beginning to take action to give models basic protections they deserve, and hold accountable those who abuse, harass and demean these young girls.'
Ziff pointed out that 'models are often put on the spot to appear nude without their informed prior consent, they are not always provided adequate changing areas, and sometimes they are pressured to succumb to inappropriate sexual demands by people who control their professional destinies'.
'In some cases, it’s the agents—the very people who are supposed to be looking out for the models’ best interests—who are the harassers or who facilitate meetings with people who abuse their power,' she added. 'It’s time to hold people in the industry accountable by turning outrage into policy.'