Models Sign Open Letter to Victoria's Secret CEO Over Alleged 'Culture of Misogyny and Abuse'

Jen Juneau

Over 100 models have come together to sign an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas, urging “the company take concrete action to change its culture of misogyny and abuse.”

Drafted by the Model Alliance and signed by women like Christy Turlington Burns, Gemma Ward and Iskra Lawrence, the letter referenced The New York Times‘ recent report that accused Victoria’s Secret former CEO Ed Razen of sexual harassment, bullying and creating a culture of misogyny abetted by Leslie Wexner, owner and founder of L Brands.

“We write today because The New York Times investigative report ‘Angels in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret’ shows that the culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment at Victoria’s Secret is even more egregious and more entrenched than previously understood,” the letter said.

“The Times reports repeated complaints of inappropriate conduct towards models and employees: body shaming, lewd remarks, crotch-grabbing, retaliation for rebuffing advances, unauthorized use of models’ images and pressures to pose nude without pay for a photographer’s personal shoots,” it went on.

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Victoria's Secret storefront | Bob Levey/Getty Images

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The letter goes on to allege that “it was made abundantly clear that Victoria’s Secret does not take these complaints seriously” after the Model Alliance met with L Brands CCO Tammy Roberts Myers last September.

“In a follow-up email she told us that Victoria’s Secret was not ready to take any concrete steps towards addressing these allegations — rather, the company is simply, ‘in the process of continued learning and listening,’ ” the letter said. “In the face of the horrifying revelations from the past year, this response is utterly unacceptable.”

“The time for listening is long past; it’s time for Victoria’s Secret to take action to protect the people they profit from,” it read. “Human rights violations can’t be stopped with a corporate re-branding exercise.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, an L Brands spokesperson shared: “We absolutely share a common goal with Model Alliance to ensure the safety and wellbeing of models. Our robust Photo Shoot Procedures, including training and oversight, were implemented in May 2019 and reflect elements of the RESPECT Program and beyond. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and remain committed to continuous improvement. We’re always open to engage with those looking to make improvements in the industry.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wexner is looking to sell Victoria’s Secret and step down as CEO.

The letter shares that the Model Alliance created the RESPECT accountability program because they “envision an industry in which creative expression flourishes and everyone can work without fear of harassment or abuse” and believe “in safety, freedom to work without fear of harassment, and real consequences for abusers,” alleging that “Victoria’s Secret’s failure to create an environment of accountability, both in-house and in their interactions with a network of agencies and creatives, undermines these values.”

2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show | David Fisher/Shutterstock

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Razek denied the allegations against him (including that of a lewd comment he made about Bella Hadid in 2018) in an email to the Times, claiming that they’re “categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context” and adding, “I’ve been fortunate to work with countless, world-class models and gifted professionals and take great pride in the mutual respect we have for each other.”

The new letter comes about six months after the Model Alliance — which works to “promote fair treatment, equal opportunity and sustainable practices in the fashion industry,” according to its mission statement — wrote an open petition to Mehas that called upon the lingerie giant to protect its models against sexual misconduct. It was signed by more than 100 models including Turlington Burns, 51, Lawrence, 29, Milla Jovovich and Doutzen Kroes.

“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 representative from Victoria’s told PEOPLE in a statement at the time, in response to the Model Alliance’s August letter.

The annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show was canceled last year amid ongoing controversy about the lack of body diversity on the runway.