More than 100 models have signed an open petition written to Victoria’s Secret by The Model Alliance, which calls upon the lingerie giant to protect its models against sexual misconduct.
The organization, which works to “promote fair treatment, equal opportunity and sustainable practices in the fashion industry,” according to its mission statement, shared the letter on Instagram, saying it stands in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement.
“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 addressed to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas, began. “In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While those allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria’s Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation.”
Making reference to allegations aimed at disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere and Greg Kadel, the Model Alliance said it is “deeply disturbing that these men have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse” models. While Bellemere and Kadel were immediately fired by Victoria’s Secret after misconduct allegations came out, Emek has never been hired as a photographer by Victoria’s Secret (he has attended the VS Fashion Show as a freelance photographer hired by the media).
Emek, Bellemere, and Kadel did not immediately respond to People’s request for comment.
Over the past few weeks reports linking Epstein, a convicted sex offender, to Victoria’s Secret have resurfaced.
According to The New York Times, Epstein reportedly posed as a VS model scout on many occasions used the fake title to lure a woman to his hotel room and assault her. Founder and CEO of L Brands, Les Wexner, was also known to have a personal and professional relationship with Epstein over the years.
The Model Alliance called upon Victoria’s Secret to protect its models from sexual misconduct by joining its RESPECT Program — the only existing anti-sexual harassment program designed by and for models.
“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… If Victoria’s Secret were to take a stand against these abuses and commit to meaningful change by joining the RESPECT Program, this would go a long way in helping our industry chart a new path forward,” said the petition.
So far, models like Doutzen Kroes, Christy Turlington, Milla Jovovich and Iskra Lawrence signed the petition to stand in solidarity with The Model’s Alliance’s mission.
Victoria’s Secret issued the following statement to PEOPLE in response to The Model Alliance’s 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 representative from the brand tells PEOPLE.
Upon sharing the letter on social media, Victoria’s Secret Angels Sara Sampaio and Lais Riberio defended Victoria’s Secret in the comments.
“@modelallianceny more you say you want vs to protect their models from sexual harassment in photoshoots! Most of the sexual harassment happens before the photo shoots to models that have never worked with vs by people pretending they work for companies they don’t work! How is vs or any company then suppose to protect models that don’t work for them?” wrote Sampaio, who has worked with Victoria’s Secret since 2013.
She continued: “They are already firing photographers that their models complain about. If you actually want to protect models against sexual harassment go after the agents and agencies! Cause they are the main reason models get harassed!!!”
Ribeiro, a VS Fashion Show regular since 2010, echoed Sampaio’s sentiment.
“This is so unfair! When I told them about my experience with David B. next day he was fired! They are the most respectful brand I EVER worked with,” she wrote.
Riberio added: “When we shot in the cold they would take their jackets off so we weren’t the only ones in the cold, this Timur guy did backstage pics and never really had any abusive behavior around the angels, he was just using the VS name so he could get what he wanted. I think you guys need to get the histories straight first before accuse anybody!”
The Model Alliance’s petition comes days after L Brands’ (the parent company of Victoria’s Secret) longtime Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek stepped down from his position.
In a letter sent to L Brands associates on Monday, Razek announced his retirement. “With the exception of Les, I’ve been with L Brands longer than anyone. I’ve loved every minute of it, and every one of you. I’ve appreciated your partnership, your energy, your teamwork, and your enthusiasm. You are, every one of you, a joy to work with, and a joy to be with. The best partners anyone could ever hope for. And I’ve loved coming to work here, every single day, for many, many years,” Razek wrote. “But all good things must and do, inevitably, come to an end.”
“A few weeks ago, I shared with Les my desire to retire sometime around mid August. It was a tough conversation to have because, as some of you must know, we have shared so much together for so many years. Including a deep love of this business. Still, it’s time.”
He ended his resignation letter by saying: “I want to thank all of you for the smiles, the hellos, the laughs, the mission. I could not be more lucky than to have been with all of you at this extraordinary and quite singular organization. I truly hope you know, deep in your hearts, how very special this place is. I do – more than ever.”
Razek and Victoria’s Secret came under fire last year after the executive said he could never imagine welcoming trans or curvy models on walking on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway.
“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special,” Razek said in an interview with Vogue.
He added that inviting plus-size models to participate the show isn’t something Victoria’s Secret plans to do in the future, since “no one had any interest in it” when they pursued the idea in 2000.
“My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show came across as insensitive. I apologize,” Razek said. “To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show. We’ve had transgender models come to casting… And like many others, they didn’t make it…But it was never about gender. I admire and respect their journey to embrace who they really are.”