THere’s a scene in the 1990 movie Awakenings, about Dr. Oliver Sacks’ investigations into the sleeping sickness epidemic that stars Robin Williams—who plays a character inspired by the Sacks movie. – He thinks of the evidence. “You’ll think, at some point, all of these atypical things will amount to something typical,” he says.
I hear a version of that in my mind every time I see another documentary about predatory men and their (almost always) abuse of women and children, hiding in plain sight as they go about their life-ruining acts with impunity, often for decades. Michael Jackson, R Kelly, Jimmy Savile, many rock legends, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein are among the newest, but the list can go on and will undoubtedly be added in the future.
The latest entrant in the increasingly crowded field is Scouting for Girls: Fashion’s Darkest Secret (Sky Documentaries). This three-part documentary (produced by Wonderhood Studios and The Guardian, based on an investigation by Lucy Osborne) reveals the endemic sexual abuse of girls – and when we’re talking about 13, 14 and 15, there’s no other word – and the young women who They initiate offerings of professions by those who are supposed to be responsible for their own well-being.
Focused on four agents in particular; John Casablancas, Gerald Marie, Jean-Luc Brunel and Claude Haddad who basically dominated the modeling industry in the ’80s and ’90s – the most glamorous era of the year, the heyday of the supermodel. The promise, the allure to young women around the world was intoxicating. The reality was very different. Gerald Marie is the only one of the four who is still alive, and he categorically denies all allegations.
Scouting maintains the format and rules we have come to expect from such exhibitions. Victims of historical predators tell their stories. Here, former models Carrie Otis, Shauna Lee, Jill Dodd, and others testify to their experiences at the hands of these men (those who are still alive deny the allegations). Women basically tell the same stories, which are as old as time itself. Lonely and isolated in foreign countries, desperate for work, and relying on agencies for connections, shelter and money, they are grateful when their boss cares. Nice conversation, a shoulder to cry on, a little support offered gently develop into a suggestion to stay in an apartment late at night. Then comes the face. “Suddenly he’s on me” is a common refrain. The word “broken” is repeated often. Men rape and then sleep while children/women lie silently crying or numbly terrified by their side until dawn.
Dodd also recalls discovering that it was a common practice for agencies to “present” models to wealthy men – who picked them from the books – for exorbitant fees. Nowadays, we have a term that refers to this: human trafficking. We also have words like ‘grooming’, ‘conditioning’, ‘coercive control’ and so on, to name other experiences, although it is hard to say how safe this makes the vulnerable in a world where rape convictions so low are effectively nonexistent. .
At the time, Carey and others believed that these terrible things had only happened to them and that they had brought it upon themselves. The failure of opponents by CBS (60 Minutes in 1988) and the BBC (by Donal McIntyre in 1999) to achieve the account did nothing to help them adjust to their experiences.
The Osborne investigation helped bring the scattered victims together. They are now amassing large numbers and aiding a criminal investigation in France hoping to at least bring Marie to justice.
It’s hard to see things constantly changing – or certainly not as soon or as radically needed. This is a sobering account of the failures of another industry. What a terrible world.