New York state moves to protect child models

Susan Scafidi in Crain's New York Business, October 22, 2013

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Amid the black leather jackets, gold-beaded dresses and cropped fur coats in fashion designer Nicole Miller's SoHo store, politicians and models met Tuesday to announce a new law protecting child models in New York state.

Signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday night, and six months in the making, the new law provides fashion models who are minors with the same protections afforded youths in the entertainment industry.

"We talk about New York City as the fashion capital of the world," said state Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island/Brooklyn, a sponsor of the bill, noting that many girls dreams of becoming a beautiful fashion model and walking the runways of New York Fashion Week. "But behind that dream is a lot of exploitation. It was a shock to me that child models do not have the same level of protection as child entertainers."

According to the new law, child models will need to have a chaperone who can monitor their work conditions. Employers must provide the young models with a nurse with pediatric experience, teachers and a space for educational classes, as well as safety-based instruction information. In addition, a financial trust must be established by the child's parent or guardian and employers are required to transfer at least 15% of gross earnings into the account. The state Labor Department will be enforcing the new regulations when the law takes effect in 30 days, Ms. Savino said, noting that violations are punishable.

State Sen. Majority Coalition Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx/Westchester, and Assembly sponsor Steve Otis, D-Rye, also worked on the bill, along with Sara Ziff, executive director of the year-old Model Alliance, an advocacy group for models' rights. Ms. Ziff, who worked as a child model, spoke about the molestation, harassment and thievery that occur in the industry.

"Minimum age has been an issue in the modeling industry for some time, and the CFDA Health Initiative and Vogue have in recent years succeeded in moving the standard minimum age for runway models from 14 to 16," said Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. "Extending the child performer law to models is the next step." She noted that the law may inspire paperwork-shy designers, advertisers and magazines to employ models who are 18 years and older.

Lily Goodman, a 13-year-old model who has been working since she was 2, was in attendance at Tuesday's event and has been a vocal supporter of the law.
"For me, I feel safer knowing other girls are protected," she said, noting that while her mother travels with her on work assignments, other girls and boys are not so fortunate.

Ironically, New York, a state that hosts the bi-annual Fashion Week extravaganza and other fashion events throughout the year, is one of the last states to adopt such a law for child models.