My fight for fashion's #MeToo moment

My fight for fashion's #MeToo moment

May 18, 2022

My fight for fashion’s #MeToo moment: Lisa Brinkworth was sexually assaulted by a top model agency boss. Now 13 other women have come forward with stories of rape and assault by the same man

  • As the president of Elite Models in Paris, Gerald Marie was one of the world’s biggest model agents when he attacked Lisa Brinkworth
  • Since then 13 other women — four British —  say they were assaulted between the late 1970s and 1990s by Marie 
  • UK-based journalist Lisa is calling fashion to have its overdue #MeToo moment  

Not long ago I found myself in a police station in Paris recalling an event that had happened two decades before. 

As I was describing to the French police investigator how I’d been sexually assaulted in a busy nightclub, the walls began to close in, my breath grew shallower and I felt faint. 

This was such a big moment for me. So many people had said no one would believe such claims against a man so powerful. But here I was speaking out, determined to find justice after all. As the president of Elite Models in Paris, Gerald Marie was one of the world’s biggest model agents when he attacked me. Rumours had long swirled about his treatment of young models but he was untouchable. 

That was until September 2020, when French prosecutors revealed they were investigating allegations of rape and sexual abuse made against him. The claims, which Marie has strenuously denied, were made by me and, now, 13 other women — four British — who say they were assaulted between the late 1970s and 1990s. 

UK-based journalist Lisa Brinkworth (pictured) is calling fashion to have its overdue #MeToo moment. She explains how she was sexually assaulted by Gerald Marie was one of the world’s biggest model agents

Fashion is long overdue its #MeToo moment. Ever since the film mogul Harvey Weinstein became the subject of criminal proceedings, people have pointed the finger at the fashion industry, and a new Sky documentary series Scouting for Girls: Fashion’s Darkest Secret, out next month, will serve to highlight the abuses in the industry. 

Still unregulated, the modelling industry has consistently failed to take sex abuse allegations seriously. 

Earlier this year, hopes of justice were raised when model agent Jean-Luc Brunel was facing allegations that he raped and sexually assaulted women, including minors, as well as trafficked girls across the world for U.S. paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. 

But in February, Brunel was found dead in a French prison while awaiting trial. Messages from his victims flooded my phone expressing their disappointment that they had been denied their day in court. 

They had been represented by the lawyer Anne-Claire Le Jeune, who is also representing us in the continuing investigation into Gerald Marie. Hearing their devastation has made me all the more determined to continue. 

But it is terrifying to think the next time I’ll be interrogated about what happened will be in court facing Marie himself. I still live in fear of him. Marie, who lives in Ibiza, told a Spanish newspaper that I ‘want to destroy [him]’. I only want justice for his victims. 

In ­October 1998, I was 31 and living undercover as a model in Milan for the MacIntyre Undercover series, gathering evidence of inappropriate conduct by model agents. 

On the evening of October 5, days after Milan Fashion Week, I found a 17-year-old Elite model in tears because once again her agent, Gerald Marie, had insisted she join him for dinner. Distressed, she told me he always made her feel uncomfortable and forced her to sit next to him. 

I offered to take her place. Sitting next to Marie that night, I witnessed the casual undermining of girls’ looks, along with sexual innuendo and jibes at their expense. 

The girls sat around the table in silence being plied with alcohol. All the while I was filming from a customised Gucci bag. At around 1am, the other models left and, once I was alone with Marie and his associates, their language became even more offensive. 

In ­October 1998, Lisa was 31 and living undercover as a model in Milan for the MacIntyre Undercover series, gathering evidence of inappropriate conduct by model agents. She is pictured here posing as a model in the 1990s

Marie instructed me to perform fellatio on his colleagues, indicating each in turn, telling me, ‘Start with him or him’. Feeling unsafe, I called my undercover colleague Donal MacIntyre and asked him to meet me at the restaurant. By the time he arrived, Marie and the other men had left to go to a ‘whore bar’, as Marie described a nearby gentlemen’s club. With our cameras rolling, Donal and I met him there. 

At the table, Marie became more persistent, demanding I sleep with him, and calling me ‘stiff’ when I tried to change the subject. 

Donal couldn’t intervene as he was working on building a close relationship with Marie to expose him. 

Our documentary showed Marie propositioning me for sex for a million lire. But what came next wasn’t aired. 

To my horror, Marie walked over to my chair, straddled me, and repeatedly thrust his erect penis into my lower abdomen, simulating sex. 

I was powerless to push him off me. I shouted, ‘No!’ several times but he continued. The faces of the jeering fashion executives in my line of vision are as clear now as they were then. 

My camera bag was still filming but all I got were shots of the wall and ceiling as my arms flailed. Feeling sickened and traumatised, I managed to record my account of the assault on camera back at the hotel. 

Ever since, I have been prevented from accessing that footage. A recorded conversation of Donal and me audibly reeling from the assault was taken from me that morning. 

After my programme was broadcast in 1999, Elite Models sued the BBC for libel. 

The two parties reached a confidential settlement, which included the Corporation not airing the documentary again. All our footage was stored in the BBC legal archives and I am barred from accessing it.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘We take these matters very seriously and we know this is distressing for Lisa Brinkworth. We are doing everything we can to help her pursue her complaint with the French authorities, including providing documents to the French investigators, who have assured us they have what they currently need. We will do whatever we can to help as the process progresses.’ 

To this day, however, the BBC has not released any of the footage to me or to prosecutors — merely limited printed materials subject to me signing an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). 

Gerald Marie is pictured here with his then wife, model Linda Evangelista, in 1991. Marie told Lisa that he would make her famous like he had Linda 

I felt the settlement was a bitter betrayal, and it resulted in Gerald Marie being reinstated at Elite. 

Until 2019, Marie was chairman of the Paris model agency Oui Management representing girls as young as 15. 

It was the #MeToo movement starting that prompted me to revisit my investigation into the modelling industry, which was always unfinished business for me. 

In 2017, I contacted former supermodel, Carre Otis, now 53. She had been the first to speak publicly about having been raped by Marie aged 17. 

She documented it in her 2011 book, Beauty, Disrupted, and other former models got in touch to say they had experienced similar events. When speaking to other brave women about their experiences at Marie’s hands, I believed the terms of the BBC settlement meant I had to keep silent about my own. 

It was only in 2019, when the BBC gave access to all our filmed footage to a journalist, that I realised I could no longer be bound by a settlement the BBC itself appeared to have breached. At last I felt able to report the assault to French authorities. Other victims followed and their testimonies make shocking reading. 

E.J. Moran had just turned 22 when Marie raped her in his Paris apartment in 1981. A model for his Paris Planning agency, she claims he suggested they go upstairs after a restaurant dinner so he could make a fashion video of her. 

‘He was a very powerful agent and I didn’t think I could say No,’ she says. But there was no video. In his apartment, Marie pushed E.J. on to his bed where she alleges he raped her violently. The trauma has never left her. She even recalls what she was wearing: ‘Mum jeans, a green sweater, white blouse and lilac shoes.’ 

The very next morning she was sent to Belgium on a modelling job for a week, leaving her no time to go to the police. But she was too scared to report her attack anyway. ‘At the time you are afraid speaking out will ruin your career, you’re afraid of revenge,’ she admits. ‘Gerald had all the power. That trauma stays with me always.’ 

Suggesting a sickening pattern of behaviour, British former model and primary school teacher Rebecca Harper, 54, from Surrey, says she too was raped at 18 by Gerald Marie in his apartment on her first night in Paris, having been signed by Paris Planning in 1985. She says he offered to take her to where she was staying, which turned out to be his apartment. 

Victims have spoken of their fear preventing them from speaking out at the time: fear of Marie’s powerful connections and influence, and the knowledge that if they did speak out they would lose work. They felt they wouldn’t be believed by French police. 

Rebecca, who has never spoken about this before, recalls seeing an imposing black and white picture of Linda Evangelista (who Marie married in 1987), with her famous cropped hairstyle on the living room wall: ‘He told me he’d make me famous like he’d made Linda Evangelista famous.’ 

She continues: ‘He showed me into a bedroom, which was clearly the master bedroom and where he slept. 

E.J. Moran (pictured) had just turned 22 when Marie raped her in his Paris apartment in 1981. She is one of 13 women who have now come forward with claims against Marie

‘Without warning, he launched himself on me and pushed me on to the bed. I was completely overpowered by this man who was well-built and strong. 

‘He took off my clothes and underwear and raped me. I sort of made myself leave my body to protect myself, as though I was watching myself from above.

‘When he was finished, he ordered me to the bathroom and weighed me. He called me fat. 

‘I felt deep shame and embarrassment about what had just taken place, emotions that have never left me.’ 

This was just the beginning of Rebecca’s ordeal. She says some months after Marie raped her, he sent her to an address near Place de la Concorde where she was greeted by ‘a middle-aged, Lebanese man who behaved as though I’d been sent to him’. 

She continues: ‘He immediately handed me some intimate body wash as if I was dirty and sent me to the bathroom ordering me to clean myself. When I came out of the bathroom, the man told me to undress. I refused to remove my clothes as I was so repulsed by him. He said he was going to call Gerald to complain as though he’d bought me. I believe now that money had changed hands.’ 

Rebecca suffered with bulimia and panic attacks for years afterwards: ‘I was a young, impressionable girl, following a dream, but I was taken advantage of in the most terrible way. 

‘Gerald Marie abused his power to harm women to whom he had a duty of care.’ She kept this to herself for 35 years but says finally speaking out has been a ‘huge release’. 

‘It’s life-changing, like taking off an old coat that’s been dragging you down and you just can’t bear to wear any more.’ 

Brisbane model Laurie Marsden (pictured) was only 18 when Marie attacked her. When she pushed him away, he cancelled her magazine gigs

Also relieved finally to speak out is one of Jean-Luc Brunel’s victims, Sophia, who claims Gerald Marie trafficked her to Brunel in the spring of 1979. Then a naive 20-year-old, she claims she was driven to a remote chateau by Marie ‘for a test shoot’, then raped by Brunel, who accessed her locked bedroom via a concealed cupboard. The following morning, the two men joked about arranging an orgy for that night, and Sophia fled. 

She says: ‘Brunel promised to protect me that weekend. Instead, he raped me on my very first night in the modelling industry. I was sent by Marie’s agency to Brunel’s, and Marie was in the castle when I was being raped. I’ve never forgotten what Jean-Luc Brunel and Gerald Marie did to me.’ 

Laurie Marsden was 18 when in 1981, she signed with a New York agency. Within a year, she was sent to the Paris Planning agency. She says: ‘Soon after, Elle magazine optioned me for three different trips to exotic locations. I was excited when Gerald, the head of the agency, invited me to a party at his house. There he told me that I had everything I needed, a beautiful face, great body. He said he would make me a star. As people started to leave, I told him I needed to go, but asked to use the toilet before I left. 

‘When I left the toilet, I was suddenly shoved into another room and pushed down. I landed on the bed with a thud and Gerald was on top of me. 

‘I was in shock but tried to keep my wits about me. He had his full body weight on me, pinning me down on to the bed. He was grabbing my breasts, kissing me on my neck, his penis was hard, he was pulling up my skirt. I immediately tried to stop his assault. 

‘I pleaded with him, telling him to “Stop”. He ignored me, and I realised I was going to be raped. 

‘I managed to get my knee up and then pushed my entire body weight against him, leveraging my body up and over so we rolled. 

‘I got out from under him and immediately sprang off the bed and fled.’ 

But there were consequences: Marie phoned Elle magazine and cancelled the booking: ‘He looked at me with cold eyes and said, “They [the jobs] are cancelled.” I said, “Which one?” He said, “All of them.” 

‘With one phone call, he had erased all my hopes and dreams for this “big break” in my career. 

‘As a licensed clinical social worker working with sexual assault survivors for 24 years, I am uniquely placed to speak as both a professional and a survivor. The psychological damage from sexual assault can take years or decades to heal or even just to confront and process.’ 

She adds: ‘Cases of sexual violence should have the prosecution period increased or discarded.’ 

That, you see, is why it has taken so long for us to come forward. As many as 15 of us have now submitted our testimonies to the prosecutor. Many more women have contacted our lawyer, AnneClaire Le Jeune, over the past year. But due to how much time has passed, I am the only one allowed to make a formal complaint. All of us are outside the statute of limitations in France, which enforces a 20-year window to prosecute sexual assault crimes, 30 years for a minor. 

The only reason it’s different for me is that after our programme was aired, Elite Models sued the BBC and a legal settlement was reached, prohibiting me from speaking about any aspect of our investigation. 

When approached for comment on all these stories, a spokesperson for Marie said: ‘Gerald Marie firmly objects to the defamatory and false allegations made against him. He refuses to participate in this dishonest media controversy. He is withholding his statements for the justice system, in which he has complete faith.’ 

In September 2020, I filed my complaint to the French courts on the grounds of this ‘insurmountable obstacle’ to reporting my assault earlier. On April 4 this year, all the evidence for this obstacle defence was put to the French prosecutor and we now wait to hear if it is enough to overturn the statute so we can proceed to trial. 

Even if it is, I will be the only complainant in the case against Marie. We are disappointed that the other women can only be called as witnesses. As such, many of us are now campaigning for a change to the statute oflimitations that’s holding us back from seeing true justice. 

We are working with support from French senators and a member of the European Parliament to get the current limitation period on reporting sex crimes extended to 30 years for all ages. 

If successful, the name of the law will be personalised to reflect our names. For me, one of the most compelling aspects of this case is that, even though all of us live in different parts of the world and hadn’t even met until coming to Paris to give our depositions, there are striking similarities in our stories and a clear pattern of predatory behaviour. 

We are now here to take the power back. To fight so that no other young girls face the abuse we did.

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