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Category Archive: #MeToo

Nicole Kidman vows to speak out against abuse after Big Little Lies role

Actor says playing role of abused wife gave her new insight and hardened her stance on the issue

This is a shocking statistic: “…for every three months that lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million women around the world are expected to be affected by violence”. Nicole Kidman speaks out against gender-based violence after playing an abused wife.

Reprinted from the Guardian, by Alexandra Topping – 2020-12-22

Nicole Kidman plays an abused wife in Big Little Lies

Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies. ‘I felt very exposed and vulnerable and deeply humiliated at times as I told her story.’ Photograph: AP

Nicole Kidman has spoken about how playing the role of an abused wife in the hit TV show Big Little Lies gave her an insight into the plight of those suffering domestic abuse and hardened her resolve to use her voice to raise awareness.

Writing exclusively for the Guardian in her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, she said playing the role of Celeste, a lawyer who is emotionally and physically abused by her husband, strengthened her stance on the issue.

“I felt very exposed and vulnerable and deeply humiliated as I told her story – even though playing that character is nothing compared to what women in abusive relationships actually face every single day,” she wrote.

“But then I would recall the stories of strength and resilience of the survivors and activists I had met, and that pushed me to lend my voice to those who do not have a platform to share their own.”

The actor called on individuals to take personal responsibility for helping victims of the “shadow pandemic” of domestic abuse, reaching out to friends they may be concerned about. She encouraged people to use their own social media channels to spread awareness of “the women and girls who […] have to shelter at home to stay safe from Covid-19, when home itself is not a safe place,” adding that for every three months that lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million women around the world are expected to be affected by violence.

“Your voice counts,” she wrote. “Learn about abuse and the ways you can help through the services and resources available. Reach out if you are concerned about a friend who may be experiencing violence or feels unsafe. Use your social media channels or community spaces to raise awareness. .”

One in five offences – more than a quarter of a million – recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Kidman noted there had been a rise in all types of violence against women and girls including street harassment, cyberbullying, and an uptick in forced marriage as increased financial burdens lead families to remove girls from school.

“Violence against women and girls was already widespread before the pandemic.,” she wrote. “Whether it will outlive it, or not, it’s on us all.”

If you have been affected by these issues

SD Law is a Cape Town law firm of family lawyers deeply committed to the fight against gender-based / domestic violence. If you are affected by these issues, either directly or indirectly, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email today. We offer online consultations. We’ll call you back, to schedule a meeting at a time that suits you, on the platform of your choosing.

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Reeva Steenkamp was murdered. Shame on the BBC for forgetting

The issue of abusive men – reprinted from the Guardian. By Sonia Sodha – 2020-11-01

Once again, a male perpetrator of violence is painted as terribly misunderstood

Reeva Steenkamp - murdered by an abusive man

Reeva Steenkamp: shot to death through a bathroom door Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. She was a 29-year-old model who was the face of an anti-bullying campaign and was about to return to her old school to talk to girls about gender-based violence. She was adored by her family. But on Valentine’s Day 2013 she was murdered by her violent, controlling boyfriend. He shot her four times through the locked door of a bathroom in his home, where she was cowering, petrified.

Her future was stolen by a dangerous predator with a history of controlling and abusing women; a former girlfriend has said he used to lock her in his house with no food for hours at a time, call her parents many times a day to track her movements and physically abuse and threaten her to the extent that she feared for her life.

That is the story of Steenkamp’s horrific murder by the Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. But it seems our national broadcaster disagrees. Last week, the BBC began promoting a new four-part documentary series, The Trials of Oscar Pistorius. It launched a trailer that did not mention Steenkamp’s name, but instead featured Pistorius’s “remarkable” sporting achievements, praise from Nelson Mandela and his lie that “he didn’t do it”.

Accompanying this was a sickening BBC press release that boasted of a series telling the “extraordinary story” of “an international hero who inspired millions” until “he suddenly found himself at the centre of a murder investigation”. “According to Pistorius, the event was a tragic accident, but his troubled past and questionable testimony cast doubt on his innocence,” the BBC tells us. Amid the gushing, his murder conviction is not mentioned once. You could read it and think he got off.

Although the BBC has since removed the trailer, a slightly amended version of the offending press release remains on its website. But what on earth did it think it was doing buying a series directed by a man who says “he’s still flip-flopping” on Pistorius’s innocence and who reserves more criticism for the press for daring to report his history of domestic abuse than he does for the murderer himself?

This is nothing less than the BBC allowing itself to be used as the propaganda outfit of a convicted murderer. Staff are furious; sources tell me that more than 100 journalists have complained to management about the way in which the promotional material minimises violence against women.

Abusive men - Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria

Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa in 2016. Photograph: KIM LUDBROOK / POOL/EPA

This is a dangerous mistake by the BBC that compounds the dominant narrative about men who murder their partners. So often, the stories that get told are of upstanding citizens, loving fathers and respected colleagues who, having been provoked, lose control and lash out in a moment of madness. The tragedy is theirs, not of the women they kill, who are so often cast as the spurned lover or unfaithful temptress.

The truth could not be more different. Professor Jane Monckton Smith, an expert on intimate partner homicide, reviewed 372 cases where men killed their partners. She found almost all these killings shared an eight-stage pattern that began with a pre-relationship history of stalking or abuse, which evolved into a relationship dominated by coercive control and an escalation in control tactics such as stalking or threatening suicide.

Popular culture can play an important role in helping us understand these patterns. One of the most powerful accounts of coercive control I’ve seen was the Channel 4 drama I Am Nicola, starring Vicky McClure. BBC Three recently launched a documentary aimed at young people, Is This Coercive Control? But this positive work is more than undone by broadcasters who see no issue in glamorising the murder of women if they see it as ratings-friendly.

Societal minimisation of “domestic” killings matters. First, it feeds into the justice system via the police, prosecutors, juries and judges. Take the killing of Claire Parry, 41, a highly qualified nurse who worked overtime during the pandemic, and a devoted mother to two children. In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Jacobs said he was sure that her killer, Timothy Brehmer, 41, deliberately took Parry by the neck in a way that caused severe injuries, then, after leaving her hanging out of her car unconscious, “did nothing to try to help”, pretending he did not realise she was in distress.

Brehmer, a police officer, was described at his trial by a former intimate partner and fellow police officer as exerting “coercive and controlling behaviour over women”. Yet the jury acquitted him of murder. He was jailed for 10 years after admitting manslaughter.

This case is the latest in a long line where male killers have succeeded in having murder charges reduced to manslaughter by arguing that they did not mean to cause serious harm or that they lost control after being provoked. The irony is, of course, that for abusive men, killing their partner is the ultimate assertion of control.

Second, the BBC narrative obscures the real story of these men: the warning signals, the real danger these women were in. Not all domestic abusers will become killers, but Monckton Smith’s research shows that the vast majority of men who kill their partners are abusers.

Two women a week are killed by their partners in England and Wales. Their lives could be saved if they, their loved ones and the police were more aware that coercive control does not just constitute psychological abuse at that time, but could be a red flag for what might happen. Yet the popular narrative perpetuates the idea that these murders are surprising and unpredictable, so there is little we can do to proactively keep women safe from dangerous predators.

Shame on the BBC for glorifying a convicted murderer who shot his girlfriend to death. Shame on it for putting her mother through the torture of watching a trailer about her murder that did not even bother to name her. Say her name. Tell her story. Women’s lives depend on it.

Some links added by SD Law.

If you have been affected by coercive control

SD Law is a law firm in Cape Town of family attorneys with deep experience of helping women escape abusive men and find peace and dignity in a new life. We can serve a protection order on a controlling partner and help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services and make sure you and your children are safe. At Cape Town Divorce Attorneys, we understand how deeply distressing coercive control can be, and we will handle your case with discretion, empathy and compassion. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.

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‘He wanted to control me completely’: the models who accuse Gérald Marie of sexual assault

Elite Models boss Gérald Marie was one of the most powerful men in fashion. Was he also a sexual predator? As French prosecutors investigate, four women tell their stories for the first time

Reprinted from the Guardian. A special investigation by Lucy Osborne – 2020-10-17

It is three years since the news broke about Harvey Weinstein and #metoo trended. Now former models, many of whom were just teenagers at the time, are telling their stories about sexual abuse at the hands of a Paris model agency head. What follows is a lengthy and in-depth article from the UK’s Guardian newspaper, containing disturbing revelations. We share it here because we believe it is important that predators such as Weinstein and Marie are exposed, as we continue to stand against gender-based violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of any kind.

Gérald Marie in his Elite Model Management office in Paris in 1991.

In the spring of 1980, Wendy Walsh and her mother flew to Paris from their home in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. Walsh was 17, a straight-A student who excelled at maths. She was also an aspiring model whose blond, blue-eyed, girl-next-door look had already got her noticed; at a local hairdressing event, a couple of stylists from a Paris salon had offered to send her headshots to a leading model agency, Paris Planning. Letters and phone calls had been exchanged, and Walsh was invited to Paris.

At the agency’s offices, Walsh and her mother, Ellen, were introduced to the charismatic 30-year-old boss, Gérald Marie. Marie offered to take them to lunch. “So we went to a little outdoor bistro in the Place de la Madeleine, around the corner from the agency,” says Walsh, speaking on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “It was the first time I ever had a croque monsieur, and he was explaining what it was. I realise now it’s a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. And I remember distinctly him fawning over my mother, and this was surprising to me. She had been an extremely beautiful woman in her youth, but lupus had left scars on her face.

“He reached over and was stroking her hand, and something in my 17-year-old stomach was like, this is weird.” Later, in their hotel room, Walsh remembers her mother saying: “‘Oh, that man is lovely, he’s going to take care of you.’ I look back on it with adult eyes, and I believe this is the way that he groomed families. He lured girls in by convincing them that somehow he would be this very safe guardian of their teenage daughter.”

Two months later, in June 1980, Walsh moved to Paris. “I was young, I was naive, and I had stars in my eyes,” she says now. “I was not scared one little bit, because I trusted all the adults who were going to take care of me and make me a famous model.”

Walsh, who is now 58 and a respected US radio host, was one of dozens of hopefuls from across North America and Europe who made the journey to Paris in the summer of 1980. Over the following decades, thousands of young women went to work for Marie and other agencies there, desperate to make it as a model. But few became stars, and many were not taken care of in the way Walsh’s mother would have expected.

Within weeks of arriving in Paris, Walsh says, she was raped by Gérald Marie. A Guardian special investigation has found that she is one of eight women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Marie between 1980 and 1998. Four are speaking for the first time.

Like Walsh, Dodd spent the spring of 1980 navigating the Paris Métro, and attending “go-sees” set up by Paris Planning. But after several weeks, she started to rack up debts to the agency, who were not only charging her fees, but also billing her for a dingy hotel and her flight from California. After one long day of rejections, Dodd recalls crying on a street corner as it got dark, feeling exhausted.

On 23 April 1980, Marie asked Dodd, then 20, and her roommate out dancing. She felt hopeful: time spent with her boss could be good for her career. She had seen Marie send the girls he liked “straight to Vogue without even an interview”. At the club, she recalls dancing awkwardly, watching her boss in his black leather jacket. He was a confident dancer and she thought he looked sexy – a different person from the “moody” manager she’d encountered at the office. In the early hours, Dodd and her roommate went back to Marie’s apartment. When her friend left, she stayed on. Dodd says Marie kissed her and she remembers relishing the attention. “I’d only had one serious boyfriend at that time.” When Marie offered to run her a bubble bath in his marble tub, she agreed, and afterwards joined him in his bedroom to watch a John Wayne film. But “all of a sudden”, she says, Marie raped her. “It happened so fast,” she says. She shouted, “Stop”, but he did not.

In the days that followed, Marie told Dodd he wanted to be her boyfriend, and scribbled her a note (seen by the Guardian) saying: “I want you to behave when I’m away… don’t forget! Love, Gérald”. “I was so immature, and even though it was rape, I was confused,” she says now. “I was like, ‘Oh, he does like me! He’s so powerful.’”

Soon afterwards, Dodd says, she discovered that Marie had tried to have sex with her roommate; the former roommate, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, confirms this. She added that, months later, Marie tried again. This time, she alleges, he tricked her into being alone in a room with him; she felt the only way out was to perform oral sex. “This man had control of your life. So you make him think you’re enjoying it – then you get the hell out.”

When Dodd was invited to Monte Carlo that summer, she jumped at the opportunity to take a break from go-sees. On her first night, she went to a party where she was introduced by her Paris Planning booker to Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi billionaire arms dealer, then said to be the richest man in the world. The following day, Dodd says, she and the booker were invited to stay the night on his yacht, and offered their pick from a closet full of couture gowns for the evening. That was the start of a “relationship” between Dodd and Khashoggi: “I was basically one of his harem wives for almost two years,” she says now.

But it was a more transactional relationship than she knew. “It wasn’t until the end of our relationship that I found out that he had paid to meet me,” Dodd says. “I was chosen out of a bunch of pictures by Adnan.” She says she realised this when one of Khashoggi’s assistants came into their hotel room one evening with a portfolio of pictures of women. She says the assistant openly went through the photographs, asking whom he would like to meet, and discussing fees between $35,000 and $50,000. She says Khashoggi, who died in 2017, later admitted that he had paid Paris Planning to be introduced to her. “It was all a front. I had been manipulated and used.”

Ann Maguire was on her first modelling shoot, in Rome, when she was scouted by Marie. Maguire, from Virginia, was 5ft 11in, with striking blue-green eyes, high cheekbones and thick eyebrows; she was often likened to Brooke Shields. She had just turned 18, and was new to the world of fashion. “I was the jock, always sporty. I’d never even worn mascara before,” she tells me now. She says Marie showered her with compliments and made her feel “a million dollars”. He invited her to Paris and promised to get her work straight away. Maguire signed up to Paris Planning, and on 31 January 1980 moved into Marie’s spare room: she is one of several former models the Guardian has spoken to who were put up in his apartment. (While Maguire, Walsh and Dodd all worked for Paris Planning in 1980, they have never met or heard each other’s stories.)

Maguire, now 60, has decided to speak for the first time about what happened next. Initially, she says, Marie was charming. “He would play great music and fix great meals, all this kind of stuff… Then, as it grew into a friendship, he proceeded to abuse that.” She alleges she was raped several times by Marie while living in his apartment, and that at night he would ignore her pleas for him to stop and “crawl into bed with me”. She remembers him “flaunting” other models he was romantically involved with, kissing them in front of her, or joking that their toothbrush was in his bathroom. In her notebook at the time, which she still has, she scribbled: “Fight with Gérald” and “Too fat!”

Eventually, Maguire snapped. “I said, ‘Screw you, I’m going to get my own apartment.’” But after moving into an apartment with other models, she says her work stopped. She began busking with her guitar, and one day returned home to find a note from Paris Planning telling her she could no longer live there. She says all her shoes and her passport were missing, which she believes Marie took: “He wanted to control me completely.” She began sleeping on a bench in front of the Louvre.

A booker at the agency arranged for her to stay with another man, who she says also sexually abused her. Maguire wishes now that she had reported the assaults to the police, but didn’t consider it at the time “because I was afraid of not working again”. She explains: “I thought they would laugh at me. ‘You’re living in his house, what do you expect?’ I also didn’t speak French well enough to explain.”

On one of several phone calls with me, Maguire breaks down in tears; she tells me it is a time of her life she would rather forget. She returned home to Virginia and didn’t model again for at least another year.

Another former model, EJ Moran, says that when she was in her 20s, she was raped so violently by Marie that she feared for her life. Now 61 and an author, she is still scared of him, 40 years on. One evening in the summer of 1981, when she was turning 22, she was phoned by a booker at Paris Planning to say she had to attend a dinner with Marie right away. “I really didn’t want to go,” she recalls. “But I felt coerced into it [by the booker].” Dodd and Walsh say the same woman arranged their evening meetings with Marie, and sent them to parties they didn’t want to go to.

The booker “disappeared abruptly right after dinner”, Moran recalls, and Marie persuaded her to go up to his apartment, which was across the street, so he could show her promotional videos for the agency’s most famous models. “VCRs were a new thing in the 80s,” she explains. Moran remembers she was wearing “lavender-coloured pumps, a white blouse and a forest-green sweater”, as well as “mom jeans”. Suddenly, she says, Marie raped her. “Before I know it, I was thrown on the bed. He took his open palm and smashed my face into the bed.” He verbally abused her, in what she describes as “a terrible low voice”.

Afterwards, Moran says, the “debonair and charming” Marie returned, asking her to stay the night. She made an excuse about needing to change her contact lenses; she was scared that if she wasn’t polite, he would hurt her again. In the following days, she received a call from the booker telling her she had a well-paid catalogue job in Belgium and needed to get on a train. Moran says now that she believes this was “a message”: that if you “play this game and stay quiet, you’ll get all this work”. Other women who told the Guardian they were sexually assaulted by Marie remember being offered lucrative jobs in the days that followed.

Ten years later, by 1991, the modelling industry had hit its golden years, and Marie was firmly at its helm. The original supermodels, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford, had signed with Elite Model Management, then run by Marie alongside Elite US president John Casablancas. Elite had offices around the world, from Tokyo to London; Marie now reportedly owned homes in Manhattan, Saint-Tropez, Ibiza and Paris. He had also been married to Evangelista for more than four years, telling an interviewer that he had left his previous girlfriend, American model Christine Bolster, “within the hour” of meeting Evangelista.

In 1991, the couple were among the celebrity guests at the final of Look of the Year, Elite’s annual international modelling contest, in New York. Evangelista wore her hair in a striking red bob with a heavy fringe, and towered over Marie, who wore a black suit and tie, his hair slicked back. Evangelista joined Naomi Campbell to present a prize, while Marie sat with fellow judges Casablancas and Donald Trump in the audience.

Canadian schoolgirl Shawna Lee was a 15-year-old Look of the Year finalist the following year. In the weeks leading up to the 1992 contest, she was sent by Elite to Paris from her hometown outside Toronto to build up her portfolio. She had already visited in the spring, staying in Marie and Evangelista’s flat while they were on holiday. “She was my idol,” Lee says now. “I was walking around her apartment and seeing these shoots she’d done with [Vogue photographer] Peter Lindbergh, so it was obviously pretty exciting.” This time, she was put up in an apartment with other models; but after an evening out at the nightclub Les Bains Douches, Lee ended up back at Marie’s apartment where, she says, he raped her – an allegation published as part of a Guardian investigation into Look of the Year in March. Speaking more recently from her home in Toronto, where she works as a makeup artist, Lee adds: “What is grossest is him asking me to put Linda’s T-shirt on to sleep in, then pouncing on me.”

Evangelista divorced Marie in 1993, after separating from him the year before. Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, she said: “During my relationship with Gérald Marie, I knew nothing of these sexual allegations against him, so I was unable to help these women. Hearing them now, and based on my own experiences, I believe that they are telling the truth. It breaks my heart, because these are wounds that may never heal, and I admire their courage and strength for speaking up today.”

At the time, Lee confided in a fellow model, and this got back to Marie. She says he took her into his office and berated her for “going around saying I raped you”, suggesting her career would be on the line. She says he told her: “What else are you going to do? Go back home and flip burgers?” Other staff at the agency found out: “It was just understood that it was in my best interests to brush it under the rug.”

At least five women the Guardian spoke to say they experienced sexual misconduct from other men who worked with or for Marie. Lee says that after Marie raped her, a Paris Elite scout and friend of Marie told her that the two men had been competing over “who was going to get your virginity”. She says the scout was “kind of mad that he [Marie] got it first.”

Lee, then 15, went on to have a sexual relationship with the scout, which at the time she thought was consensual. As an adult, she’s not so sure: “It was definitely an abuse of power.” The Guardian has spoken to two other former Elite models, then 15 and 17, who allege they were sexually assaulted by the same scout, and one, then 19, who says he raped her.

Swedish model Ebba Karlsson, who was 20 in 1990, alleges she was raped that year by a different Elite scout, and that, days later, she was introduced to Marie. Karlsson says that when she arrived at his office, the first thing he did was lower the blinds. “There was a window between his office and other people in the agency,” she explains. She says Marie then took her through the portfolios of famous models he represented and asked her if she knew what they did to become successful. Then, she says, “Suddenly, his hand was inside my vagina. It was so quick and abrupt, I totally froze.” After the meeting, she sat down on the “first available bench” and cried, feeling “ashamed and in shock”.

On another occasion, Karlsson agreed to go to a “casting” at Marie’s apartment. He had told her she had a lot of film potential because she spoke several languages. The other models there looked younger than her, she says, perhaps 16 or 17, and some were living in his apartment. “Some were sick, they had colds or something, and did not look great.” She and the others were told to take off their clothes, don high heels, then walk and pose for Marie and two other men. “They wanted to see our boobs. And I don’t know if that was the common practice, but it was like a meat market. It was horrible.”

A movie never materialised, and Karlsson went back to Sweden as soon as she was able, returning to her job at the Body Shop. “Marie took my power away,” Karlsson says now. “I was powerful before, I could protect myself. But after that, I was just a shaking leaf.”

In 2011, the supermodel Carré Otis published a memoir, Beauty, Disrupted, which included claims that she was repeatedly raped by Marie when she was 17. In an interview with the Guardian, Otis says it started around 1986, the year Paris Planning merged with Elite. She was staying in Marie and Evangelista’s apartment; it was the early days of his relationship with the supermodel. “Linda was maybe a little bit older than me,” Otis recalls. “She was soaring, she was already a star in the sky.” But when Evangelista was out of town, “he attacked me in the middle of the night”, she says. “I was sick and I had a fever. That was the beginning of many such attacks.”

Otis went on to become an enormously successful model, and was married to the actor Mickey Rourke, her co-star in the 1989 film Wild Orchid. But in the mid-1980s, like the other women interviewed for this investigation, she was still pounding the pavements looking for work. In her book, Otis writes that Marie told her she needed to drop more weight, giving her “a small brown glass vial of cocaine every day… this was the key to model weight management”. She says now: “It was made very clear that, if I wanted to make it, I would have to deal with his advances. That continued until I actually did say no, and then my work stopped.” Otis is one of the four women whose complaints triggered the French investigation, along with Karlsson, Dodd and journalist Lisa Brinkworth.

Otis says she was also abused by others connected to Marie or his agency. She alleges she was raped in her hotel room by a hairdresser on a shoot arranged by Elite. She believes that Marie and other Elite agents were making money by sending models on trips where there was “no actual work”, or to parties with wealthy men who had no connection to the industry. “I was definitely pimped out,” she says. For Dodd – who says she was sexually assaulted at a party she was sent to by Paris Planning, and by another man on a shoot arranged by the agency – this was “out in the open” in 1980. “There were all these offers of, ‘If you go on this trip, you have to sleep with the photographer,’” she says. “It was talked about out loud.”

It was just such a trip – to Monte Carlo – that Wendy Walsh had refused to make, back in the summer of 1980. Instead, the 18-year-old Canadian wrote to her parents from Paris, a letter they kept and which she now has. Reading it now, her disillusionment is clear: “I refuse to hang around in their social circles, and act like a prostitute to get work,” she wrote in what Walsh describes as her “swirly, little-girl handwriting”. “Unfortunately, as much as I wish it weren’t so, I have discovered that this business operates on a totally social level. If you don’t cooperate, you get stepped on.”

Marie Anderson, who worked for Elite between 1983 and 1990, says that to understand how Marie was able to get away with his alleged behaviour, one has to grasp the “complete control” model agencies had during this era. “It was like a cult mentality,” she says. Anderson, who worked for Elite Chicago, first as a booker and later as vice-president, says she remembers at least six different models telling her that Marie had been sexually inappropriate with them, but they swore her to secrecy, “terrified” that they would stop getting work if they complained.

She recalls overhearing Trudi Tapscott, an executive at Elite in New York from 1984 to 1991, and another agent, tearfully pleading with Marie and Casablancas to stop sleeping with underage models, some time in the late 80s. Anderson says she could only warn others against working in Paris: “I wish I could have done more.”

Tapscott, who is still a model scout, began working for Elite at the age of 23. She says: “I was only a little bit older than the models, and also taken in by the glamour. We didn’t have the language then to know that this was wrong, and even if we did, who would we report it to? We were like a family and there was no HR department; this was the culture that protected these men. I have tremendous regret about not doing more at the time.”

Most of the models who spoke to the Guardian did not tell their agents about their alleged abuse, for fear it would get back to Marie. Walsh talks in terms of “psychological shackles”. “I was trapped by the fact that they’d gotten me into debt right away,” she says. “And then you had your parents at home with stars in their eyes going, ‘Send us pictures, honey, tell us how it’s going, we want to tell everybody about our famous little girl!’ And you just didn’t want to let down your parents. You didn’t want to be a failure. What a horrible catch-22 to put a teenager in.”

In 1999, it looked as if Marie’s alleged behaviour had caught up with him when a BBC investigation reportedly filmed him saying he hoped to seduce the contestants at Elite Model Look (the new name for Look of the Year), as well as offering an undercover journalist money for sex. In the wake of the allegations, he was suspended from Elite; in an interview at the time, he said: “I’m destroyed… I’m finished.”

But Elite launched a libel action against the BBC, arguing that the report was “dishonestly edited”; the agency successfully made the case that Marie had been set up by the crew. The case was settled, the BBC apologised and conceded that its portrayal was unfair. The film disappeared and Marie was reinstated, continuing to run Elite Model Look for many more years.

After years of financial mismanagement, Elite was forced into bankruptcy in 2004, splitting into two separate agencies, owned by different corporate entities, which still operate today. Marie is believed to have continued working with the New York division of Elite, Creative World Management, until as recently as 2011. The company declined to comment, but a spokesperson told the Guardian in March that it condemns the kinds of “deplorable behaviour” alleged to have taken place at Elite in the past.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Elite World Group said: “We find these alleged criminal acts egregious and abhorrent. Gérald Marie’s contract with Elite Model Management ended in December 2010, and the company was sold in 2011 to its current owners Elite World Group, for whom Marie has never worked. Elite World Group is committed to providing a safe environment for our models, and does not tolerate any form of abuse, harassment, discrimination and/or gender bias.”

In 2012, Marie joined Oui Management, a prestigious Paris agency whose models front Louis Vuitton campaigns and Vogue magazine covers. He remains an investor in Oui, which is registered in the UK: company documents filed in August this year state that Marie continues to be a “person with significant control” over Oui Management Ltd.

Although Marie has claimed he is retired, industry insiders who work with Oui Management say that until recently he had a “hands-on” role. One source has shown the Guardian emails that indicate Marie was accompanying models on castings with photographers as recently as last year. Marie’s LinkedIn page, which he recently deleted, had listed his responsibilities at the “thriving newcomer” agency as scouting for and managing talent. Oui Management has told the Guardian that Marie is not currently an employee.

Now married to a Russian model, Marie splits his time between Paris and his home in Ibiza, which according to a local paper has “the best French wine cellar on the island”. Responding to the new allegations put to him by the Guardian, his lawyers said that he was “extremely affected by the accusations made against him, which he contests with the utmost firmness… He intends to actively participate in the manifestation of the truth within the scope of the opened criminal investigation.”

Is the predatory culture of the modelling industry in the 1980s and 1990s a thing of the past? Both Anderson and Tapscott say that there is still a pressure to “stay silent” – one that applies to agents, too. Anderson says: “I can’t get a job in the modelling business any more, because I’ve been ostracised for talking out about this stuff.” She adds that it “speaks volumes” that Marie is still involved with an agency today. “It is living proof that the cult-like mentality still exists, and the code of silence remains.”

Meanwhile, the eight women who spoke to the Guardian say that, even 30 to 40 years after their alleged abuse, the impact on their lives has been lasting. Walsh, Dodd, Lee and Otis all battled eating disorders as a result, and several accusers went on to experience problems with alcohol or drugs.

Otis left Paris in 1987, moving to a farm in northern California for several months to get as “far away from [modelling] as possible”. But when her money started to run out, she approached a small agency in San Francisco and got a few jobs. “It felt safe and stable and normal,” she says. “You knew you were going to get off at five.” From there, her career took off. In 1988, she did an American Vogue cover shoot with Evangelista, the first ever to feature two models, in which they posed together on a Greek beach in matching jumpers and black caps, smiling and laughing. (There is no suggestion that Evangelista was aware of the allegations against her husband at the time.) In 1991, Otis became the face of Calvin Klein and joined Evangelista as one of the world’s most recognisable models; unlike many other women the Guardian has spoken to for this investigation, she found success without Gérald Marie.

Dodd, who is now 60, became a successful businesswoman (she is the founder of the surf brand Roxy) and lives with her husband and three children in the north Californian countryside. “I made it out,” she says, although she stresses that the years that followed weren’t easy.

Walsh remembers crying down the phone to her parents in 1980, asking them to get her home for the summer, and then back to school. “I was sitting in my mother’s basement, suffering from depression, not knowing what that was at the time,” she says. “I was just eating and crying.” She says she is coming forward now, “because I believe this is still a problem for girls in the industry today, and it needs to stop.”

After gaining a degree in journalism and later a PhD in clinical psychology, Walsh became a successful broadcaster. In 2017, she was the first woman to go public with sexual harassment allegations against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Walsh told a New York Times investigation that, when she was a regular guest on The O’Reilly Factor in 2013, he reneged on a verbal offer to secure her a lucrative position after she declined an invitation to his hotel suite. He was later sacked by Fox after it emerged he had paid five women tens of millions of dollars to settle various sexual harassment lawsuits. At the time, O’Reilly said there was no merit to the allegations. “I never mistreated anyone,” he said, adding that he had resolved matters privately to protect his children from publicity.

Walsh is now a qualified psychotherapist and hosts the Dr Wendy Walsh radio show. “People say, ‘How were you so brave to just go, “No”, to this powerful man who offered you a major job on television in America?’” she says. “And what I said in all the press conferences is that I’m a woman of a certain age, I’ve had some life experience. But what I really meant is, I learned the hard way. What happened with Gérald Marie prepared me for what happened with Bill O’Reilly, 30 years later. What I learned when I was 18 was to never go to the private quarters of any powerful man, whether he held your paycheck or not.”

Do you need help to escape an abuser?

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, family attorneys SD Law have deep experience of helping women escape abusive relationships. If you have suffered sexual assault, and have been too scared to bring charges, we will support you through the process and help keep you safe. If you experience intimate partner violence, we can serve a protection order on your partner and help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.

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It is ‘all men’, to varying degrees: men’s violence against women is a systemic crisis

This article was written by the executive director of White Ribbon Australia, part of a global social movement working to eliminate gendered violence. Replace “Australia” with “South Africa” and everything he says is equally true of our society. Inequality is so deeply embedded structurally that men and women alike see nothing wrong with mother-in-law jokes or quips about women drivers. For every man who says, “But I’m not like that; I respect women,” this article is for you. Most of us do not behave violently towards women, but, “We have been taught – either subtly or overtly – that because of our gender we deserve a special kind of respect.” Let this be a wake-up call. 

Reprinted from the Guardian, by Brad Chilcott – 2020-0-07

As White Ribbon’s new executive director, I believe it’s worth mobilising the movement towards meaningful action

Handgesture - Stop violence against women
 WRA executive director Brad Chilcott: ‘We need to take ownership of the ways we create the environment that allows men to believe they are entitled to a greater share of power in society and relationships.’ Photograph: Golib Golib Tolibov/Alamy Stock Photo

“Why?” has been the most consistent response when I’ve told my progressive friends that I’ve taken on the role of executive director of White Ribbon Australia for its next chapter. They didn’t miss the organisation that had first become publicly synonymous with ending family violence and then famous for problematic ambassadors and financial ruin. As a volunteer White Ribbon supporter myself, I agreed with much of the criticism – and yet I continue to believe it’s worth mobilising the tens of thousands of Australians who constitute the White Ribbon movement towards meaningful action.

Gender inequality is structural violence. It creates the space for acts of gendered violence by normalising disrespect as it socialises the idea that one gender is more valuable or capable than another.

It is clear that men’s violence against women is an ongoing systemic crisis – from the murder of more than one woman a week, to Australian police responding to family violence once every two minutes, to the sexual harassment experienced by women in the workplace – and when we know that approximately 80% of women who experience violence don’t report their abuse we begin to comprehend the vast scale of this emergency.

Gendered violence begins with the idea that you are entitled to obedience, sex, authority or a different set of freedoms because you are a man. That you have the intrinsic right to treat someone else in a way that you would not be treated. It is expressed in coercive control – exerting power over your partner’s finances, social life, clothing, career or otherwise reducing their individual agency.

I grew up in a religious environment that taught that men were the head of the house, that women couldn’t perform certain rituals, weren’t able to teach men or take leadership positions. When I was a child, my default image of engineers, pilots, football players and prime ministers was male. I said “policeman” instead of “police officer” and assumed my doctors would be men and my nurses would be women.

None of these things automatically turn me into a man who uses violence in my intimate relationships. But they demonstrate that many men in Australia – religious and otherwise – have been raised in cultures that share a history of entrenched gender inequality. We have been taught – either subtly or overtly – that because of our gender we deserve a special kind of respect. We have been raised with a certain expectation of male power and to have control of our homes, partners, children, faith communities, sporting clubs and workplaces. To believe that men have a right to decide what happens to women’s bodies.

Many of us have had this perspective role modelled to us, and indeed have seen the violence – whether physical violence, emotional manipulation, sexual exploitation or spiritual abuse – that men have used to dominate, control and harm women. We have seen men desperate to hold on to their power as they grow insecure in a changing society. We might say that not all misogyny leads to violence but that all violence starts with misogyny.

So yes, “all men”, to varying degrees. Therefore, our first responsibility in responding to this national crisis is to reflect on our own beliefs and attitudes, our culturally acquired perception of gender norms and to consider and change the ways these translate into our behaviour. We need to take ownership of the ways we create the environment that allows men to believe they are entitled to a greater share of power in society and relationships – and often exercise that power to harm others.

The abuse of power is violence – whatever form that takes.

If you’re monitoring your partner’s phone, telling them what they’re allowed to wear, if they have to ask your permission to spend time with friends or family – that’s not equality, it’s an abuse of power.

If, because you’re a man, you think you have the right to be obeyed, to make all the decisions, to be the head of a house, to have an unequal share of power – or indeed to be paid more, have more social freedoms, that your opinion is more important – then you are promoter of gender inequality. If you use any form of coercive control over your partner to enforce that privilege, then you’re a perpetrator of gendered violence.

How do we respond? Perhaps understanding that aspiring to be a good male role model is about much more than controlling aggression. It’s a man who is willing to listen and learn. Who is aware of their power and privilege – and chooses to utilise them towards cultural and political change. It’s someone who is determined to share power in their relationships and hold on to their privilege loosely, knowing we all benefit when everyone is equally valued, included and given the opportunity to flourish.

In some quarters it seems controversial to say that men have a role to play in eliminating gendered violence and advancing gender equality. What is certainly problematic is placing men on a pedestal for not using violence or not acknowledging the decades of tireless campaigning by women that built the foundation of awareness and positive change that male advocates stand on today. However, as it is men that need to stop being violent and to break the cycle of generational misogyny, they must be part of the solution.

Certainly, the men who hold on to the majority of the political power in Australia have not responded to the terror and suffering experienced by women in Australia in a manner commensurate to the crisis, nor with the magnitude of money and commitment expended on their self-identified priorities. A willingness to listen to and learn from women – and then act not only decisively but also proportionately – would go a long way towards creating safety for women now and pave the way for equality into the future.

 Brad Chilcott is executive director of White Ribbon Australia

Links added by SD Law.

Contact Family Lawyers Cape Town for help

As family lawyers, our job is to protect the vulnerable members of a family. Both women and children are at risk from structural gendered violence. If you are experiencing gendered violence, whether physical abuse, emotional manipulation, or coercive control, Cape Town Divorce Attorneys can help. We now offer online consultations. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email today, and we’ll call you back to schedule a meeting at a time that suits you, on the platform of your choosing.

Important contact numbers:

GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428 / *120*7867# from any cell phone
Women Abuse Helpline: 0800 150 150
Childline: 0800 055 555
SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111 / SMS Crime Line: 32211
GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177/

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Sex, porn and toxic masculinity: the struggle to bring up better boys

Two new books and a film suggest young men need compassion and support to tackle their adolescent alienation

We’ve written previously about toxic masculinity, #metoo, and gender-based violence and discrimination. This article from the Guardian, by Vanessa Thorpe, 2020-03-14, reviews several new attempts to redefine modern masculinity. The views expressed are not necessarily those of SD Law.

Sex, Porn, and Toxic Masculinity. Cape Town Lawyers


Dominance. Aggression. Rugged good looks. Sexual prowess. Stoicism. Athleticism. These are attributes of “the ideal guy” according to the young American men who spoke to author Peggy Orenstein for her new book, Boys & Sex.

In contrast surveys reveal that teenage girls are now more comfortable about rejecting stereotypical roles, thanks in part to simple slogans such as “Girl Power” and “Yes She Can”, coupled with the liberating message of the popular Frozen animation franchise. Music, sport and young adult literature have all been happily singing from this feminist hymn sheet for some time.

How about the boys then? Now the daunting task of exposing and exploding some of the equally damaging conventional pressures on male children and teenagers has received a boost with the publication of two striking new studies and the arrival in cinemas of Disney-Pixar’s recent release, Onward.

All attempt to show that boys need urgent help to express their feelings and deal with what society expects of them. And all three have met with a negative reception in some quarters.

The two books, Orenstein’s Boys & Sex, available here in paperback on Friday, and Cara Natterson’s Decoding Boys, out last month, argue that unless parents move swiftly to tackle their sons’ adolescent confusion and alienation, their daughters will soon leave them far behind when it comes to coping with emotions. Sex education for boys, they warn, has been left to the pornographers and football coaches, while the effects of changing male hormones are commonly misunderstood.

The aims of these twin examinations of modern boyhood sound pretty laudable, but they have already prompted accusations of bias and a suspicion that they’re designed to berate men, rather than help them.

Writing angrily in the conservative online magazine The Federalist, Glenn T Stanton alleges that Orenstein and Natterson’s books have only been welcomed by the liberal press, as represented by The Atlantic magazine, because they appear to support the idea that “toxic masculinity” is running rampant. By concentrating on examples of poor, insensitive male behaviour, Stanton believes the findings of the authors are just fuelling calls for current ideas of manhood to be ripped up and chucked away. Defining any social group, including young men, by its extremes is wrong, he argues.

Another male critic, who wrote in from Chicago in response to an article by Orenstein in The Atlantic, suggested that symptoms of “toxic masculinity” tend to be shrugged off by men as they grow up. He also felt that Orenstein’s choice to study young white “jocks”, or college sportsmen, had skewed her results: “Had she spoken with members of the debate team, for instance, or the drama club, or the school band, she might have opened a window to a very different landscape.”

Orenstein’s book, which has the full title Boys & Sex, Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity, is a follow-up to her 2016 hit, Girls & Sex, and its frank attitude to discussing sex means it is likely to appeal well beyond academic circles. Before writing, she took two years out to talk to boys across America, mostly college-bound and between the ages of 16 and 21. What she found was that when these intelligent young men were asked to describe “the ideal guy”, they frequently “appeared to be harking back to 1955”.

It made Orenstein wonder if parents have been looking the other way for too long: “Feminism may have provided girls with a powerful alternative to conventional femininity, and a language with which to express the myriad problems-that-have-no-name, but there have been no credible equivalents for boys. Quite the contrary: the definition of masculinity seems to be in some respects contracting.”

Peggy Orenstein + Boys & Sex

In Natterson’s book, which has the subtitle, New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons, a series of useful bits of advice have been crafted from the author’s long practical experience as a paediatrician. The New York Times has judged it a good guide for all parents of boys and praised its “zippy, big-hearted” tone as it explains that puberty starts much earlier in boys than we used to think. It also argues that teenage boys should not be allowed to retreat into monosyllabic and fleeting family interactions. According to Natterson they need more emotional and physical reassurance than we ever realised.

Certainly this is one of the main messages to take away from Pixar’s latest family hit, Onward. It tells of two elf brothers in their teens, voiced by British star Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, who live in a magical version of suburbia and who are struggling with the death of their father.

Director Dan Scanlon’s film topped the American box office chart on its opening weekend, raking in £30.5m, and it has won praise for its honest handling of male emotional blockages. “The fractious bond between the brothers and their aching anger at the loss of a parent are evoked with exquisite sorrow and clarity,” wrote the Observer’s Wendy Ide.

But several Middle Eastern countries have since balked at Onward’s liberal sensibilities, and more specifically at its casual acceptance of homosexuality. It cannot now be shown in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, according to showbusiness journals. The offending character is Police Officer Specter, voiced by actor Lena Waithe, who has spoken of her delight at playing Pixar’s first openly gay role.

These critical reactions might indicate that modern efforts to re-define gender conventions are doomed, if not to failure then to infinite levels of complexity. And limiting the discussion to biological sex is not much simpler.

A teacher at a boys’ school in Baltimore joined the American debate last month to point out that when teenage boys are assumed to be emotionally insensitive, it can sound to them as if they are being deemed immature, or even stupid.

In fact, he argued, most boys are quite capable of complex thought at all ages, just like girls: “Boys understand themselves – good, bad and ugly – a little more than we give them credit for, and that knowledge concerns them. It should not only concern us – the adults around them – it should impel an immediate change in our actions and attitudes.”

Orenstein pushed back at criticisms of her approach with a clear defence. Many boys may well mature out of bad behaviours, but some do not, she suggests, and, whatever happens to them in the future, what of those they harm? Among her chief findings were that boys fret about how sensitive to seem on a first date. They also complain that asking permission to initiate physical intimacy is perceived as being soppy, or as they might say, “lame”. Meanwhile pornography, homophobia, misogyny and racism all pose real problems on American college campuses, Orenstein contends.

The book has been broadly welcomed, by men as well as women, however. Last month the website The Good Men Project, which sets out to examine “what it means to be a good man in today’s society”, ran a piece which heralded Orenstein’s “eye-opening and compassionate overview of some of the problems boys face in American society”. Schoolteachers as well as parents must start talking to boys about sex, according to its author, New York state teacher Jeff Frank, because of the wide availability of porn: “At the very least, we have to help boys see that sex is not a competitive act.”

Also important, thought Frank, is helping boys to build the emotional strength to be alone sometimes. “This is not about telling boys who they must be, but creating the conditions that allow them to act on their conscience and grow into the men they hope to become.”

Have you been affected by gender-based discrimination or violence?

If you have suffered sexual harassment, abuse, gender-based violence, or rape, and would like to have a confidential discussion about your options, contact Simon at Cape Town Lawyers +27 (0) 86 099 5146 and we’ll call you back. Your issue will be dealt with sensitively and in complete confidence.

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16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children

Violence against women in the workplace – time for it to stop!

16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children runs from 25 November till 10 December each year. In fact, the 25th of November is specifically observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, an initiative started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, which continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL). The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign, also coordinated by the CWGL, which is used by activists around the world as a platform to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence.

South Africa is one of 187 countries to participate in the 16 Days of Activism Campaign since 1991, with a reach of 300 million. The objectives of the campaign, taken from the dedicated website, are to:

  • Raise awareness about gender-based violence against women as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
  • Strengthen local work around gender-based violence against women
  • Establish a clear link between local and international work to end gender-based violence against women
  • Provide a forum in which organisers can develop and share new and effective strategies
  • Demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world organising against gender-based violence against women
  • Create tools to pressure governments to implement commitments to eliminate gender-based violence against women

2019 theme for 16 Days of Activism – ending violence at work

Each year’s campaign has a theme, and this year it is ending violence against women in the world of work. This is particularly salient in the South African context, where there is a push to encourage women into traditionally male-dominated occupations and professions. Take mining, for instance – a mainstay of our economy and our labour market. Until 1996, women were not permitted to work underground. The South African Mining Charter of 2004 introduced a requirement that a mine’s staff complement must include at least 10% female miners. But a mine is not an easy environment for women to enter. Early women mineworkers faced challenges such as equipment and protective clothing sized for men, forcing women to use ill-fitting gear that made their jobs harder and even unsafe. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, through pressure from unions and female employees and efforts by the Chamber of Mines and equipment manufacturers. However, there are still inadequate ablution facilities, and women often have to share changing rooms with men.

The outcome is sadly predictable: women are subjected to sexual assault and rape in the workplace. In one tragic and high-profile incident, a woman miner was found dead, a used condom next to her body, at Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine in 2012. In 2015, at another Anglo Platinum mine, Thembelani in Rustenberg, a woman was attacked and raped by a suspected illegal miner in the women’s changing rooms while showering.

No industry is immune

Violence against women at work is not confined to blue collar occupations. Sexual violence – and its close cousin, sexual harassment – are of course illegal in this country. Obviously assault, sexual or otherwise, is a criminal offence, but sexual harassment is also a form of unfair discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and/or sexual orientation. It has been described by the Labour Appeal Court as “the most heinous misconduct that plagues a workplace”. Why, then, is it so rife?

Social structures, social norms

According to, “Rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.” South Africa still has a deeply entrenched patriarchal society, borne out by our rape statistics, despite a progressive constitution and ground-breaking advances in other aspects of our society.

Ending sexual violence requires fundamental changes to systems of power and control, and existing social structures are critical to this transformation. One of the most influential social structures is the workplace, so employers have a vital role to play in defeating sexual violence at work.

Employer obligations

Employers are obliged, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to create a workplace that safeguards the health and safety of employees. It would be impossible to foresee and pre-empt every possibility of harm, but employers must take all tenable steps possible to protect employees from injury or distress that can reasonably be prevented.

Furthermore, the 2005 Amended Code of Good Practice: Sexual Harassment Cases (the Code) requires employers to ensure that the dignity of employees is respected in the working environment. Part of this stipulation is the inclusion of appropriate sexual harassment policies defining the process of handling sexual harassment sensitively and efficiently, including the provision of support to victims. However, while employers are permitted to report sexual violence to the police, there is no legal requirement for them to do so. The responsibility to press charges lies with the victim, and there are many obstacles that prevent this happening. This needs to change.

Employee engagement is key

Employers must lead the way, but they cannot change mindsets by imposition. Workers of both sexes need to buy into the problem in order to be part of the solution. This is not just a “women’s issue”.

Security is essential

Employers need to provide adequate security on the premises to ensure the safety of women, especially after hours; and there needs to be a confidential means of communication that allows victims of sexual harassment or violence to report it, without fear of repercussions. These are the basics that must be in place so long as sexual violence is still a threat in our society.

But security alone is not enough

To remove that threat altogether, attitudes and norms must change. To encourage this, employers can offer sensitivity and awareness training. Many men pay lip service to gender equality and are genuinely appalled by gender-based violence, but at the same time they participate in bar conversations ranking the females in their office in order of attractiveness. They need to realise and understand that this is not acceptable; it’s on a continuum of debasement of women that ultimately ends in violence and rape. Men need to speak out when they witness sexual harassment, abuse or violence. This includes innuendo, “accidental” touching, and lewd looks. It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is their best mate; silence is collusion. Good men must speak up in the presence of unacceptable behaviour by other men. Claiming to be without blame but turning a blind eye to the transgressions of others makes one as guilty as the offender himself.

SD Law stands against gender-based violence

SD Law stands firmly behind the campaign to end violence in the workplace and supports 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. We will not stand by when we see men mistreating women or in any way perpetuating the social norms that feed our horrendous rape statistics.

We can act for you if you have been a victim of sexual violence, in the workplace or anywhere else, and would like to bring charges against your assailant. We understand that the process of coming forward is frightening and distressing. We will provide a safe, trusting environment where you will always be believed. SD Law is a firm of Cape Town lawyers, also practising in Johannesburg and Durban, with expertise in family law and criminal law. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion.

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Netflix “Unbelievable”…is all too believable

“Shows with traumatic plotlines are shifting the national debate”

The Netflix mini-series, Unbelievable, may be an American production, but its story is resonating with women all over the world. Conversation has turned to a discussion of Unbelievable in  Cape Town and Johannesburg bars and coffee shops more than once recently. What is your view of dramatising rape stories? Since the #metoo movement began, it has become much more acceptable to bring accounts of sexual abuse and assault out into the open. It’s unsurprising the media has followed suit. At SD Law, we agree with the author of the article below, that…

“…programmes on what consent looks like, on the impact of harassment in public places, the way it forces women to avoid the dark, or take the longer route home…”

are vital to bringing the subject of sexual harassment of women out of the shadows and tackling it head-on. Our government – and everyone in a position of educating or influencing men – needs to do much, much more if South African women are to feel safe. It requires…

“elected leaders understanding their responsibilities, with thoughtful interventions in schools, the welfare system, hospitals. With compulsory sex education that means porn isn’t a child’s default teacher on what sex is, who sex is for…”

We think author Eva Wiseman makes some salient points. Read on and decide for yourself.


TV shows and books dealing with rape and sexual assault make for upsetting and unsettling viewing and reading, but at least the grim stories are propelling us towards the possibility of social change.

We are nearing the finale of season three, when the storyline twists and characters evolve and we are invited to question all we thought we knew. In the same way that it’s harder to care about statistics (like the proportion of rapes being prosecuted in England and Wales dropping to just 1.7%) than stories (like the new book by Chanel Miller, a blistering account of her sexual assault), perhaps it is easier to think of rape in these terms. As a horror show, unfolding.

Yesterday over lunch I read the news that, as Carl Beech was jailed after fabricating claims of historical rape, a former High Court judge concluded that the “instruction to believe a victim’s account should cease.” “Sure,” I said aloud, darkly over tea. This came after the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) pointed out that, judging by the woefully low rate of prosecutions, rape appears to have been decriminalised, an idea that continues to roll around my mind like a marble. Along with the ancient image of a thong.

Where once victims were humiliated in court by defence barristers holding up the underwear they wore on the night of the attack, today they are presented with old text messages or photos, which do the same job as the asking-for-it underwear, but in higher resolution. I spent my journey home reading Miller’s book and that night lay in bed watching Unbelievable, the Netflix true-crime drama based on a teenager whose rape was discounted by detectives. I slept, not well.

Both Miller’s book, Know My Name, and Netflix’s Unbelievable shine a torch on the reality of sexual assault today, at a time when rape charges, prosecutions and convictions in England and Wales are at their lowest levels in more than a decade. Until recently, Miller was known as “Emily Doe”, the pseudonym of the “Brock Turner sexual assault victim”. Her case first became famous because of widespread public criticism of the judgment. Despite there being witnesses to the assault, as Miller lay unconscious behind some bins after a frat party at Stanford University and despite Turner being convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, he was sentenced to only six months in prison, of which he served three. The judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a “promising athlete”. And second, because of Miller’s powerful, detailed, victim statement. “I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me.” There are echoes of Miller’s experience in Unbelievable, as there are, inevitably, in all accounts of violence against women. The series opens with Marie’s rape and unravels from there, as minor inconsistencies in the victim’s story lead police to charge her with false reporting, before it becomes clear that the rapist has attacked again.

I’m often left hoppy and bitter when rape is a theme in my nightly telly, another body, another drink. But lately that agitation has moved upwards, to a place where I can recognise it as energy. As something useful, even positive. Horror stories rarely have happy endings, but it does feel, doesn’t it, that a change is due. As grim and worrying as the figures are, the swell of social change, and the new clarity of storytelling, must, surely, drag the rest of the world along with it.



We believe you

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article or Netflix Unbelievable, family attorneys SD Law have deep experience of helping women escape abusive relationships. If you have suffered sexual assault, and have been too scared to bring charges, we will support you through the process and help keep you safe. If you experience intimate partner violence, we can serve a protection order on your partner and  help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services. At Cape Town Divorce Attorneys, we will always believe you. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.

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Gender pay gap – alive and kicking

Women are still not paid equally for equal work

gender pay gap

Last year during Women’s Month the world was focused on the Harvey Weinstein case and the #metoo campaign, which emerged in the wake of a parade of women coming forward with harrowing tales of sexual abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Weinstein and many other celebrities. Over the course of the past year we have learned that male sexual predation is not only commonplace but normalised and even lauded in many cultures. Donald Trump dismissed his own brags about groping women as “locker room talk”, in other words just something guys do. Following these revelations a conversation developed about “toxic masculinity”, defined as “a set of behaviours and beliefs that include…suppressing emotions or masking distress; maintaining an appearance of hardness;  [and] violence as an indicator of power.” Sociologists also talk about “enhanced femininity” – Erving Goffman said that women are socialised to be “precious, ornamental and fragile,” and to display “frailty, fear and incompetence.” While women rarely pretend to be frail and incompetent these days, there is still social construction around what is considered feminine. When enhanced femininity meets toxic masculinity, the outcome is predictably unfortunate and sometimes tragic.

These issues are important – vital, even. South Africa has a culture that objectifies and derides women and results in the highest incidence of rape in the world. We must confront social norms and change them when they do not promote a fair, equitable and just society. But equally important, and somewhat buried in the emotive narrative of #metoo, is the practical aspect of gender equality: equal access to opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

South Africa has a very real gender pay gap

A report just released by management consultants PwC revealed that women in South Africa are paid less than men, not just in certain industries or occupations, but across the board. There is no industry where women are paid more than men. For example, in the major industries of technology and financial services, men are paid 22.9% and 21.8% more respectively. In health care men are paid c. 28.1% more than women, and 25.1% more in media and general retailers. 

The global picture

The World Economic Forum introduced the Global Gender Gap Index in 2006. It is a framework for measuring gender-based disparities in four areas – Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. It is published annually and tracks progress made against these important indicators. The 2018 report reveals that the Global Gender Gap score is currently 68%. This means that, on average, there is still a 32% gap to close. The most equal country is Iceland, followed by the other Nordic countries. But somewhat surprisingly, Rwanda and Namibia are in the top 10, which makes South Africa’s position all the more indefensible. 

South Africa has the nineteenth smallest gender gap out of 149 countries. However, this overall ranking belies a much poorer standing on two of the four dimensions. Our aggregated score is buoyed up by strong results in Political Empowerment and Health and Survival. When it comes to Educational Attainment we rank 72 out of 149 countries, and even worse in Economic Participation – 91 out of 149, with a score of 64.5% gender equality. Clearly we have a long way to go to attain the equal rights envisaged by the authors of our Constitution.

Public vs. private sector

It probably comes as no surprise to find that the private sector is less equal than the public sector. After all, it would be harder for government to justify defying its own equal opportunity legislation. However, it needs to do more to see that laws are upheld. Labour law expert Bridgette Mokoetle says that women are often denied opportunities with excuses such as lack of work experience. Laws and policies that exist to ensure equal pay for equal work are not adequately enforced.

Differences top and bottom of the spectrum

An interesting feature of the pay gap is that it is worse in higher-earning jobs. This is because previous disparities in low-paid jobs, where women were often discriminated against and paid much less than men in jobs of equal value (e.g. domestic worker/gardener), have been remedied by the introduction of a minimum wage. However, at the other end of the spectrum, women are under-represented in senior positions, which is reflected in the managerial pay gap statistics, according to research by UCT’s Jacqueline Mosomi. Women still occupy lower-paid jobs, i.e. administrative and less technical occupations than those in which men are more prevalent. 

Social researchers Kahn and Motsoeneng suggest that women’s under-representation in senior management is related to a shortage of women with suitable qualifications as a result of racial segregation in the past and discrimination against women in general. Black women in particular have been victims of both racism and patriarchy, so are particularly under-represented at senior level.

In the middle of the earnings distribution spectrum, the gender wage gap has moved very little since pre-democracy. Men still earn 23% to 35% more than women. The majority of occupations in this middle ground are male-dominated, such as service, craft or operational work. 

What’s the solution to the gender pay gap?

The onus to close our gender pay gap – and to rectify other gender inequalities in our country – lies with our legislators. Policies and laws exist to ensure equality, but their enforcement is piecemeal and indifferent. B-BBEE legislation has been tightened and employment equity in terms of race is improving, as a result of a concerted commitment to transformation. Black women are of course included in overall B-BBEE indicators, but the focus is on race, not gender. B-BBEE compliance does not in itself address the gender pay gap. 

Business owners also have a responsibility to review pay scales and distribution of women in key roles, including those all-important median occupations mentioned above, and to investigate their recruitment practices and ensure equal opportunities exist in practice, not just on paper.

Parents and educators need to encourage girls and young women to consider careers in STEM and tech-related fields, and to stop categorising occupations as “male” or “female”. 

Kahn and Motsoegeng recommend that the priorities for closing the gender pay gap are: fighting discrimination, supporting training and development, and providing women with better access to career development.

And finally, we all, whatever role we play in the workforce and in society, need to examine our own mindsets and ensure we live the values of our Constitution. We need to be non-racial, gender-neutral and inclusive in our values and our conduct. This is the only way we will transform our society and close all the gender gaps, not just the pay gap.

If you are the victim of gender pay discrimination

Unfortunately, much pay inequity is not illegal. However, genuine discrimination, which our legislation prohibits, does still exist. If you think you have been the victim of gender, race or any type of pay discrimination at work, contact Cape Town attorneys. We will investigate your case and support you at the CCMA or help you bring a private matter before your employer.

Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email to discuss your case in confidence. SD Law and Associates are experienced Cape Town lawyers who are committed to Constitutional justice and human rights for all South Africans.

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