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Regulating Modeling Agencies to Help Prevent Child Sex Trafficking

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In 2010, Jezebel, an online site, published "The Sex Trafficking Model Scout" warning about the dangers of deregulated modeling agencies in the U.S.

Given the growing number of modeling agencies that transport underage teenagers from foreign countries into the United States and the growing sex trade of underage girls in the U.S. why does this industry remain deregulated?

Since the advent of this business, modeling agencies have had free reign to scout teenagers from every state in the country as well as every nation in the world. Many of these teenage girls come from economically disadvantaged families and are offered none to very limited protection while traveling and working as "models."

Jezebel reported that Jean Luc Brunel, one of the cast of characters involved in the ongoing Jeffrey Epstein (a level 3 registered sex offender), eight-year-long case, has been working for over two decades with a succession of agencies in New York and Paris. According to media reports, Diane Sawyer produced a segment for CBS's 60 Minutes featuring a sex scandal that eventually led Eileen Ford (founder of renowned Ford modeling agency) to stop working with Brunel.

Brunel's latest venture is the modeling agency MC2 based in South Beach, Fla. with satellite offices in New York and Tel Aviv. Since his agency is deregulated and "no criminal charges have been filed by any of his accusers" -- although many have tried to serve him including lawyers representing Epstein's victims, Brunel continues to hide behind his French citizenship to prevent depositions. "Trawling for 5'11" underage teenagers to work for his agency, MC2, or anyone else who requests, Brunel is free to scout for very young girls without limitations." Given his citizenship he also successfully avoided deposition in Epstein's sex related cases.

Like so many other reporters who have tried to report his side of the story when Jezebel contacted Brunel, "he did not respond to our interview request." According to Jezebel:

we spoke to a number of people who worked with his agency and while MC2 isn't considered a major industry player, it isn't exactly bottom-shelf, either... Brunel isn't involved with the business on a day-to-day basis, although he owns an 85 percent stake in MC2. Instead, he does scouting for the agency and takes care of the international relations with other agencies, reports one source. Scouts scour the world for unrepresented teenage girls who could make it as models. They work largely unsupervised and are generally paid a headhunting fee for every girl an agency signs. Even when affiliated with an agency, as Brunel obviously is with MC2, scouts operate mostly independently and with little oversight. The company blog refers to Brunel as a 'scouting tsunami' and MC2 is fairly well known for the strength of its international scouting.

Model, Michael Gross's 1995 book, describes Brunel's activities in Paris from the late 1970s onwards, when he worked for, and eventually owned, the modeling agency Karin. "Jean-Luc is considered a danger," says Jérôme Bonnouvrier. "Owning Karin was a dream for a playboy. His problem is that he knows exactly what girls in trouble are looking for. He's always been on the edge of the system."

John Casablancas, founder of Elite modeling agency said:

I really despise Jean-Luc as a human being for the way he's cheapened the business. There is no justice. This is a guy who should be behind bars. There was a little group, Jean-Luc, Patrick Gilles, and Varsano. They were very well known in Paris for roaming the clubs. They would invite girls and put drugs in their drinks. Everybody knew they were creeps." Casablancas was a professional rival who was pushed out of his agency for questionable concerns.

Katie Ford human trafficking abolitionist and Eileen Ford's daughter, talked to the Wall Street Journal magazine. In that story "A Model Trade Union," Ford describes herself as a "roving ambassador" to help stop human trafficking. Ford sold her stake in the family business in 2007 to the private equity firm Stone Tower Equity. "In her new life as a nearly full-time, unpaid, roving ambassador for the cause her job is an outgrowth of her former work, rather than a repudiation of it, or an atonement.

Her interest in human trafficking began when a representative of the United Nations called to ask if she would participate in a women's leadership group that was studying the issue of trafficking. "I said, 'I can't come talk about it, because I don't know anything about it!'" Ford recalls. "But I went, and after two hours, I knew why I was there. The way people traffic across borders is parallel to the way we recruit models. According to Ford "the target age is 14 to 24, and so it's similar to modeling." I knew how to reach that market" she said, "It was the feeling of: There but for the grace of God... The girls who came to us could have been those girls."