Dov Charney, American Apparel face sexual harassment lawsuits

Warning: This post may be triggering for those sensitive to issues surrounding sexual assault.

Why am I still writing about Dov Charney?

In the past three weeks, five former employees have filed two sexual harassment lawsuits against Dov, the founder of American Apparel.

The young women accuse him of engaging in a variety of inappropriate behaviors, from sending repeated sexually explicit text messages to physical assault.

The youngest plaintiff, Irene Morales, holds that when she was 17 and working for a New York City American Apparel, Dov frequently sent her explicit text messages and photos.

After she turned 18, she says, Dov held her captive in his apartment and forced her to perform sexual acts on him.

This continued for 8 months until she had a breakdown, quit her job, and sought counseling.

“I thought this was just what happened to people who worked in fashion,” she said on the Today Show.

Kimbra Lo, another former employee, says that she had gone to Dov’s house to be interviewed for a modeling position: “As soon as he answered the door, he attacked me. I was very clear for him to stop. I told him ‘no, don’t touch me,’ and he became more aggressive. Honestly, I didn’t feel there was a way for me to leave safely. I was terrified.

American Apparel has released a (highly professional, as always) statement claiming that they have “’smoking gun’ photographs undermining [Lo’s] false accusation of unwanted harassment.” They have said the same about Morales, and, always a shining beacon of respect for consent, the company has leaked said photographs to Gawker [no nudity at the link, but it’s probably not safe for work].

For someone complaining about being the victim of a trial by media, Dov sure seems excited to smear his accusers as publicly as possible using whatever means necessary.

There are a lot of things to realize about the release of these photographs and their bearing on the lawsuits. First of all, the photos of Morales look pretty much exactly like American Apparel advertisements, so to use them as proof of consent is patently ridiculous. AA solicits similar photographs from employees and customers alike on its website; does that mean everyone who sends AA a photo is consenting to having sex with Dov Charney?

Secondly, Lo has said that the photographs of her were taken without her consent, which means that they are proof of nothing but another assault. It’s not hard to imagine that the photos of Morales were taken in similar circumstances. Indeed, the photos, sent a year after Morales left the company, were allegedly accompanied by Morales asking for a job, “even at the Hoboken store.”

Dov is using this as “proof” that Morales came onto him, but it’s proof of no such thing. As Morales’ lawyer and pretty much anyone who has ever worked with victims of assault will tell you, it is not at all uncommon for victims to be so demoralized by their assaults that they begin to see themselves only as sex objects.

And since Dov had pretty much already made the connection between sex and employment in the initial series of assaults—Morales didn’t say anything for fear of losing her job—well, nothing about these emails suggests that Morales is not a victim, but instead that she was using the only tools she believed she had available to her in order to secure employment.

In the coming weeks, it’s incredibly important that we pay attention to these cases and see Dov’s (and by extension, American Apparel’s) behavior for what it really is: a rich, coercive, power-abusing man taking advantage of his young female employees, and then using the media to present them as, for lack of a better term, sluts who were asking for it.

Hate to break it to you Dov et al, but consent doesn’t work that way. Photos and text messages are not consent for sexual activity. You don’t get to tell an 18-year-old girl that if she doesn’t sleep with you she’ll lose her job, and then act like you’re in a consensual sexual relationship.

You don’t get to invite someone to a business meeting in your bedroom (WHY ARE YOU HAVING A BUSINESS MEETING IN YOUR BEDROOM?) and then answer the door in your underwear and then act like you aren’t being coercive.

You don’t get to treat women like sexual objects and then get upset when they fight back against their objectification and abuse.

And, though you probably don’t need reminding of this, let’s not forget that Dov Charney has been frequently accused of sexual harassment, openly thinks of women as sluts, and has single handedly designed the most abhorrently sexist ad campaign in recent memory.

Why, given all of this, are we as a culture even giving a second thought to the ludicrous idea that somehow Dov is the victim here, that these women are part of a “racket” designed to “shake him down”? Why are we not instead reaching the much more reasonable, logical, entirely unsurprising conclusion that Dov Charney just might be a rapist?

Melissa Campbell

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