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Former French Models Come Forward With Abuse Allegations Against Gerald Marie

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Dozens of survivors are coming forward with rape and sexual assault accusations against a man some call the Harvey Weinstein of the fashion industry. A group of former models have been in Paris this week talking to French investigators. But as Rebecca Rosman reports, the statute of limitations in France means criminal charges are unlikely. And we want to warn our listeners that this story discusses sexual abuse.

CARRE SUTTON: First of all, thank you all for coming. It is really surreal to be back in Paris.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: In the late '80s, Carre Sutton, who then went by Carre Otis, moved to Paris with a promise that she was being given the modeling opportunity of a lifetime. Speaking to a room of journalists earlier this week, Sutton displays a magazine with her face on the cover.

SUTTON: It is roughly 30 years ago that this photo was taken of me. This was my first French Elle cover. I was 17 years old, and I remember it vividly. And at the same time the photo was taken, Gerald Marie had started to sexually assault me.

ROSMAN: At the time, Marie was the European head of Elite Model Management, one of the world's top agencies. Sutton was sent to live in a spare room at the Paris apartment Marie shared with his then-wife, supermodel Linda Evangelista. While Evangelista was away on assignment, Sutton says Marie repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted her.

SUTTON: And it was made very, very clear that if I protested his advances and the relationship that he wanted that it would impact my career. And that's exactly what happened. As soon as I did push back, I didn't work in France again.

ROSMAN: Sutton and the other former models allege they were trafficked into Marie's hands by their agents. Marie, who now lives on the Spanish island of Ibiza, insists he's innocent. Sara Ziff is the founder of the Model Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that works with abuse survivors in the fashion industry. She says while Marie's widespread abuse was an open secret in the industry, he's evaded punishment.

SARA ZIFF: That changes today. Sexual abuse is pervasive in the modeling industry - in an industry that routinely normalizes abuse and puts pressure on survivors to remain silent so as not to risk their careers.

ROSMAN: Although these accusations fall outside the 20-year statute of limitations in France, they're hoping their testimonies will inspire more recent victims of sexual abuse to come forward. Anne-Claire Le Jeune, the lawyer representing the women, says there should be no time limit in bringing these cases to court.

ANNE-CLAIRE LE JEUNE: We really need to take in considerations that victim needs time before coming forward. Twenty or 30 years, it's a lot, but for victim of abuse sometimes is nothing. That's why I think it will be great that for crimes on minor, there is no statute.

ROSMAN: Carre Sutton has also filed another claim against Marie and her then-agent in New York, which recently temporarily lifted the statute of limitations in cases involving a minor. But Sutton, who was only 17 when she says Marie abused her, says neither the French or the American case is really about putting someone in jail.

SUTTON: I'm really in this to see change within this industry. There's been decades of allegations and cries and decades of reporting on these abuses, and still we stand here today. There's not enough change.

ROSMAN: Sutton says accountability is important, and she has yet to receive an apology from anyone at Elite Model Management.

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBINATE'S "REMNANT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.