Beverly Johnson spoke out about being attacked by Bill Cosby and an unnamed fashion photographer, while presenting the Positive Social Influence Award to Model Alliance at the 2021 CFDA Awards. “Good evening I’m Beverly Johnson. I was the African American to grace the cover of Vogue magazine,” she began. “That was a defining moment in my life.”
Johnson continued. “Fewer know me as a survivor of Bill Cosby who drugged in his home during my audition for the Cosby show. It was by the grace of God and the fact that I screamed and cursed at the top of my lungs that I wasn’t raped,” she shared. “My modeling agency recommended me for the audition. I found out later during the trial that my agent was specifically assigned with setting up innocent models for that predator.”
Johnson went on to cite other incidents of harassment and assault she had suffered during her modeling career. “At that point I was no stranger to abuse in the fashion industry as a teenager in the 70s a photographer had tried to pounce on me at a photoshoot,” she revealed.
“I was stunned. I grabbed my belongings and I ran all the way back to the agency in my five inch platform shoes which are eerily similar to the ones I’m wearing tonight,” she said. She then lifted the hem of her ivory and sand gown to show the height of her glittering platform sandal, visuality demonstrating her distress.
She said she arrived at the office “out of breath,” and “stumbling.”
“I told my agent what happened certain that they’d take action after they’d sent me to this photographer but the agent looked at me unphased and said ‘oh is he doing that again?’ At that moment I realized I was on my own that my agency wasn’t just failing to protect me from a sexual predator, they were recklessly feeding me to him,” she stated somberly.
“That’s why the Model Alliance is so revolutionary we’ve passed laws to establish workers rights in the fashion industry from extending child labor protections to underage models in New York to safe guarding all the talent from sexual harassment,” she said. The New York State Department of Labor began extending “print and runway models under the age of 18 who live or work in New York,” the same protections afforded to child performers in film and TV in 2013 as a result of their efforts.
“We are now fighting to pass an adult survivor act in New York which recognizes that all survivors deserve a chance at justice.”
According to a statement from the New York State Senate, “This legislation would create a one-year window for the revival of time-barred civil lawsuits based on sex crimes committed against individuals who were 18 years of age or older.”
Johnson acknowledged how Black women are more vulnerable. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that Black women and girls experienced more instances of rape and sexual assault than their counterparts.
“Today I mentor a few young models they’re terrified to speak out for fear of landing on a real Black list and for jeopardizing their modeling career and for models of color the pressure is even more intense. Their accusations of sexual harassment are less likely to be believed because of the color of their skin,” she said.
“Which is why it’s an honor to give this long overdue award to Model Alliance for taking our concerns seriously for speaking out before it was popular for championing the Respect program and passing laws to protect us and for showing the world we deserve basic human rights just like anyone else, who works for an honest living.”