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28 Oct, 2023 22:30

US clothing brand hit with class-action sex-trafficking lawsuit

Dozens of men have claimed clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch was complicit in sex trafficking by its former CEO, Michael Jeffries
US clothing brand hit with class-action sex-trafficking lawsuit

Iconic US clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch aided and abetted its former CEO Michael Jeffries’ systematic sexual exploitation of aspiring male models, a class-action lawsuit filed by dozens of Jeffries’ alleged victims in New York federal court on Friday claimed. 

The lawsuit names not only Jeffries, his longtime partner Matthew Smith, and the Jeffries Family Office LLC, but also Abercrombie itself. The company was fully aware of its executives’ predation and even allowed Jeffries “unfettered access to corporate funds” to pay off his victims, it alleges.

Jeffries was so important to the profitability of the brand that he was given complete autonomy to perform his role as CEO however he saw fit, including through the use of blatant international sex-trafficking and abuse of prospective Abercrombie models,” the lawsuit claims, arguing the corporation “knew he was engaging in illegal activity and did not care.” 

Jeffries allegedly paid modeling scouts to approach attractive young men with offers to become the brand’s new face, treat them to shopping trips, and send them to his Hamptons estate or various locations outside the US to be sexually abused in the guise of legitimate modeling auditions. “Each of the models were then forced to take drugs and to participate in sex acts with Jeffries and others, including Smith, all at Jeffries’ direction,” according to the suit. 

The “normalcy” of this grooming process would allegedly be drilled into the models by everyone they encountered along the way, from the scouts, who sometimes demanded sex themselves, to the brand’s star photographer, Bruce Weber, who has also been accused of sexual assault by more than 20 models. Over 100 men were allegedly victimized in this way.

Abercrombie financially benefited in that as a by-product of the sex-trafficking venture, [Abercrombie] was able to employ male models to further promote their brand image, while simultaneously keeping Jeffries happy and productive, allowing him to rebrand the company’s image and transform it into a billion-dollar industry leader,” the suit claims.

Jeffries was hired as CEO in 1992 to raise the then-moribund brand from the ashes of bankruptcy by Leslie Wexner, the founder of The Limited and former owner of Victoria’s Secret who had purchased Abercrombie four years earlier. Wexner, the only known financial advisory client of deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, acted as Jeffries’ mentor as the CEO transformed the outfitter into a teen-trend powerhouse that “sizzle[d] with sex,” according to the lawsuit.

Abercrombie was “not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct” by its former CEO, the company told CNN earlier this month in response to a BBC report in which eight men described how Jeffries and Smith had sexually exploited them, stressing that Jeffries and his team had left the company over a decade ago.