The former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has been accused of exploiting young men for sex at events he and his partner hosted in the United States and around the world, according to a BBC investigation.
Most of the men also allege that a middleman, who was hired by the fashion brand’s former boss Mike Jeffries, sexually “auditioned” them by requesting or offering to perform oral sex on them, before the young men were introduced to him and his partner, Matthew Smith.
As part of a two-year investigation for Panorama, the BBC reporter Rianna Croxford spoke to eight men who described attending events between 2009 and 2015 that involved sex acts and were run for Mr Jeffries (79) and Mr Smith (60).
Mr Jeffries, who was once one of America’s highest-paid CEOs, stepped down from A&F in 2014. Half the men recruited have alleged that they were initially misled about the nature of the events or were not told sex was expected. Others said they understood the events would involve sex, but not exactly what was expected of them.
Some of the men alleged they were exploited or abused and several told the BBC the possibility of modelling contracts with A&F was raised before they met Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith.
They also told the BBC that, at the events, Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith would engage in sexual activity with about four men or “direct” them to have sex with each other. Afterwards, the men said staff at the event handed them envelopes filled with thousands of dollars in cash. All except one said they felt harmed by the experience.
Appearing on a Panorama special episode, The Abercrombie Guys: The Dark Side of Cool, one of the young men, the former model Barrett Pall, told Ms Croxford: “My feeling of being in that room was: an animal. I was not a human to any of these people. I was a body. I was being presented to someone, to do what they wanted with.
“What happened to me changed my life – and not for the better,” he added, and appeared to break down on camera.
Two former US prosecutors, Brad Edwards and Elizabeth Geddes, have called for an investigation to determine whether charges for sex trafficking should be brought, after independently reviewing the BBC’s evidence.
The men described the middleman they met as missing part of his nose, which he covered with a snakeskin patch. The BBC has identified him as James Jacobson.
David Bradberry, then 23, said he was introduced to Mr Jacobson by an agent who described him as the gatekeeper to “the owners” of A&F in 2010, but said there was no mention of sex.
At their meeting, he said Mr Jacobson suggested A&F’s official photographer should take his picture. Then, Mr Bradberry said: “Jim made it clear to me that unless I let him perform oral sex on me, that I would not be meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries.”
“I was paralysed,” he said. “It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance.”
Mr Jacobson said in a statement through his lawyer that he took offence at the suggestion of “any coercive, deceptive or forceful behaviour on my part” and had “no knowledge of any such conduct by others”.
The 70-year-old said he did not recall making promises of modelling opportunities.
“Any encounter I had was fully consensual,” he said. “Everyone I came into contact with who attended these events went in with their eyes wide open.”
Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith did not respond to repeated requests to comment on the allegations by the BBC and did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request to comment.
A&F, which considers Jeffries its modern-day founder, told the BBC it was “appalled and disgusted” by his alleged behaviour. It said new leadership has transformed the company into “the values-driven organisation we are today” and it has “zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind”. – Guardian