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Norwayne Anderson, a well-known agent for models, enters the University Avenue courthouse for sentencing on Sept. 15 after being convicted on five sex-related charges.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

As usual, he was sharply dressed. Pointy black shoes, blue suit, a trench coat.

And thinner now – almost gaunt. Norwayne Anderson had become the sort of man that he liked.

Supporters trailed him into the courtroom, speaking in hushed voices. The modelling agent, a fixture of Toronto's fashion scene for two decades, was facing five counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual exploitation for molesting three young male models over a dozen years.

At times, Mr. Anderson seemed almost to be enjoying himself. When his lawyer at the time, Joseph Neuberger, told the judge his client was "a lot skinnier now than he was," owing to a bout of liver disease, Mr. Anderson gave an amused snort. His insouciance would not last.

As two of his victims testified that morning in Toronto's Superior Court of Justice, Mr. Anderson's thick eyebrows knitted into a look of alarm.

The court heard about a man who lured teenagers into his care with promises of glamour and fame only to abuse them in ways that would leave marks of confusion and self-doubt for years.

Nearly 15 years after he was sexually assaulted by Mr. Anderson, one victim said, the experience had left him "messed up" and in therapy. (The names of the three men, two of whom were minors when the incidents took place, are protected by a publication ban.)

According to industry observers and insiders in Canada and the United States, it is a sequence of events that is all too common in the world of fashion – goes on in the shadows and rarely meets the spotlight of the criminal justice system. A complex of factors makes models especially vulnerable: the sexualized nature of their work, their youth and precarious position in the business, and a culture that discourages criticism of industry leaders.

Susan Scafidi, founding director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University School of Law in New York, said the surprise in Mr. Anderson's case was not the assaults, but that they were prosecuted.

Mr. Anderson denied all the allegations against him, saying he never touched his clients inappropriately. In May, a jury sided with his accusers, convicting Mr. Anderson on five of the six counts he faced. The sixth, a sexual assault charge, resulted in a hung jury.

'Part of the job'

I heard about Mr. Anderson's arrest from a friend, who e-mailed me a story about it almost exactly three years ago. He knew I would be interested – for years, I had been getting laughs with a breezy, self-deprecating story about my brush with the modelling agent.

When I was 18, one of his female employees spotted me on the street and said she liked my "look." Eager for a summer job before starting university, I accepted her offer to pose for him.

My look, however, did not please Mr. Anderson. Although I cut a waifish figure after half a year of backpacking on a tight budget, he concluded I had too much "baby fat" and needed to look more "gaunt."

By that time, the court heard, Mr. Anderson had sexually assaulted at least two male models.

The first victim he met in 1998. John Smith (victims' names have been changed) was standing on the northbound platform of the Bloor subway station with a group of friends, when a tall, Jamaican-Canadian man approached the boys and said John should consider modelling.

Instead of handing over a business card, Mr. Anderson wrote his contact information on a Lotto 649 ticket. Mr. Smith was skeptical about the offer, coming from a stranger without credentials. But he was also flattered, he recalled at the preliminary hearing and later the trial, which is documented in court transcripts.

Eventually, Mr. Smith contacted Mr. Anderson, who told him to come by his home office near Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue, and bring Polaroid self-portraits. He went alone. He was about 16.

Mr. Anderson sparked the teenager's interest with grand talk of travelling to New York and building a portfolio, and took some photos of his new client in underwear and without a shirt. Mr. Anderson assured Mr. Smith "the body was part of modelling."

It was their second or third session when Mr. Anderson had Mr. Smith change out of his boxers into a pair of briefs and asked whether he had shaved his pubic hair. When Mr. Smith said he had not, Mr. Anderson asked if he could look anyway.

"He indicated that it was of some importance that he see my penis," Mr. Smith testified.

The agent used two fingers to pull out the elastic of Mr. Smith's underwear and looked at his penis for about five seconds. Mr. Smith said he entered what he later called a "non-reactive state."

"I don't recall saying anything," he said. "Part of me took it as part of the job."

Unwanted come-ons

In an industry that revolves around the objectification of beautiful young bodies, often scantily dressed and needing to be manipulated by photographers, art directors and agents, opportunities for sexual abuse are rampant. The innocence of young models leaves them especially vulnerable, Ms. Scafidi says. "It's natural for a 16-year-old to think, 'Okay, I guess this is what we do here.' "And to want to please the grownups. And that can lead to uninformed consent."

The modelling world is rife with stories of sexual abuse and impropriety. The former supermodel Carré Otis wrote in a 2011 memoir that when she was 17, she was raped by her agent, Gérald Marie, one-time head of the model management firm Elite Europe. (Mr. Marie has never addressed the allegation, although he was forced to resign from Elite in 1999 after video surfaced showing him boasting about plans to have sex with underage models.) Accounts of unwanted come-ons by the rock-star fashion photographer Terry Richardson, meanwhile, are common. (He denies these.)

Lower-profile cases at the margins of the industry are even more common. In March and April, the Toronto photographer Mark Holland was charged with sexually assaulting five women between the ages of 15 and 27, beginning in 1994 and as recently as this year. Mr. Holland is one of at least four Toronto photographers charged with sexually assaulting female models since 2012.

Although it receives less attention, the sexual exploitation of young male models is also a problem in the industry, Ms. Scafidi said. Male models have come to the legal clinic she runs at the Fashion Law Institute looking to break off contracts because bookers or agents have sought unwanted sexual contact.

'Ooze sexuality'

At first, John Smith did not mention his experience with Mr. Anderson to anyone. In the summer of 2000, he was still represented by Norwayne Anderson Models, and attended a fashion show in Toronto's posh Yorkville neighbourhood with Mr. Anderson. That is where the modelling agent met Mark Wilson.

Mr. Wilson was also about 16 and remembers feeling "excitement" when Mr. Anderson told him he could be a model. He went to the agent's office for a photo shoot, and Mr. Anderson asked the young man to strip to his underwear and took photos.

When the photo shoot was over, Mr. Anderson sat at his dining room table and asked Mr. Wilson to come over. With his face at the teen's waist, he pulled down Mr. Wilson's boxer briefs slightly and said he should shave his pubic hair. Then he continued pulling the underwear down, and started stroking Mr. Wilson's penis.

"He spoke about being comfortable with my sexuality," Mr. Wilson later testified. Mr. Anderson said that to be a successful model, "you had to have a look of sex in your eye," and "ooze sexuality."

"I just sort of froze up," Mr. Wilson recalled. "I didn't know what to think or feel. I was in disbelief that it was happening, and I just wanted it to end."

Mr. Anderson continued, cupping Mr. Wilson's penis in his hand and moving his hand back and forth for about five minutes, trying to arouse the 16-year-old.

"I remember just trying to go somewhere else in my mind a little bit," Mr. Wilson said.

Afterward, Mr. Anderson told him the process was called "fluffing" and that it was "something that's done, in fashion … to make models feel more comfortable being sexual."

Weeks later, Mr. Anderson brought up the incident in a phone call, and asked the young man how it had made him feel.

"I remember just laughing it off nervously," he testified.

Tough love

Over the next decade, Mr. Anderson grew into an industry player, representing models who appeared in campaigns by Calvin Klein and Burberry, among many others. Mr. Anderson had a tough-love attitude toward his clients, said Marek Matwiejczuk, a wardrobe stylist and art director who has worked with Mr. Anderson and remains friends with him.

He said that approach instilled a sense of respect in his young clients. "He's sort of a mother figure. He represented a model, and he would sort of put them in their place when they needed to be put in their place," Mr. Matwiejczuk said. "He was grooming them to become stars."

Mr. Wilson became one of those stars. His career flourished with Mr. Anderson. He had shoots for fashion retailers and glossy magazines alike, and still models part-time. Mr. Anderson remained his "mother agent," setting up gigs in Toronto and relaying bookings from abroad.

The 2000 assault was never repeated, and for years, Mr. Wilson kept it to himself. He and Mr. Anderson continued to see each other socially, going to nightclubs or Mr. Anderson's King Street condo.

It is relatively common for people in the fashion industry to hold off on reporting harassment or abuse, researchers and insiders say. A veteran of the Toronto fashion scene who asked not to be named to preserve her professional relationships said she had been sexually abused in the workplace and not reported it. The precariousness of many fashion jobs leaves those on the industry's bottom rungs vulnerable to exploitation.

"There aren't many jobs in the industry where you can make a living, and the people in authority really take advantage of that," she said. "How can it go on for so long? Because people have to pay their rent. And that's the really sad truth about fashion in Canada."

Men in the fashion world face especially tall psychic barriers to reporting abuse, Ms. Scafidi said, because of persistent stigmas around male vulnerability and gay sex.

"I think perhaps the reason we hear less about it is because there is even more shame among the young men, especially the straight young men," she said. "I think there is a sense that it is less than masculine not to be able to protect yourself."

'Bad-boy look'

The tipping point came for Mr. Smith, who had long-since given up modelling, when he saw Mr. Anderson in a club with a group of young men and decided that his abuse must still be going on. Soon after, Mr. Smith called the Toronto police Sex Crimes Unit. Mr. Wilson, whom he knew, soon followed suit.

Another client also went to the police with a claim of sexual assault. In court, he testified that when Mr. Anderson was photographing him in a hallway outside the agent's office, he grabbed the young man's penis over his underwear and adjusted it without asking. Several months later, he said, Mr. Anderson touched his penis for several minutes in the agent's office.

I met Mr. Anderson in that same office, around the same time. He paid me a series of rather stilted compliments – "You have a blue-blood, bad-boy look … like Prince Harry" – and had me pose for photos with odd directions, including a request that I put my thumbs in my pockets "like Marky Mark."

But my experience with Mr. Anderson was innocuous. My father accompanied me.

In January, Mr. Anderson appeared in court to face another count of sexual assault, also against a male model, whose name is protected by a publication ban. One condition of Mr. Anderson's bail: that he not be alone with anyone under the age of 18.

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