Rape of Model Points up Fashion's Dark Side

March 3, 2001 -- Blond, with that in-demand innocent schoolgirl look, a 15-year-old model from Slovenia came to Milan with hopes of gracing magazine covers. Instead, she says she found herself caught up in a circle of partying and drugs and was raped and wound up in a hospital.

The case, coming in the middle of fashion shows in Milan, is the latest scandal involving the dark side of Italy's fashion capital: a not-so-underground world of parties, cocaine, easy sex and — of course — models.

"This life corresponds to the idea of success these girls have," Silvia Ranzi, a booking agent at Flash Model Management, the agency that hired the girl, said today.

'Abundant Cocaine and Alcohol'

The scandal has evoked the case of Terry Broome, an American model who was convicted of murdering a Milan playboy in 1984. The Broome story was laced with accounts of abundant cocaine and alcohol, and insiders say things have only gotten wilder.

In 1998, a 19-year-old Israeli beauty queen was raped at knifepoint while in Italy to audition for modeling jobs. An Israeli travel agent was convicted in the case.

Prosecutor Marco Ghezzi is seeking the indictment of two Flash Model executives, saying they did not properly look after the young Slovenian model. But many in the fashion industry blamed the girl's father, who brought her to Milan then headed back home after a week.

Representatives of the agency called themselves "victims of fashion-world parasites" and said they could not be expected to replace the girl's parents.

"I wouldn't even leave a 15-year-old girl with nuns," said Beppe Modenese, a founder of Milan fashion week. "Her parents just shouldn't have left her alone."

The girl was first spotted in Slovenia during a modeling casting.

"She was dressed like a schoolgirl: blue suit, white stockings, no heels," recounted Massimo Mandelli, one of the two executives accused in the case. "I thought she had what it takes."

Playboys, Discos and More Cocaine

A few months later, in October, she arrived in Milan and landed at Mandelli's agency. In business since 1984, Flash Model is well known in the fashion world and for representing such tennis stars as Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis in Italian advertising campaigns.

The girl from Slovenia posed for photographers to build her "book," the portfolio young models need to attract designers.

After her father left, the girl was given a cellular phone and an apartment to share with a model from California. By the girl's account, according to the prosecutor, a few days later she was taking cocaine, hanging out with playboys and going to discos until the early hours.

"It is a dangerous world out there," Ann Christiane Peine, a 19-year-old model from Germany, said after a fashion show. "You shouldn't start too young, not before 18 when you are much more responsible."

Prosecutor Ghezzi, in a telephone interview, said the Slovenian model told him she was raped by a man in the bathroom of one of Milan's fashionable nightclubs.

She told Ghezzi she had consented to "many" sex acts with other men on previous nights and to taking drugs.

"Fifteen-year-olds who are in Italy seeking work and don't speak the language need to be protected, even against their own will," Ghezzi said. "Someone must be held responsible."

The girl developed a vaginal infection and went to a hospital accompanied by Ranzi, the booking agent, where she told doctors her story.

Police and the prosecutor were then alerted.

Ghezzi has accused the two agency executives, Mandelli and Alberto Righini, with abandonment of minors, a charge usually applied in the case of children under age 14. But it can be extended to anyone else deemed unable to care for themselves, and Ghezzi argues that applies to the teen-age model.

Armani Sides With Prosecution

A judge must now decide whether or not to indict the executives.

Giorgio Armani, one of the biggest names in the industry, supported the prosecutor.

"I agree with those who say that the agencies should have the legal role of looking after models who are minors during the time parents entrust them to the agencies," he was quoted as saying in Italian newspapers.

More than one designer has called for a minimum age of 16 for models, like France has.

The girl has returned to Slovenia and, according to Ghezzi, is undergoing counseling.

The two executives fend off the accusations, blaming not only the father, but what they called a "playboy network" surrounding the fashion world.

"In Italy, a model can live without spending a penny. From breakfast to restaurants and discos, they can get everything for free," Mandelli said.