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So, nobody is going to do anything about Terry Richardson.
In March 2011, after a bevy of female models went public with personal accounts of being sexually assaulted by Richardson while on set, Fashionista published a story in which one anonymous fashion insider was quoted saying: “This will all blow over…” Now, less than a year after the allegations were made, their nameless commenter has been proven correct. Richardson’s career remains untarnished, blossoming even –it’s not hard to find headlines about him on a daily basis. Style icon Chloe Sevigny dressed up as the renowned fashion photographer for Candy magazine’s latest cover, Vogue Hommes International’s Fall/Winter 2011 editorial features his self-portraits, and he lent Beyonce his signature thick-framed glasses for a goofy shoot that has the blogosphere giggling with delight. Based on recent publicity alone, it looks like Richardson is likely to be elected Homecoming Queen, President, and The New Santa Claus all at once.
Such vibrant appreciation of a talented photographer would be far easier to swallow if it wasn’t for the elephant of Richardson’s sexual assault allegations looming around his photography studio. According to firsthand accounts published in The Gloss and Jezebel, this is the guy who decided to whip his pants off in front of model and University Freshman Jamie Peck and demand she give him her tampon (to make “tampon tea” out of, obviously) and a handjob while his assistants egged her on. The guy who literally ran away after model Rie Rasmussen confronted him about his degrading treatment of young girls, encouraging them to outdo one another with sexual poses, as well as favours, in order to land coveted cover shoots. The one who has built himself a reputation of hyper-sexualisation that has apparently transcended the art of photography and entered into his professional relationships with models.
Richardson’s openness about the sexual nature of his photos has led supporters to leap to his defense against allegations of sexual misconduct. As dismissively noted by The Daily Beast, “everyone in fashion knows Terry Richardson, 44, messes around with the girls he photographs… they know it directly from Terry.” The implication being that because Richardson is powerful, openly fancies himself some kind of hipster playboy, and indeed enjoys the sexual favours of many young girls hoping that a Terry Richardson blow job will kick-start their careers, that any girl ever subjected to his advances has only themselves to blame. Of course, Richardson is allowed to do creepyass things with anyone he wants, granted that person is over 18, a willing participant, and he doesn’t bully them into it with his helium voice, 3ft wang, and parade of perma enthusiastic clapping-monkey assistants. Yet the fact that so many models willingly do offer themselves to such an influential photographer doesn’t make the harassment claim of a single girl invalid.
It is hardly puritanical and artistically limiting to demand a professional environment for models, a particularly vulnerable professional group due to their almost mandated youth, to work in. While nudity is undeniably often a necessary aspect of modeling, being coerced into performing sex acts on someone who wields as much professional power as Richardson, isn’t art, it’s abuse.
Granted, as no charges have been filed against Richardson as of yet, the claims against him are simply that — allegations. But reputations have been formed and lost on far less than multiple accusations of sexual assault. So why is it that Richardson’s sex scandal was barely even treated like one? The adage of no publicity being bad comes to mind, but unlike the often cited case of Kate Moss’s fame erupting after her cocaine use went public, Richardson’s infractions aren’t personal and thereby limited to affecting himself alone— if what these girls say is true, he actively infringes upon the rights and lives of largely defenceless young girls. Yet every time a girl complains about being molested by him, Richardson basically gets a hair tousle and a lollipop from the fashion industry. He’s everyone’s favourite scamp.
That’s just the thing, isn’t it?
Who cares if Richardson is a pervert? And so what if hot young models are sexy and look totally doable all the time? That’s totally irrelevant. What matters is that his high-profile allows him to normalize abuse within the modelling profession. Certainly girls have been molested before Terry, and they will continue to be after, but these cases will gather frequency as repercussions remain minimal—all anyone sees are racier pictures, belying racier atmospheres on professional sets, and Terry Richardson’s big smarmy thumbs up condoning pushing the boundaries of objectification forever on.
Unfortunately, instances of assault perpetrated against models by their professional superiors are quietly acknowledged to occur frequently within the fashion industry. Former model Carré Otis has revealed in her new memoir, Beauty Disrupted, that at the age of 17 she was repeatedly raped by Gérald Marie, her agent at the time and the boss of Elite Paris, one of the world’s top agencies. In a barely publicized 2009 incident, designer Anand Jon was convicted of 16 accounts of child molestation, all of which were perpetrated on underage models. As Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian “The fashion industry’s real dirty secret is the sexual abuse of models… when I spoke to models and editors about the (Anand Jon) case, the only surprise they expressed was not at what he had done, but that the models had come forward at all.” By turning a blind eye to cases such as Richardson’s, in which claims by girls were quickly dismissed by the media, and careers were destroyed (if anyone ever says the name “Rie Rasmussen” anymore it’s invariably in the same sentence as “is a big crazy who picked on poor Terry, that ho”) we tacitly condone the routine sexual exploitation evidentially riddling the fashion industry. Young models who fear sabotaging their own careers by getting on Richardson’s potent bad side have little or no recourse to report their mistreatment. Meanwhile Richardson continues to have easy access to legions of pretty, naive, and vulnerable teenagers.