That Whole Terry Richardson Situation (and How to Protect Yourself Against Sexual Pressure)

Editor’s Note: The allegations against photographer Terry Richardson from last week disturbed many in our community and we received quite a few contributions on the topic. Today, we’re running two of the best. You can find another take right here.

In case you’re not up to speed on this whole Terry Richardson scandal, last week, model Charlotte Waters came forward with super creep-nasty details about her first and last test shoot with the famed photog, and all I can say is WHAT THE ACTUAL F. TRIGGER WARNING: You can read the interview here, but it’s not for young eyes or the faint of heart.

Richardson’s body of work is extremely sexual in content, and last Friday, he responded to the allegations by defending his art and professionalism, stating:

“I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly.”

Let’s start off by saying this: As creepy as Waters’ shoot details seem, I’m still inclined to agree with that type of statement, that adults are capable of making their own decisions. Implying otherwise is incredibly demeaning, and is basically the equivalent of calling someone a child. I’m sure if you tried telling a grown-ass nude model NOT to take off her clothes for middle-aged photographers with questionable facial hair, her response would be something similar to Richardson’s statement regarding free will.

In her interview recounting the events, Waters never says that she objected, or even hesitated to meet Richardson’s alleged requests. She doesn’t state that Richardson ever told her she had to perform these acts, and she never mentions the threat of force or physical violence. She describes herself after the alleged incident as “having a full-blown panic attack” and states that after speaking with NYPD: “[The incident] wasn’t a crime situation because I never said ‘No.’ So Richardson’s off the hook. It kind of sucks.” The saddest part here is that it sounds like she really wanted to say no, but didn’t. And maybe that’s the thing we all need to learn from this: Why didn’t she?

I’m sure you can name an instance when you or someone you know was pressured into doing something sexual that was later a source of deep shame and painful regret. You read stories about Girls Gone Wild subjects later suing the company, even though they consented to being filmed ON ACTUAL FILM. But no one can deny that in some moments, there is a palpable, unspoken pressure that guides young people to do things that they are completely not okay doing. And the simple truth is that young people need to be empowered before they encounter these situations to ensure they don’t make decisions they’ll later regret.

It’s important to state here that this post is not about sexual or physical violence and/or abuse, and I will not be discussing those topics here. And it is most definitely not about blaming the victim. This is about Sexual Pressure and how we deal with it. Sexual Pressure is sneakier, often less obvious and less aggressive, but it can still result in feeling completely violated and out of control. It’s an act that is sometimes so subtle, it doesn’t feel like pressure at all. It’s disguised in the momentum of an “experience” and can feel like a natural chain of events is just naturally unfolding. In situations like dating (or in this case, work that involves naked bodies), where you want to impress or please someone, it’s easy to feel like your objections would be a disruption. That you’re being a prude. That this was what you signed up for and it’s too late to turn back.

If you are receiving pressure to do something sexual, always remember that you have a voice and should use it. I don’t say this to undermine anyone who was in a similar situation and didn’t say “no” due to fear or embarrassment. I say it simply to remind you that you have power, because it is the easiest thing to forget in these situations. It might be easier for you to say “I’m not comfortable with that” than straight up saying “No”, but “No” is the surest way to communicate that THIS S**T AIN’T GONNA FLY.

Having a frank discussion with yourself about your values or boundaries is important for anyone, young or old(er). I have actress friends who say they refuse to do nudity. “But what if the scene calls for you to be topless, but won’t actually show your breasts?” “What if you’re wearing lingerie but have to simulate a sex act? Are you comfortable with those situations?” Playing out these scenarios in your head to determine your exact boundaries, what EXACTLY you’re comfortable with means you won’t have to decide on the spot. This is especially useful if you have a job that is sexual in nature, but the same goes for dating! If you like a guy but know you’re not ready for some topless make-out action, remind yourself of your personal boundaries before the date so it will be easier to say no later. If you have the opportunity to discuss these boundaries with the appropriate parties beforehand, even better. It gives you a chance to assert your control before wandering into any ambiguous situations.

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