Lindsay Jones never planned to speak publicly about her experiences with prolific fashion photographer Terry Richardson. The New York City-based designer and model considers herself a private person. She never wanted to harm anyone’s livelihood or hurt her own career or “cause drama” by divulging her story, she says.
But some stories are too important to stay buried forever ― especially at a moment when thousands of accounts, some similar to the one Jones has kept close to her chest, are being excavated.
“I have been sitting there quiet … for a long time,” Jones told HuffPost. No more.
Jones contacted HuffPost last month to talk about Richardson, famous for shooting the likes of Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lena Dunham, Oprah Winfrey, James Franco, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Jared Leto, Kate Moss and former President Barack Obama. During several phone conversations, Jones recalled how she met the photographer in either 2007 or 2008 for what she thought was a 10 a.m. coffee. She said she ended up leaving his studio in tears after Richardson cornered her, pulled out his penis and assaulted her.
She said she chose to come forward now because she believes it could help other women ― specifically younger women entering the modeling and fashion industry today. Though Jones stressed that the culture of predatory men in fashion includes more than just Richardson, he is certainly emblematic of the problem. The photographer has faced public allegations of sexual misconduct and assault for nearly a decade, but he has denied the abuse accusations and has continued to get work from major brands and publications.
Many of his defenders, (and Richardson himself) reason that the incidents happened during the making of sexually charged art, when lines supposedly get blurred. But Jones’ story is different. In her telling, Richardson assaulted her after she’d barely gotten in the door.
Through his attorney, Lisa M. Buckley, Richardson “adamantly” denied Jones’ allegations. In a letter, Buckley referred to Jones as “an opportunistic publicity seeker” and said her account of the incident is “completely inconsistent with her actions over the ensuing years.” Buckley cited emails sent by Jones in which she asked to model for Richardson, retweets from Jones’ Twitter account and two comments on an Instagram post.
When presented with Buckley’s letter, Jones told HuffPost via text, “It still happened so I’m not [too] alarmed.” Of her wish to work with Richardson after the alleged assault, Jones said, “I was brainwashed into thinking it was good for my career but I feel more empowered now.”
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Jones said she first met Richardson outside of Balthazar, an expensive and perpetually sceney French restaurant in New York, sometime in 2007. Richardson was with a friend, sitting on a bench outside the restaurant. Jones said they began speaking after he motioned her over and asked where she was from. They talked about Utah ― Jones is from Utah, and Richardson told her he had an ex-girlfriend who grew up there ― and he expressed interest in doing a photo shoot with her. He was already a well-known photographer, and Jones, a longtime model and emerging designer, was intrigued. She gave him her number, and they started texting about scheduling over the following few weeks.
That’s when Jones began to feel nervous. She knew that Richardson did traditional fashion shoots, but she had also seen photos of his that were more risque, even what she considered “vulgar.” Richardson was ― and is ― well known for these hyper-sexualized photos, some of which feature him engaging in sex acts. Jones was wary of the style. She was married at the time to a man she describes as French and “super traditional,” and she was worried that if she was photographed in an explicit way, it would upset her husband. At the time, she had not heard any stories about Richardson being abusive toward the models he worked with.
“I’m very much into art and curating and design,” said Jones. “I’m very much OK with the nude body … even erotic artwork I like sometimes. But there was an element to this particular artwork that had a real vulgarity to it that I was uncomfortable with.”
So instead of automatically agreeing to work with Richardson, Jones asked if they could meet for coffee to discuss the shoot’s mood. He said yes and told her to come to his Bowery studio (which was also his apartment) on a weekday, around 10 a.m.
As soon as she arrived at the studio, Jones said, things took a dark turn. She said she was cornered almost immediately by Richardson, who had a dog with him.
“He didn’t let me pass the doorway,” she said. “If anything, he more, like, cornered me in the doorway with his dog and told me to get on my knees immediately. No ‘How are you?’ No coffee offered. No ‘Welcome to my office. This is my bedroom. How was your day? Can I take your bag?’ ― nothing. It was only, ‘Get on your knees.’”
Jones was so startled and scared ― a “deer in the headlights,” as she described it ― that she acquiesced and got on her knees. “Now that I’m older, maybe I would have ran out,” she said, engaging in a familiar kind of “what if” mental exercise. “I just didn’t feel very secure.”
Once Jones was on her knees, she said, Richardson pulled out his penis and told her to “suck his dick.” She told HuffPost that he then attempted to force his penis into her eye socket. He did this with such force that Jones remembers thinking that he might have given her a black eye. “I just wanted it to be over so I could leave,” she said, later adding: “He kind of turned me into … [in] that moment I was at his disposal, as a commodity.”
Richardson eventually masturbated to completion, said Jones, ejaculating in her mouth after ordering her to “swallow it like a good girl.” After the assault, Jones said, Richardson immediately told her to leave his apartment, directing her to pull up her low-riding pants on her way out. (She remained clothed during the assault.) Richardson never even brought up the photo shoot they were supposed to discuss.
“He was like, ‘You need to leave. I have a meeting. Pull your pants up,’” said Jones. Despite rarely crying before that, Jones remembers leaving the studio in tears, walking down to Canal Street and weeping on the sidewalk.
Over the following five weeks, Jones said, Richardson would text her sexually explicit requests, asking her again to “suck his dick.” After the fifth text, she responded “no” and deleted his number. She said she deleted the texts, too.
Jones’ experience with Richardson bears similarities to allegations made by other women against the photographer. In 2010, model Jamie Peck accused Richardson of getting naked during a photoshoot and telling her to touch his penis. In 2014, Anna del Gaizo accused the photographer of pressing his penis repeatedly into the side of her face during a photoshoot, and model Sena Cech described a “revolting and humiliating” professional experience during which, she said, Richardson’s assistant asked her “to grab his penis and twist it really hard.”
Despite the wide airing given these stories over the past several years, only in the last few months has Richardson begun to face lasting consequences. In October, both Condé Nast and Hearst cut ties with the photographer. (Richardson had reportedly already shot the January 2018 cover of Elle magazine.) Diesel dropped him, as did Valentino and Bulgari. (Other brands, including H&M, vowed to stop working with the photographer back in 2013.) But Richardson has continued to associate himself with smaller publications, such as Document Journal, Purple Magazine and CR Fashion Book (former Vogue Paris Editor-in-Chief Carine Roitfeld’s magazine) as recently as October. HuffPost contacted all three publications to ask if they planned to work with Richardson in the future and received no response.
The photographer also maintains representation through Art Partner and an ongoing relationship with Galerie Perrotin in New York and Paris. Perrotin did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
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In the immediate aftermath, Jones said, she kept the incident to herself and never considered reporting it to the police or her agency. After all, she still worked in the fashion industry ― an industry in which Richardson was a known, powerful entity.
This reaction is a fairly common one. According to a 2012 report put out by The Model Alliance, 86.8 percent of models reported having been asked to pose nude without advance notice, nearly 30 percent of models said they had experienced inappropriate touching on the job and 28 percent said they had been pressured to have sex with someone at work. Most of these models said they hadn’t reported these incidents to anyone ― in part because they didn’t believe their agencies would be responsive or even see an issue.
Eventually though, Jones did confide in someone: her best friend, musician and model Sibyl Buck.
Buck confirmed to HuffPost that she and Jones discussed the incident several times over the years, and she recalled their first conversation happening around 2008. “What really struck me as so repulsive is that she described how he was abusive with his dick,” Buck said. She also told HuffPost that “everybody knew” in the fashion industry the stories of Richardson’s abusive behavior ― though before Jones confided in her, Buck had only heard generalized accounts about the photographer.
Jones said she has interacted with Richardson only once since the “coffee meeting.” In September 2013, she was hired to model for the Diesel Playboy calendar, which Richardson was shooting. She grappled with whether to take the job but eventually decided to, feeling it was a smart career move. (More well-known models, such as Stella Maxwell, participated.) She also assumed there would be a large production team, which meant Richardson would probably behave. (“Around celebrities he doesn’t act the same way,” said Jones.)
When she got to the shoot, Richardson introduced himself as though they had never met. At some point, they discussed Utah again, and Jones remembers Richardson talking about his father.
“I can see why people like him,” said Jones. “I’m sure he has this really great, charismatic, creative side. It’s just that he still did the other thing.”
Jones has spoken about her interactions with Richardson to a handful of people besides Buck. In October 2014, she did a shoot with a prominent filmmaker who was researching the worst things that have happened to people living in New York. The filmmaker, who prefers to remain anonymous, asked Jones on camera about her worst day. She told him about that morning with Richardson, later naming her attacker off-camera. The footage was never used in a film, but it still exists. The filmmaker confirmed the date and existence of the footage, as well as Jones’ account of her experience with Richardson to HuffPost.
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Even as allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault have piled up against Richardson over the past decade, he’s continued to find work and success in his industry. Buck believes he’s remained somewhat untouchable because of his status as a boundary-pushing artist.
“Artists are traditionally allowed to be whatever weird way that makes them able to make the art that people appreciate,” said Buck. “He’s not an executive. He’s not someone that people are entrusting millions of dollars to. He’s someone that people hire to do what he does. And what he does is this creepy version of fashion.”
Jones’ traumatic experience with Richardson, as well as a subsequent incident with another photographer that she declined to discuss, left her permanently cautious around male photographers.
“I would warn the whole of the world: I would not enter a photographer’s studio unless there is a huge team there,” she said. “I’m a little PTSD, probably, but I never feel safe entering anyone’s apartment alone ever anymore. I carry pepper spray. I don’t like to enter apartments unless there’s a whole team with a creative director and a call sheet with very top-level production. I won’t go to someone’s house and talk to them about a shoot unless they’re a friend I’ve known for a very long time. Even if they have notoriety ― because a lot of the time, when they have notoriety it’s even worse.”
I’m a little PTSD, probably, but I never feel safe entering anyone’s apartment alone ever anymore. I carry pepper spray. Lindsay Jones
Jones stressed that, while the story she is sharing now is about Richardson, she believes the fashion industry’s problem with predatory behavior extends further.
“For straight, male photographers ― and a lot of them I love to work with, a lot of them are great ― I do feel like there’s a trend,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of it ― these kind of ‘photo guys’ in action. And, like I said, it’s a much bigger problem than just Terry. A lot of the top people, and everyone under them too.”
The founder of The Model Alliance, Sara Ziff, agrees with this assessment. Ziff, who began modeling when she was 14 years old, saw firsthand the conditions that leave models “uniquely vulnerable” to sexual harassment and abuse.
In the modeling industry, the labor force skews young and female. (A 2012 Model Alliance report found that the majority of models begin their careers from ages 13 to 16.) And because models are often considered independent contractors, these young women and men aren’t afforded the same protections against sexual harassment in the workplace that full-time employees receive under federal law. It is common practice for modeling agencies to consider themselves management companies rather than employment agencies, which critics say allows these agencies to avoid being accountable for models’ safety, as well as to escape licensing requirements and sidestep commission limits. Moreover, the industry’s convoluted system ― in which clients usually book models through agencies, agencies usually cut the checks to the models, but then the models are typically not considered employees of the agencies or the clients ― means that models can simply slip through the cracks of labor laws.
Ziff is currently working with New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic to pass the Models Harassment Protection Act, which would formally extend workplace protections against sexual harassment to models. Ziff and The Model Alliance feel so strongly about closing the legal loopholes because they believe sexual harassment is widespread.
“[Models] are working in what is often a very predatory environment,” said Ziff. “They’re working with much older male photographers. Often they’re being put on the spot to pose nude or semi-nude with absolutely no warning.”
Agencies often tell models that they don’t have to do anything that they don’t want to do, that they should simply walk away or call their agent if they feel uncomfortable during a shoot. But Ziff pointed out that’s often easier said than done, especially when models are dealing with industry power brokers like Terry Richardson, who can make or break their careers. That’s why one of the first things Ziff did when she launched The Model Alliance in 2012 was to set up a grievance reporting service for models. More than five years later, Ziff said, she gets questions and complaints nearly every day.
Through their reporting service, The Model Alliance advises models and connects them with the necessary support services and legal resources. Ziff usually recommends that models pursue channels of recourse that don’t involve the press; however, she also believes that “sunlight is the best disinfectant, and as people have been raising awareness on social media and speaking out to reporters, it’s been harder and harder for the industry to ignore.”
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Jones knows that there will be people who will question why she waited 10 years to come forward with her story. For years she was afraid to stir up drama or cause irrevocable harm to her career. But in 2017, she’s older and more independent, no longer convinced that her livelihood requires the buy-in of powerful men.
Terry Richardson “may be more powerful than me in the industry, but he doesn’t have that power over me anymore,” Jones said. “Whatever it was in my younger, more docile, aspiring, youthful self that I thought I needed from [powerful men] or the industry or their approval that I accept[ed] this treatment as part of the way it is, I don’t believe that anymore.”
Part of what pushed Jones to come forward now is the feeling that the culture is shifting, too. Millions have shared their #MeToo stories on social media. The “Silence Breakers” are Time’s Person of the Year. After a decade of worrying that speaking up might cost her her career, Jones thinks people might be ready to listen.
“What’s happening right now is some kind of movement. There is some kind of strength in numbers,” Jones said. “Maybe it can make a ping of a difference in the world in a positive way eventually if we start to stand up for ourselves a little bit. So I guess that’s the real hope.”