Over the last decade, photographer Terry Richardson has been accused of sexually assaulting women. His work is notorious for its features of nudity and vast sexual innuendos. He has worked with celebrities like the Kardashians, pop stars like Miley Cyrus and, wait for it, former United States President Barack Obama, for Vibe magazine. As reported by The Telegraph on Oct. 23, Conde Nast International has implemented its official Richardson embargo and will no longer feature his pictures on its leading magazines, such as GQ and Vogue — the latter reportedly not having worked with the photographer since 2010. But, why now? Why only in 2017?
In the midst of models accusing Richardson of harassment, the internet is taking it upon itself to accuse Richardson of his predatory, so-called art. The 52-year-old wrote a blog for the Huffington Post as a way to correct the rumors, according to Richardson. What Richardson did was write a reminiscent retelling of his inspirational move to New York City to portray life in the East Village (note the sarcasm). But, the cherry on top of his account lies in his concluding statements: “Believing such rumors at face value does a disservice not only to the spirit of artistic endeavor, but most importantly, to the real victims of exploitation and abuse.” While real victims of real abuse made real accusations against a real predator, Richardson attempts to join the social activism trope by turning his statement into a defense for those he claims to be real victims.
But who are those real victims of exploitation and abuse? What does it mean to be a real victim? Is a woman who is catcalled on her way to class a real victim? Is a woman offered a shoot in Vogue in exchange for sex a real victim? While two-thirds of sexual assault cases are reported to the police, only 20 percent of female college student victims report their assault cases. Out of the cases that are reported, 13 out of 1,000 cases are referred to prosecutors, and seven cases will lead to felony convictions. Is it clear why this is only happening now?
It is pretty obvious that the numbers do not add up. Women have come forth in denouncing their abusers, but they are still not heard. Models reported Richardson years prior to Conde Nast’s statement, and nothing had happened then. Instead, Richardson was given a platform to argue his case, defend his so-called artistic endeavors and deny accusations. What has now changed is the rise of the Weinstein phenomenon. After vast accusations against Harvey Weinstein have proven to be true, big names in the industry have been doing the absolute most to show their lack of support for the producer.
And so the epidemic has bled into the fashion industry, Richardson being its Weinstein. And so I pose the question: is Conde Nast rising against sexual assault in the fashion industry and in favor of victims or caring for its own reputation? Only once the number of reported and prosecuted assaults increases will I trust that influencers actually care about women’s safety and well-being.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 30 print edition. Email Giovanna Trabasso at [email protected]