TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT
The past few month have brought us shocking claims that have stirred conversations that we need to have. The outings of rapists have surged, as have, shockingly, the oustings. What is not shocking, however, is the amount of women coming forward with accusations, because we know this happens. We know that in all professions, especially within the entertainment industry, there is this need to form a secret society amongst women. It's not fair for us, but it's survival. Warn each other about predators, but never openly, so you do not risk your career. But, the industries that so often fail to punish abusers have taken a tiny, tiny, step forward -- they've been doing the bare-minimum by expelling those who have been accused (at least... publicly so). Aaaaaaand the latest douche to face the music happens to be notable creep Terry Richardson. Finally.
In case you haven't been privy to the deplorable habits recounted by many models, Richardson has accusations against him going back almost a decade with evidence that he coerced models into performing sexual acts on photoshoots. Coercion is a form of sexual assault. While Richardson is known for sexual and provocative images, using that to justify his actions -- as some have already started to -- is to say that women embracing their sexuality gives men permission to harass them. That's not what we're focusing on here, though: let's put the blame where it deserves. "Uncle Terry" (creepy, I know) has repeatedly denied allegations, but it doesn't really help his case that model after model refused to work with him, nor that he was quoted in 2007 saying, “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing”. His reputation was well known: Caryn Franklin, former editor of i-D, implied that what Richardson was doing was an open secret. “People were cagey", she recalled. "Everyone knew someone who knew something.”
So people knew of his behavior. That, today, has lead to people calling the now disgraced photographer the "Harvey Weinstein of fashion". We could use so many variations of this. Richardson could be the "O'Riley of fashion". The "Woody Allen of fashion". The "Oliver Stone of fashion". And that's the very problem. Yes, O'Riley was a conservative newsman who lived and breathed the legacy of men like Richard Ailes, and yes, Harvey Weinstein was a prominent democratic donor, and we can argue all day which side of politics is more complicit -- but this is not a political issue. It's a people issue, specifically people in power. Cover up after cover up, settlement after settlement, survivors (mainly woman-identifying) have been forced to be silent.
Now, a change is starting to occur. Valentino, one of Richardson's closest collaborators, has finally severed their relationship. Condé Nast International has severed their relationship as well, banning his work from all publications. And we can celebrate this, because it's exciting, but we should reflect on how long it took for change to happen. Caryn Franklin's blog reports she had been trying to speak out for four years, only to be met with censorship and hesitation. Jamie Peck, Rie Rasmussen, Coco Rocha, and dozens of other girls told their agents and the media for an even longer time frame. The warning signs were there, but they were ignored or swept under the rug. Miley Cyrus frequently employed Richardson. He shot with Jared Leto, Kim Kardashian, Thom Browne, Chiara Ferragni. He even shot with Obama. One has to wonder how many people knew, and when they knew it.
As disappointing as it is to think that the voices of women have gone unheard for years, there is some good that has come out of this horrifying and triggering re-run. The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke a decade ago, brought "back" by Alyssa Milano, and propelled on Instagram by Cameron Russell (who recruited Anja Rubik, Adwoa Aboah, Amber Valetta, Ebonee Davis and Karen Elson to help her share anonymous stories), has inspired survivors to share their experiences with assault in every industry sexual assault. While it isn't a solution, it is a means of coping. It normalizes the idea of starting a dialogue.
We all deserve to be safe and be able to pursue careers without consequence. We all deserve to go to their jobs and work without the threat of a well-known "icon" ruining their career if they didn't engage in sexual activities. And in order for that change to happen, men need to get involved. Not because they have daughters, or wives, or sisters (we are leaving this mindset in 2017, please and thank you) but because it's human decency. We need them to check their friends for creepiness on all counts. This isn't to say that men don't experience sexual assault, but it's to say they have far more sway and privilege in industries, and are pretty silent compared to women/GNC folks who call out abusers more regularly.
Let Terry Richardson be the first of many men to be given the boot since the Weinstein scandal broke out. If law enforcement and the systems put in place do not shun these men, then the entertainment industry should.
Banner Image via Born in Flames