You may find this image aesthetically pleasing, but behind it is a story many models will relate to…
At a shoot, which happened very recently, an agency represented, fashion label owning photographer made comments about the ‘fishy’ scent of my vagina, flicked and fondled my nipples, coerced me into undressing more than I had wanted to, talked to me about sexual experiences he had had, and was generally inappropriate with and far too physically close to me many times.
What happened may not seem like a huge deal in a world where women are raped regularly, where #MeToo is trending, where Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted so many women, for so many years, just because he could.
But female discomfort too often is disregarded, we have been conditioned to think that maybe it’s okay, or necessary, to get where we want to. It is not. No one (of any gender) should be sexually assaulted, regardless of where on the hierarchy of this sort of thing, said assault lies.
At the time of the shoot I was at first stunned and taken aback. So I said nothing. After failed attempts to wrap up, as he kept suggesting we go to the beach for further shooting and I caved, I simply acted normally so as to avoid further discomfort and harassment, so I could finish and leave safely.
I was so mad at myself when I left. I had said nothing. I felt I had been weak, I had not been clear. My discomfort was physically visible as I froze and leaned away, but I had not told him no. But then and now I have realised what is clear as day; consent is not a given. This is the whole point of consent, it must be given rather than assumed. Especially in professional circumstances, there is no way anything I previously mentioned could be thought of as acceptable.
I told a friend about what had happened. I was cautious, I knew where I was, everyone seemed to love this person. In fact, when I mentioned it to some other people later that week at an event, when I was asked how my shoot with this ‘great guy’ had gone, it was sometimes shaken off as him just being a bit of a weird (but still great) guy.
At this event, this photographer asked to speak to me privately about what was wrong (I had been ignoring him as I was extremely uncomfortable). When my friend ‘filled him in’ as to why I was avoiding him, he became upset and apologised profusely, begging to be able to speak to me and say sorry, continuing to try find me when he had been told I was not comfortable seeing him. When he finally left I received many messages from him.
This apologetic display made me feel guilty, maybe he didn’t mean to? Was it my fault? Should I not tell my agent after all? But for his apology to have been sincere, he must have really not known what he did was wrong. And I cannot fathom how touching someone’s breasts without consent, in a work environment, could be seen as anything other than wrong, crossing many lines.
So I told my agent. I told the police. And now I’m telling what tiny section of the world will see this.
Why? For the safety of others who may come to be in my position otherwise. For the emotional well-being, for the hope that others who have already been in my position, will too tell their story.
My time is more valuable spent helping the world and working than it is spending lots of money in court for the potential defamation charge I could get for sharing this persons name. So I will not. Instead, I will say that people know already, and I hope this information spreads through the industry.
I hope that this post encourages other people to feel they can speak their truth. Talk to your friends. Your agents. The police. Do not let predatory people win just because they may seem powerful. Because there is stigma around making waves and speaking up. Because people may not believe you. Our truths are more powerful together. Our truths can protect us. You never know who else may share the same story, with the same assailant.
Many people suggest that people (often women) make up such claims for attention. But when so much of this attention is negative; disbelief, anger, protection of the assailant, why would someone make this up? What would we benefit from this sharing of truth?
Silence only ever benefits the oppressor. Sexual assault thrives in darkness, behind closed doors, in unspoken secrets. But no more. In order to create a safe world in the fashion industry, in all industries, we must speak up when something is wrong. I want to live in a world, work in an industry, where speaking up and demanding safety is expected, rather than seen as taboo. #TimesUp