Terry Richardson, while far from having a pristine rep, is often given the benefit of the doubt. When rumors circulate about his notoriously creepy behavior during shoots, they’re often discussed skeptically, as though the end product justifies the means. Because if he were really so bad, why would already-famous celebrities (and the current leader of the free world) who have nothing to gain consent to work with him? But when those whispers of on-set sleaziness turn into accusations of molestation and sexual harassment and can be traced to a real person, with a real face and a real name, everything changes. At least, it should.
Earlier this week, 24-year-old Charlotte Waters gave an interview to Vocativ, where she recounted her horrific experience modeling for Terry Richardson in 2009. She’d already written about it anonymously on Reddit about a week ago (it’s since been removed), but the interview is the first time her name and face have been connected to her post.
As a 19-year-old art student, Waters had already posed nude for well-known photographers Richard Kern and Ron English as a side job, both of whom she described as professional and that “the power was balanced. I didn’t feel like he had control over me.” After she found a link on Richardson’s website where models could submit a photo for consideration to be shot, she received a prompt response asking her to come in to Richardson’s SoHo studio.
What unfolded there in March 2009 was worse than any rumor we’d heard so far. In the beginning of the shoot, Richardson started by putting his hand on Waters’ face and then inserted his thumb into her mouth. As she was slowly removing her clothes, Richardson and his (female) assistant complimented her, which Waters said was unusual and felt like an “effort to make this little 19-year-old girl feel like she is this amazing, special person.” Afterwards, Waters was directed to unbutton his pants, hold his penis, squeeze his balls, and perform oral sex on him before he came into her face. “It seemed like they had done this a million times,” she says.
It was only after Waters revealed that she had a boyfriend that Richardson seemed to be interested in Waters herself. He responded (while smiling), “Oh wow, I’m so sorry! I always mean to ask that first,” and the assistant replied, “Oh, we should have asked that!” “It was a complete slap in the face,” says Waters.
As she left the studio, the assistant insisting on riding in the cab with her and offered to pay for it, while comforting her in the car. Later that night, Waters experienced a panic attack so intense that her roommate had to call an ambulance. Her mother then drove to Brooklyn from upstate and took her home, where she ended up telling her boyfriend what had happened. Luckily, he was furious with Richardson rather than Waters.
While Waters has since moved to L.A. and now works as a nurse’s assistant, she recently filed a report with the NYPD but declined to press charges. However, the detective said the event couldn’t be considered a crime because Waters never said no.
It’s not the first time a model has come forward against Richardson. Jamie Peck wrote a first-person account of her experience for TheGloss way back in 2010, and it’s just as troubling. Both women, neither of whom got paid, it should be noted, came forward for the sole purpose of helping other girls to learn from their experiences. But the unfortunate truth is that Richardson can likely do whatever he pleases until celebrities and industry folk, who act as role models for aspiring models, stop commissioning him to be professionally creepy. Saying “no” is far less of an option for an anonymous college student than, say, Beyoncé or Barack Obama (or literally every famous person ever). Let’s just hope this is the last of such accounts we have to hear. But something tells me that until it happens to someone like Kate Upton, Terry Richardson is free to be everyone’s favorite creepy uncle.
Read the full interview here.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa