Last week, two former models sued photographer Terry Richardson under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which opened a one-year window for people to file sex-abuse lawsuits past the statute of limitations. Richardson’s racy, pornographic images, combined with his penchant for incendiary comments, have helped cement his reputation as a figure who leveraged his fame to coerce young models into nonconsensual sexual acts, often under the guise of a photo shoot. Though Richardson has long proclaimed himself a “pervert,” he maintains that everything that happens on his shoots is consensual. Still, since allegations of sexual assault and misconduct on set reached a fever pitch in the late 2010s, he’s been dropped from most major fashion publishers and has largely retreated from public view. But now, he finds himself back in the news cycle. Here’s what we know.
In 2005, two models claimed Richardson published their photos without consent.
Allegations of Richardson’s predatory behavior first surfaced in two 2005 lawsuits. That year, Romanian model Gabriela Johansson sued the photographer for fraud and invasion of privacy, claiming that he’d illegally published photos of her taken during what was supposed to be a “test shoot” at the Chateau Marmont. Johansson’s suit also accused Richardson of trying to pressure her into taking her bottoms off even though she’d only agreed to a topless shoot. Her filing describes an “ongoing … practice of intentionally and fraudulently inducing or tricking vulnerable models,” many of whom did not speak much English, into signing documents that allowed him to use their photos.
A few months after Johansson’s suit, a model named Frank “Speedy” Lopera also sued Richardson for invasion of privacy, describing a similar “test session” that brought him to the photographer’s house when he was 17. There, he says he was aggressively urged to take off all his clothes without signing a release form, and later saw that the resulting photos were published in Richardson’s 2004 book Terryworld. Both suits were reportedly settled out of court.
A few years later, supermodel Rie Rasmussen accused Richardson of exploiting young models.
In 2010, supermodel Rie Rasmussen told “Page Six” she’d confronted Richardson during an event in Paris, accusing him of sexually harassing young women who are “afraid to say no.” She claimed Richardson then called her agency to put in a complaint. Following Rasmussen’s comments, writer and podcaster Jamie Peck wrote in The Gloss that Richardson once asked to make tea with her tampon, and then pressured her into giving him a hand job during a shoot she did with him when she was 19. A handful of anonymous women shared similarly creepy stories with Jezebel, which reported that although Richardson’s predatory behavior had become an open secret in the fashion industry, his power and influence made him largely untouchable.
In a letter published in the Huffington Post, Richardson called all allegations against him “hate-filled and libelous tales about my professional and personal lives.”
A 2014 New York Magazine story prompted another raft of allegations.
In March of 2014, after anonymously accusing Richardson of sexual assault in a Reddit post, model Charlotte Waters identified herself in an interview with Vocativ, elaborating on a shoot she did with Richardson when she was 19. Waters claims Richardson instructed her to perform oral sex on him while he and his assistant took photos, describing a graphic back-and-forth that she said turned her into a “sex puppet.” She added that she tried to report the photographer to the NYPD but was told it wasn’t a crime because she “never said no.”
A few months later, New York ran a cover story on Richardson, where the photographer again deemed everything that happens on his shoots consensual. In the piece, former model Sara Ziff, a long-time advocate for models’ rights, recalled meeting with Richardson when she was 19 and being pressured into posing topless. Another model, Liskula Cohen, claimed that she was asked to completely undress and pretend to give another model a blow job. Peck was also interviewed for the piece, along with model Sena Cech, who described a shoot where she was told to “grab [Richardson’s] dick and squeeze it really hard” when she was 19.
Meanwhile, writer and stylist Anna del Gaizo came forward in Jezebel as rumors anticipating the piece circulated, claiming that Richardson pressed his semi-hard penis into the side of her face while his assistant took photos after a 2008 restaurant launch party.
Several major fashion houses severed ties with Richardson in 2017.
As the MeToo movement prompted a reckoning with rampant abuse and sexual exploitation across industries, a handful of major fashion houses, publications, and brands finally cut ties with Richardson in October 2017. Among those to cease working with him were Condé Nast (which includes Vogue and GQ, two of Richardson’s frequent collaborators), Elle, Valentino, and Bulgari.
More allegations against Richardson continued to emerge as he was dropped from the fashion world’s biggest publishers — designer and model Lindsay Jones told HuffPost that he attempted to force his penis into her eye socket in 2007 before ejaculating into her mouth, a story Richardson immediately denied via his lawyer. Model Caron Bernstein told the New York Daily News that Richardson forced her to perform oral sex on him during a purported photo shoot in 2003. A different lawyer for Richardson called their interaction “consensual,” claiming that Bernstein agreed to make sexually explicit content. Spanish model Minerva Portillo also recounted an assault by Richardson in Spanish Vogue, though her interview was not widely translated.
In early 2018, responding to the fresh round of allegations, the NYPD reportedly opened an investigation into Richardson. According to the Post, the Special Victims Unit was reaching out to women who’d come forward in the press. No news about that investigation has since emerged.
Portillo and Bernstein are now suing Richardson for sexual assault.
Two of the women who came forward in 2017 — Minerva Portillo and Caron Bernstein — sued Richardson under New York’s Adult Survivor’s Act, just days before the lookback window closed. Portillo’s suit, which was filed on November 21, also lists Trump Model Management as a defendant, claiming that the agency sent her to meet with Richardson in 2004 and told her to “overlook his behavior” when he showed up to the meeting in just a robe. Eventually, per the suit, she booked a shoot with the photographer, during which she was allegedly given a drink that made her feel “dizzy, disoriented, and not fully in control of her body.” After that, she said, Richardson proceeded to grope her and force her to perform oral sex on him as one of his employees took photos. Fearing losing her job, she recalls returning to set the next day, where she says the same thing happened. Portillo also alleges that Richardson distributed the images, which were featured in an exhibition and book, without her consent — she’d signed an undated release during the photo shoot, which she says she didn’t understand, considering she was disoriented and English is not her first language.
Bernstein’s lawyer says she was inspired by Portillo to file her own suit two days later, where she reiterated the same claims she made when she first came forward in the Daily News in 2017. Like Portillo, she claims Richardson forced her to perform oral sex while being photographed, and then used the photos in his exhibit and book without her permission. Bernstein’s complaint says she didn’t sign a release form.
Richardson has not commented publicly on the new lawsuits. The Cut has reached out to his representation for comment and will update this post if we hear back.