Editor’s Note: The following story contains material related to sexual assault. To reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
Several high-profile celebrities are facing sexual assault lawsuits this month as the year-long window to file under New York State’s Adult Survivors Act (ASA) closed on November 24. Fashion and portrait photographer Terry Richardson, who has vehemently denied multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct since 2005, was hit with individual lawsuits from two models last week as the filing deadline turned the corner.
The ASA was enacted in May 2022 to provide a one-year look-back period for survivors of sexual assault to file complaints against their alleged assailants as well as organizations and institutions that enabled the assault regardless of expired statutes of limitations. Various politicians and celebrities have been named in suits since the legislation took effect in November 2022, including former President Donald Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, current Mayor Eric Adams, and rapper and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Spanish model Minerva Portillo filed a complaint against Richardson on November 21 regarding an alleged assault that took place in 2004. Portillo, 22 years old at the time, had been booked by the now-dissolved Trump Model Management company for a solo photoshoot with Richardson in his New York City studio. The model alleges that she was given a drink containing an “intoxicating or narcotic substance,” and at some point during the photo shoot, Richardson joined her on the set and began groping her breasts and pressing his genitalia against her in the presence of his studio employees, who continued to photograph her. Portillo recalled that Richardson forced her to perform oral sex on him, and he ejaculated on her face while the employees kept taking photos.
Richardson’s studio has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.
Portillo alleged that the employees had her sign a release for Richardson’s studio to use the photographs which falsely stated that the images “do not depict actual sexually explicit conduct.” Trump Model Management booked Portillo for a second session with Richardson the following day and allegedly would not allow her to cancel the shoot. Portillo claims that the photographer forced her to perform oral sex on him again while his employees photographed the alleged assault.
Three months later, Richardson displayed the sexually explicit images of Portillo as part of his exhibition Richardson: Terryworld at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York, and published the images in his 2006 art book Kibosh. Hyperallergic has contacted Jeffrey Deitch Gallery for comment. The show is not featured in the gallery’s online archives, but a snippet of the exhibition text still visible in a Google search described Richardson as a “fearless sensualist.”
Portillo’s images began circulating online and the model was dropped by her Spanish agency, thus book-ending her professional modeling career. During the #MeToo campaign, Portillo went public with her story with Vogue España, saying that she “felt abandoned, without dignity as a woman, while [she] watched him rise to the top, among other things, at [her] expense.”
The second recent lawsuit against Richardson was filed on November 23 by South African model Caron Bernstein, who alleges that she was assaulted during a photo shoot at Richardson’s New York City studio in 2003. Bernstein was invited to the photo shoot under the premise that the images were for a fragrance campaign through V Magazine. Bernstein alleged that Richardson forced her to perform oral sex on him while he used a point-and-shoot camera to photograph her while several male employees and agents were in the room. Bernstein stated that she was never presented with a release form to sign off on the use of any images, but the photos of her alleged assault appeared without her consent in Richardson: Terryworld and Kibosh as well as various other books and websites.
Richardson, who has worked on photo shoots and music videos for celebrities including Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Kate Moss, Alicia Keys, and even Barack Obama, has been accused of sexual assault and exploitative behavior by several models throughout the last 20 years. A 2014 profile in New York Magazine outlined the myriad accusations and two settled suits against the photographer. Richardson addressed the allegations earlier that year in a letter published on Huffington Post, stating that he “collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work, and as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases.”
Attorneys for Bernstein and Portillo have not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s comment request.