After seeing Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs this week, I felt strangely unsettled. I was elated. Finally this man is having action taken against him. I have lost count of the amount of women who have talked about his attacks on them. I hope that he gets exactly what he deserves. I am scared that he may not receive just punishment for his actions. I felt confused. Why had he walked free for this long? My understanding of the legal system is definitely not up to scratch – but surely someone with this many allegations forward should be kept away from society. This raised the question for me, how many women have to come forward with a story about the same man for them to be taken seriously? It seems to be way too many. One victims voice should be enough. One woman who has had her power and freedom abducted should be enough.
It got me thinking about one of my #metoo experiences. It was my second major experience, but it resonated strongly, as it occurred in my workplace. As a very young model, I was sexually assaulted by a photographer on set. This is a photographer who I know has sexually assaulted multiple other girls. But they are not willing to come forward - to be taken seriously means standing up against character defamation, and deep interrogation into one of the most scarring, worst experiences of your life. Our careers will be on the line, and more than likely on the chopping block. And the thought of being disbelieved? Devastating.
I don’t really care about all of that any more. The thought of another young girl going through what I have been is my biggest motivator from hereon out. My story continues.
I was around 20. I had a serious boyfriend. The photographer knew this. I had worked with him on an editorial shoot the previous week, and had really liked his work. He seemed sweet on set; slightly awkward, but funny and relatively chilled. I assumed that he wasn’t a bad guy, and asked to shoot a test shoot the following week. I wanted to get some more shots for my book, and he was down.
I turned up on set, to find him there with another photographer (also notorious for sexual assault). Both of them were boasting about how they hadn’t slept from the night before, and how they had taken soooo maaany drugs last night. Looking back, I should have bailed then. I would now. I deserve more respect than that. Whatever happens the night before, I could not give a fuck, but don’t be so boring as to boast about it on set. Set is work, and life is life. I asked where the hair, make up and styling was. He held up a bottle of baby oil, a ripped tank top, grinned, and said “all me”.
Red flag. Big red flag. At this point I got extremely anxious. My memories come to me in flashes - overwhelming fear. I did not want to upset ANYBODY in any room. I was brought up to be a good girl; never create waves, and always be respectful. I was not brought up in a household where talking back (or up) was explicitly encouraged. I am a polite human. Now I wish I had told him to get fucked. I did not. I forced a smile, and resolved to just get through it and leave at the first socially acceptable moment.
We began shooting. He told me to rub baby oil on my chest. I did, but not to his liking. He grabbed the bottle off me, and proceeded to sexually assault me. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I was no longer there with me. I was watching the whole thing take place - my memory of this is from a high angle, behind the back of my head. I later learned this is called dissociating. When something is too much for a person to handle, they disconnect from their body. It certainly served to keep me frozen in place during the shoot. We continued - him making sexually lewd comments, telling me things like his girlfriend was out of town, and talking about how muscles look better after sex. All whilst continuously rubbing and touching me.
Finally we were done, and I sprinted out of there. I went straight to my trainer, and burst into tears. When I got home I immediately told my boyfriend. He was horrified. I carried this lingering feeling that I had done something wrong, that I should not be talking about this. I also told my agency, and my agent handled it as well as she could have. She made me feel seen and heard, and I am forever grateful to her for that. I wish though that my email had been more honest, more inclusive of the reality of the pain I was feeling. I was not ok. But I had that overwhelming need to make everything ok, that my feelings were not valid when it comes to keeping the room happy.
There is the question of why didn’t you just leave. Why indeed. I personally wonder what life is like as a human for whom walking out was a possibility. I now live a life of perpetual readiness to bail at any glimpse of danger posed by a man. But that level of existence was hard earned through multiple sexual assaults, both on and off set. Before any of them, I trusted people. I trusted that people were inherently good. And for the vast majority, they are. But all it took was for this maldeveloped asshole to shatter my understanding of people. Leaving was not a possibility – the thought of it was not even on my radar then. I was a 20 year old, who didn’t realize her power in this scenario. I had had none of the empowerment, or education that I hope young women these days are learning. Nobody had told me that I could walk out, and that I should if I am uncomfortable. And so I got assaulted. It’s hard to imagine this if you are one of those people who “would just never put up with behavior like that”. Congratulations, it must be nice. Now shut the fuck up and listen to how the other half (possibly more) of the world exists, because you are living in a bubble. And your bubble is completely robbing assault victims of their voice, and trust in themselves. They are not the ones at fault here, because they did not walk away when you would have. It’s the asshole doing the assaulting. End of conversation. Shut your mouth.
That attack has had such a lasting effect on me. It closed whatever part of me that was open to being approached by a stranger. It led me to seek out social lubricants such as alcohol in order to cope with stranger socialization. On set I was extremely twitchy, and found it very hard to relax when a straight male other than styling/hair/makeup came near me. Eye contact became the hardest thing of all. The worst though is that it forced me to internalize the hurt and pain. There was no one to turn to, no one to openly talk and help me to process this. So it went deep inside, and manifested itself in a recurrent shyness and self doubt, one that I doubt I will ever get over. I live with it every day now.
Always an awkward girl, I was straight up silent for many years after that. I guess that is when I started to write instead.
Looking back, I wonder why the silence. There was shame there - always a little out of place in the fashion world, I wondered if any one of those other models I saw who seemed to just have it together would have handled it differently. Probably I decided, because I must have given him some idea right? Not sure when. Maybe I was the only person in the industry for whom this had happened to – it made sense, I was such an awkward human. Maybe I deserved it. Nobody was talking about anything like this, and I had no idea what to do with the hurt. I was so ashamed and alone.
I want to take young Bridget in my arms and tell her that this man is just a straight up bad guy. No need to go into backstories. He swallowed the damaging idea that to be male, is to be dominant and to take as ones own. Regardless of the sounds and signals the object (woman) is making. He took advantage of your youth and trust in order to make him feel important and powerful. This is not a man. This is a coward.
I have heard of this photographer recently, through the fashion grapevine. He was well aware that he was on the fashion industry blacklist, with the maximum of marks against him. He was not ashamed, not sorrowful. If anything he was a little pleased. “Not all girls understand my methods - sometimes some girls need more guidance than others” was thrown around. When your methods involve grabbing and rubbing at a terrified twenty year old, you need to take a second and wonder why this is. At some point your life took a very wrong turn, and this is not the way to right it.
To you I have to say this. Your time will come. Very soon the floodgates will open within the fashion industry, and so many voiceless models will find their courage to name those who have hurt them so much in the past. I am searching for my sisters in this fight, and they are growing. To be on a list of shame, of men who are marked with the hand of assault, is not something to be disregarded, and to lightly boast about. It is not a mark of pride, and it is not a sign of a human well adjusted to adulthood. It is the sign of a coward.
The more we come forward and share our stories, the more we will be taken seriously. It is a sign of a deep fissure in our society that to be taken seriously, it takes at least four women to come forward with assault charges against one man. But the really messed up thing in the fashion industry is that there are far more than four women involved where the most damaging perpetrators are involved. I have faith that the fashion world will follow where the acting world has begun. It just takes us uniting and fighting for equality and empowerment. We are all so much stronger than our assaulters.
I am not a child anymore. And I am extremely angry.
Welcome to a level playing field.
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THANKS SO MUCH