Emily Ratajkowski has accused photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her, allegations Leder emphatically denies.
In a first-person essay for The Cut entitled “Buying Myself Back When does a model own her own image?” published on Tuesday morning, the model-turned-actress, now 29, recounts driving to the Catskills in Upstate New York for an “unpaid editorial” photoshoot with Leder at his home in 2012. Ratajkowski was just 20 years old at the time, still trying to build her portfolio and impress creatives in the fashion industry because it was “an important part of building a good reputation.”
She writes that she remembers feeling “confident, unafraid and proud” as she posed for Leder in an upstairs bedroom — first, in vintage-inspired lingerie, and later (on his suggestion) completely nude, the model claims.
“My body felt like a superpower,” she writes. “Still, though, the second I dropped my clothes, a part of me disassociated. I began to float outside of myself, watching as I climbed back onto the bed. I arched my back and pursed my lips, fixating on the idea of how I might look through his camera lens. Its flash was so bright and I’d had so much wine that giant black spots were expanding and floating in front of my eyes.”
Leder allegedly made a comment about the size of Ratajkowski's nipples in one of the photos that made her feel particularly uncomfortable. “I said nothing and nodded, confused but somehow feeling that he meant to insult me,” she writes. “I felt my stomach turn.”
Ratajkowski says the situation escalated when the female photographer went to sleep, leaving Ratajkowski alone with Leder. She remembers thinking “I can handle him alone,” but knew the absence of a third person would unfortunately change the dynamic.
Ratajkowski claims that Leder started asking about her love life — feeling “wide awake, albeit very, very drunk,” the model says she opened up to him about her “dating history” the men she “really loved” and the ones that “were whatever.”
Ratajkowski then shares a graphic account of the alleged assault.
“Most of what came next was a blur except for the feeling,” she writes. “I don’t remember kissing, but I do remember his fingers suddenly being inside of me. Harder and harder and pushing and pushing like no one had touched me before or has touched me since. I could feel the shape of myself and my ridges, and it really, really hurt.”
“I brought my hand instinctively to his wrist and pulled his fingers out of me with force. I didn’t say a word. He stood up abruptly and scurried silently into the darkness up the stairs.”
When contacted by The Cut, the photographer said Ratajkowski's allegations were "too tawdry and childish to respond to."
In a statement later provided to PEOPLE, Leder’s publishing house states, “We were all deeply disturbed to read Ms. Ratajkowski’s latest false statements to NY Magazine. While we understand that Ms. Ratajkowski no longer feels that the images represent her in the way she would like, and are probably detrimental to her career as an actress and celebrity, nonetheless, her recent accusations are based in fiction and not in fact, and the facts should matter."
"Mr. Leder completely denies her outrageous libelous allegations of being ’assaulted’," the statement reads. "It is grotesque and sad that she is so vindictive about the publication of the photos."
Ratajkowski writes in The Cut that the incident left her feeling “sore and fragile.” She remembers an “intense headache” coming on and her mouth being so dry she could “barely close it.”
“I stood up carefully, pressing my bare feet against the floorboards. I climbed up the wooden stairs and into the room where we’d shot at the beginning of the night, then lay down on the thin, flowery sheets. I shivered uncontrollably. I was both confused as to why Jonathan had left without a word and terrified that he would come back. I listened for a sign of him as I watched the blue light of dawn peek in through the window.”
Several images — many of which Ratajkowski says were the "most revealing and vulgar" from the entire shoot — were published by Imperial Publishing in a book entitled simply Emily Ratajkowski four years later.
The actress has previously claimed she was only made aware of the project when media outlets began contacting her about it, calling the book a "violation" on Twitter in 2016. She corroborates the accusation in her essay for The Cut (although this is the first time Ratajkowski has publicly accused Leder of assault).
"I received a call from a well-known magazine asking if they could help promote my new book of photographs," she writes.
"Confused, I searched my name online. There it was: Emily Ratajkowski, the book, priced at $80. Some of the images were posted on Jonathan’s Instagram, and they were among the most revealing and vulgar Polaroids he had taken of me. I was livid and frantic."
By that time, Ratajkowski had become a household name, gracing fashion magazine covers and appearing in the blockbuster hit Gone Girl (2014) opposite Ben Affleck. In her piece for The Cut, the model accuses Leder of "waiting to whore her out" as she built her career by holding onto the unreleased photos for several years.
"It was intoxicating to see what he’d done with this part of me he’d stolen," she adds.
Ratajkowski contacted her lawyer, who sent a cease-and-desist letter to Leder and a gallery that was planning to exhibit his images of her to promote the release of the book. "The gallery responded by going to the New York Times and telling the paper that it had a signed model release from me," giving Leder the rights to publish the nude photos in ways beyond the magazine they were originally intended for, she writes.
The actress maintains that she never signed a thing, and shares that she and her lawyer at the time believed the signature "must have been forged." The New York Times reported at the time that Leder provided a model release, apparently signed by Ratajkowski's then-agent, permitting use of the photos in “a future book of Polaroids.”
She continues, "I felt my frustration grow. I knew I had never signed anything; I had never agreed to anything. No one had asked me."
After weighing her options, Ratajkowski says she determined that pursuing legal action against Leder would be too costly and "fruitless" since the pictures were already widely available online. Leder has since released more books filled with images of Ratajkowski, which she also alleges were published without her permission.
"I had a desire to disappear, to fade away," she remembers. "My insides ached. I developed a new habit of sleeping during the day."
Throughout the essay, Ratajkowski uses the painful experience and others — including her inclusion in Richard Prince’s “Instagram Paintings" series and the time she was sued for $150,000 for posting a paparazzi photo of herself on Instagram — to explore what it means for a model to "own their own image."
"Eventually, Jonathan will run out of 'unseen' crusty Polaroids, but I will remain as the real Emily; the Emily who owns the high-art Emily, and the one who wrote this essay, too. She will continue to carve out control where she can find it," she concludes.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.
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