A former male model speaks out about on-the-job sexual abuse at the hands of photographers: 'They prey on our silence'
When Barrett Pall started modeling during his freshman year at New York University, he imagined the job would come with glamorous perks and big paychecks.
“In reality, that’s not what it is at all,” Pall tells Yahoo Life. “I’ve been very open and honest that on my very first photoshoot, I was sexually assaulted by the photographer.”
Inspired by the #MeToo movement and the strength of other survivors, Pall, now 33, first told his story on YouTube and to the Advocate in 2018. Since then, it’s been his mission to expose sexual predators in the modeling industry and encourage other male models to speak out. “I know that this is not an uncommon situation for most models,” he says.
When Pall looks back on his first photoshoot, he recognizes how his inexperience and financial instability made him a target of his alleged abuser, photographer Rick Day, who was subsequently accused of sexual abuse by other models as well. (Day declined multiple requests from Yahoo for comment. There is no evidence that he has ever publicly remarked on the allegations.)
“I grew up in a difficult situation in terms of my family life. Resources and funds were not plentiful. We were poor. We were evicted from four different homes while I was growing up, and I looked at this as an opportunity to make a bunch of money,” Pall tells Yahoo Life.
Going into the photoshoot, he says, he admired Day’s portfolio, which was filled with male models whose careers Pall aspired to have. Pall says that Day groomed him by gradually touching him more and more intimately. When Day started to make unwanted sexual advances, Pall says, the shock of what was happening made him freeze.
“There is no one specific way that someone is sexually assaulted or abused. I personally was not penetrated in any way, but I was sexually abused, and I say that wholeheartedly, knowing full stop that is what happened to me,” says Pall. “There was no consenting, there was no asking, there was no ‘Are you OK with this?’”
As a queer person, Pall believes that men in the LGBTQ community have a harder time navigating the modeling industry. He cites the unspoken “underlying agreement” among models and their employers, meaning they will do what they have to do in order to book campaigns or work with certain photographers. He believes that some photographers take advantage of this.
“I guess this is something that happens, that I’m just going to not talk about and no one will ever have to know,” Pall recalls. “I got back to my dorm room and just cried and felt really dark and confused. To be honest, it’s something that I still don’t like to go back to because something was taken from me and there are pictures. I feel like you see my innocence being taken from me in those pictures.”
Shame and guilt followed, and Pall pushed down his secret, silencing his pain in hopes that he could still build a career as a model. But agencies and other people in the industry constantly remind models that they can be replaced in an instant, he says, and this mentality, partnered with the powerful connections of the people at the top, encourages a culture in which serial abusers feel empowered.
“They prey on our silence,” says Pall. “I came forward with my #MeToo experience with the photographer Rick Day, and I think it’s important to say his name, because he has been protected for so long by this industry and different agents and managers. He is a serial abuser.”
It’s reported that 1 in 6 men has had an unwanted sexual experience in his life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 38 men has experienced completed or attempted rape during his lifetime. In the modeling industry, 2018 saw several male models come forward in the New York Times, revealing alleged sexual abuse by photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. Outside of male models, the entire fashion industry has seen a reckoning over the last few years. And in 2021, dozens of supermodels, including Carré Sutton, launched allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against former Elite Model Management boss Gérald Marie, who some call the “Harvey Weinstein of the fashion industry.”
There is no union for models, and agencies and brands are not obligated to step in and protect them on photoshoots. Born out of necessity, the Model Alliance was established in 2012 to provide support, education and encouragement for models to speak up against injustices in the industry.
“There is something that’s taken from you, and as more people share their stories that are similar to mine, you get to take back a part of your narrative, which is taking back some of your power,” says Pall.
Healing can take a lifetime, and for Pall, that journey includes helping others to heal. For the last eight years, he’s been working as a life coach focused on helping his clients unlock their potential — aiming to help change the culture for other young men who make the decision to become models.
He wants them to use their voices in the way that he couldn’t, back when he was a young NYU freshman with big career aspirations.
“The message that I want to send out to other men, regardless of your sexuality, is that consent is something that we also get to have for us and our sex lives. It’s an enthusiastic ‘yes’ — or it’s not a ‘yes’ at all,” says Pall.
“It brings me so much joy,” he adds, “to see so many people who had their voices silenced for so long finally get to say what their lived experience is.”
Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove