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Famed fashion photographer accused of forcing budding model to masturbate before sexually assaulting her, horrific lawsuit reveals

Alwantha Lawson claims renowned fashion photographer Marc Baptiste sexually assaulted her
Alwantha Lawson claims renowned fashion photographer Marc Baptiste sexually assaulted her

A once budding model claims renowned fashion photographer Marc Baptiste sexually assaulted her during a shoot over 20 years ago — during which he repeatedly told her to “be free” while pressuring her to masturbate, new court papers allege.

Alwantha Lawson says during an Oct. 3, 2002, photoshoot at Baptiste’s Manhattan studio he attempted to force her to masturbate while he photographed her before he sexually assaulted her while shooting, according to a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit from Friday.

“My world had fallen apart,” Lawson, who was just 22 at the time, told The Post during an exclusive interview.

When Lawson later confronted him to demand an apology and that he destroy the photos, Baptiste, 60, got her black-listed from the industry by spreading around she was “difficult” to work with, the filing alleges.

Alwantha Lawson, a former fashion model, sued photographer Marc Baptiste, claiming he sexually assaulted her on a shoot in 2002. Roger Allen
Alwantha Lawson, a former fashion model, sued photographer Marc Baptiste, claiming he sexually assaulted her on a shoot in 2002. Roger Allen

“My career was going extremely well until I was assaulted by Marc Baptiste,” said Lawson, 43.

“I was constantly booking magazines, editorials. I was in Essence, Time Out, Seventeen Magazine … you name it,” she added.

“I finally got an opportunity to work with Marc Baptiste, and he hurt me, he assaulted me, he silenced me, he shut me down and he ultimately ousted me out of the modeling industry ending my career.”

Baptiste was shooting the rising model for his book “Intimate: Nudes by Marc Baptiste,” the suit says.

Although Baptiste had earlier promised Lawson that others would be at the studio to do her hair and makeup, they were alone in the studio, the court papers say.

The shutterbug locked the door and Lawson’s “heart raced, and her stomach sank,” the court papers claim.

Baptiste instructed her to get naked and then told her to masturbate, encouraging her to “get into it, be free, love yourself, feel yourself,” the court papers allege.

“I’m not going to shoot until you c-m,” he allegedly told Lawson.

Apparently unsatisfied with Lawson pretending to masturbate, Baptiste began penetrating her with his fingers as she cried, the suit alleges.

The photographer was “sweating uncontrollably and panting like a dog,” making Lawson wonder at the time if he’d taken drugs when he’d gone into a back room, the court papers claim.

“Alwantha, thanks for getting intimate with me,” the filing alleges he told her when the shoot was done.

“I was completely shocked,” Lawson told The Post. “I couldn’t believe what he was doing. I shot with so many other photographers before and nobody took it upon themselves to violate me like that.”

After, “Life didn’t make any sense anymore. My career didn’t make sense anymore. I was completely confused and discombobulated,” she said.

Lawson’s boyfriend encouraged her to report the assault to the police, which she almost did that day, making it as far as the police precinct before her agent called her and told her not to, the court documents claim.

Instead, she wrote a letter to Baptiste demanding the return of the video and photos he took and an apology.

Lawson claims that Baptiste tried to get her to masturbate and then sexually assaulted her while snapping photos. Getty Images
Lawson claims that Baptiste tried to get her to masturbate and then sexually assaulted her while snapping photos. Getty Images

She would meet with him where he agreed to destroy the images but he never apologized and later got her blacklisted from the industry by claiming she was “difficult” to work with.

She eventually filed a police report in January 2006 but nothing ever came of it. She is now suing under NYC’s gender-motivated violence act for unspecified damages.

“I exposed him,” Lawson said. “He said I was lying. I was difficult and I’m just after his money.”

“That’s all someone has to say within the industry — is that you’re difficult and your career is over,” she explained.

When asked why she doesn’t model, Lawson revealed that she “can’t possibly tell them what happened to me because I don’t want to relive that moment over and over again.”

She “suffered emotional and psychological distress, physical injury, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, embarrassment, pain and suffering, and economic damages,” because of Baptiste’s actions, the filing claims.

Lawson says she still feels the emotional impact of the alleged assault two decades later, and also has nightmares, cold sweats and triggers.

At the time, Lawson says she was featured in an array of magazines, including Essence. Essence
At the time, Lawson says she was featured in an array of magazines, including Essence. Essence

“Even to this day, I don’t feel comfortable being in front of cameras unless I have to,” she said.

And if she sees someone wearing glasses similar to the ones Baptiste wears or if she walks by his studio in Chinatown, “those feelings come back,” she added.

With the lawsuit, Lawson said that she hopes something like this never happens to anyone else and she hopes to receive a measure of justice and closure.

“I need forgiveness in myself for holding in the shame and the guilt of what I had done,” Lawson said. “I was only 22 years old. I was young and impressionable. I was naive. I wanted to be a model like so many other little girls out there who move to New York City and I was trying to follow my dreams.”

Lawson claims that after she confronted Baptiste after the fact, he had her blacklisted from the modeling industry by labeling her “difficult” to work with. Mpi43/MediaPunch/IPx
Lawson claims that after she confronted Baptiste after the fact, he had her blacklisted from the modeling industry by labeling her “difficult” to work with. Mpi43/MediaPunch/IPx

Lawson’s lawyer Julia Elmaleh-Sachs told The Post in a statement that exploitation of young women in modeling “is sadly nothing new.”

“Marc Baptiste, a powerful, well-connected photographer and serial predator took advantage of our client when she was an eager 22-year old model,” the lawyer said.

“He sexually assaulted her, then blacklisted her from the industry while he went on to shoot icons like Misty Copeland and Missy Elliott,” Elmaleh-Sachs said.

“Now, the tables have turned. By filing this lawsuit, Ms. Lawson seeks justice and accountability from Baptiste.”

Baptiste blasted the suit as “FALSE” in an email statement to The Post Friday.

He claimed that Lawson had an ax to grind over the fact she didn’t make it into his book and said he burned the negatives for the shoot in front of her, her agent, Baptiste’s wife and his studio manager.

“I conducted all my photo shoots [in a] very professional manner! My legal team will handle it,” he said.