Former Model Accuses Photographer Marc Baptiste of Sexual Assault and Battery

A former model, Alwantha Lawson, has filed a lawsuit accusing the fashion photographer Marc Baptiste of sexual assault and battery during a shoot in 2002.

Lawson, a New York resident who is now 43, had arranged through a mutual acquaintance to go to a shoot for Baptiste’s book “Intimate: Nudes by Marc Baptiste.” Upon arriving at his studio, she was surprised to find him there alone, and he allegedly locked the door and told her to disrobe entirely. Once he began photographing Lawson, she claimed that he attempted to force her to masturbate “for the camera,” and then sexually assaulted her after she refused to, according to the lawsuit that was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

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Baptiste declined an interview request about the allegation, but said via email Wednesday, “I am humbled by the opportunities I have had throughout my career and will continue to work hard to create a positive legacy for my family.”

In the lawsuit, Lawson claimed that Baptiste ruined her modeling career after he “effectively blacklisted Lawson from the modeling industry by spreading rumors that she was ‘difficult’ to work with.”

The accuser is trying to hold Baptiste accountable under the Gender Motivated Violence Act.

In the 10-page filing, Lawson is alleged to have told her boyfriend at that time, whose name was not revealed, who took her to a Queens, N.Y., police precinct to file a police report. After phoning her agent Taede Mathis from the precinct, Mathis allegedly discouraged her from filing a police report. Mathis did not respond immediately to a media request Friday.

Lawson claimed she wrote Baptiste a letter detailing the assault instead and asked for a signed letter of apology, as well as all of the photos and video that he had shot of her so that she could destroy them. The filing stated that Baptiste was in Africa at the time the letter was sent via certified mail, but his wife Jenny had forwarded it to him.

She could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also alleged that photographer Barron Claiborne had told Lawson that Baptiste had allegedly assaulted another model and Baptiste had blacklisted Lawson from the industry.

Claiborne had not acknowledged a media request Friday afternoon.

Asked why Lawson decided to take legal action now, one of her attorneys, Susan Crumiller, said Friday that Lawson “had been intending to pursue justice for many years but thought — correctly! — that she had no way to do so.”

Crumiller, the founding attorney of the Brooklyn law firm Crumiller, said she had met with Lawson “well before” the passage of New York’s “Adult Survivors Act” in November 2022. Crumiller said, “She was one of many clients we were able to reach back out to and say, ‘We told you before that there was nothing you could do, but now there is.’”

Asked about the amount of damages that Lawson is seeking, Crumiller said that she doesn’t generally request a specific figure. However, she said her clients have received several “multimillion-dollar awards, which we certainly think will be justified here.”

The attorney added, “However, under New York law, judges typically slash these awards dramatically. We are actively working with the legislature on a new bill which would curb this practice.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on March 20 at 12:55 p.m.

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