Former model Barrett Pall shares his experience with sexual assault by a photographer

When Barrett Pall started modeling during his freshman year at NYU, 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 first told his story 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.

There is no union for models, and agencies and brands are not obligated to step in and protect models 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.

He wants things to be different for 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 to see so many people who had their voices silenced for so long finally get to say what their lived experience is.”

Video transcript

BARRETT PALL: You think this isn't going to happen to you or that this can't happen to you. But this can. There's so much shame in this idea of, like, you're a man. You should have been able to fight someone off. You should have been able to say no. You should have been able to do all the things that we give women crap for not doing. Where it's not that simple.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey everyone. Welcome to "Unmuted." I'm your host Britney Jones Cooper, and today I'm joined by Barrett Pall, a life coach and former model who's speaking out about sexual assault. I want to know, what first inspired you to get into modeling.

BARRETT PALL: It was back when I was young and, to be quite frank, insecure. We were evicted from four different homes while I was growing up. We were poor. I had just gotten to NYU as a freshman. I thought this was the beginning of this career that was going to be able to allow me to help my family. We're all kind of fed this idea that models are glamorous and famous and make all this money. When in reality, that's not what it is at all.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: What was the reality of modeling once you got into it?

BARRETT PALL: You know, I've been very open and honest. On my very first photo shoot I was sexually assaulted by the photographer. This is not an uncommon situation for most models. There was no consenting. There was no asking. 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 that is what happened to me. Something was taken from me. There's pictures, and I feel like you see my innocence being taken from me in those pictures.

The agencies, the industry constantly tells the models, the talent, other people would take your spot in two seconds. And so it was just kind of this thing where I was like, I guess this is something that happens. But that's not the case. They prey on our silence. And I just knew I couldn't stay silent anymore.

And it really was at the height of the #MeToo movement. I can't be so proud of all these women for doing this and not speak my truth. And I'm really grateful to see other models. People like Emily Ratajkowski recently came forward with her situation on the "Blurred Lines" set.

It would be socially irresponsible to not speak about the things that have happened to me, knowing that there's a way to protect other people who are still going to go into this industry because the industry is not going to go away.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: In the conversation about safety, there's no union for models. Agencies don't take responsibility. The brands don't take responsibility. So who protects models?

BARRETT PALL: Absolutely no one. The way that this industry works is it protects predators, which means that these people get to continue to do this. My abuser, photographer Rick Day-- and I think it's important to say his name because he's been protected for so long by this industry-- still to this day is a working photographer.

A lot of the people who have been in this industry have been in this industry for a long time. They're connected, and they protect each other and know that they're able to essentially traffic us in this industry because there's no one watching. There's no one protecting. And there's organizations like The Model Alliance that are working to change these things, but sadly, the more you go down the rabbit hole, the more you realize this is a very deep, dark problem.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You've been so brave in speaking out about your story. What message do you want to send to other men who have survived sexual assault themselves?

BARRETT PALL: 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. It's an enthusiastic yes, or it's not a yes at all. You don't get to take back what happened to you. And as more people share their stories, you get to take back a part of your narrative, which is taking back some of your power.

I'm a big advocate for mental health. Healing is a journey that is forever. I don't think it's ever fully done. I've been a life coach for almost eight years now. The quote by Gloria Steinem that I live by now, and it's, "The final stage of healing is helping other people heal. That is healing in itself." Brings me so much joy to see so many people who had their voices silenced for so long finally get to say what their lived experience is.

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