Swipe This! I suspect this photographer I took nudes for is an abuser—now what do I do?

“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

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Dear Swipe This!

A few months ago, I befriended a photographer on Instagram who’s based in the same city as me. He shoots a lot of models and musicians, and I admired his work. I soon found out we had a lot in common. Not only do we live in the same city, we live in the same neighborhood, we both have small dogs, and we both are sober following histories of substance abuse. I was excited to make a new friend who I could talk to about deep stuff and who shared my passion for art (I am a model, artist, and aspiring designer).

We started hanging out as friends and sharing the art we were creating. I showed him my designs and he showed me his photography portfolio, which is pretty expansive. He also confided in me about his ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression and I told him I could relate. I offered him a lot of emotional support. It felt good to help him.

About a month into our friendship, he offered to shoot some photos of me. The agreement was that he would do the shoot for free and we would both be able to use the photos for our respective portfolios. I was pumped to work with him! I came over to his studio and the shoot went great. Many of the photos featured me mostly nude, but I was comfortable with that. I had experience with nudity and I felt like I was working with someone I could definitely trust.

After the shoot, he posted a photo of me to his Instagram. It was a great shot and I was excited to see it up on his account, which has way more followers than mine (like hundreds of thousands!). I reposted it to my account and tagged him in it, being sure to mention what a pleasure it had been to work with him.

Then, things took a turn. I reached out to him to ask for more of the photos and he was unresponsive. When he finally wrote back, he told me he’d been super depressed lately and that was why he’d failed to deliver the photos. I was frustrated, but I responded with a lot of empathy because I know it can be really hard to get things done when you’re depressed. I gently encouraged him to reach out to me if he needed support, while also asking him to please deliver the photos whenever possible.

A week or so later, I followed up and he gave me the same shitty response. I started to talk him through what was going on. Then he sent me a text that said, “I just need to get laid, lol.” I was super uncomfortable and furious. I told him how inappropriate it was to say that—especially while holding all these nude photos of me! He tried to play it off like it was a joke or a misunderstanding, but I was super angry. A couple of days later, I started to feel guilty about coming down so hard on him when he was struggling, so I wrote him an apology and he told me it was no big deal.

Then he posted a rant on his Instagram bashing a young female celebrity, saying she was disgraceful for always posting images that sell her body and she’s not what “young girls” should aspire to be. I texted him and said I was upset about what he’d posted. I know he considers himself a feminist, so why bash a young woman like that? And why isn’t she allowed to celebrate her body and make a profit? He got super defensive and angry. The conversation ended badly and I still didn’t get my photos. A few days later, he made a post saying he’s looking for his “muse” and listed requirements like “must be comfortable with nudity.” I was totally disgusted.

I asked around and I found out that the stunt he pulled with me has happened to other women. They shoot photos with him and he doesn’t deliver on his end of the deal. At this point I was like, “Wow, is he an abuser?” I was really freaked out.

I didn’t reach out to him because I didn’t know what to say. I was scared if I rubbed him the wrong way, he’d retaliate. I started to draft an email that might smooth things over and then, out of the blue, he sent me a series of texts threatening me! He said he could ruin my career, that he knew lots of people in high places, and that he would even take me to court for slander. I was shaking as I took down the photo I’d posted to my account.

So what do I do now? I don’t want to communicate with this guy anymore. I don’t trust him at all. It makes my skin crawl that he has my photos. I’m not sure what he’s capable of and I’m terrified that he will post more photos, bash me, or worse, send a legal team after me. I’m also upset that I made it look like I support this asshole. I want to block him, but I’m scared if I do that, I won’t be able to keep tabs on whether he’s posting my pics. Help!

Sincerely,

Violated and Distressed

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Dear Violated and Distressed,

“Wow, is he an abuser?” Wow. Yes. He is.

Luring women into unpaid labor with false promises of professional or personal gain is absolutely abusive behavior. No question mark needed.

The person you describe has every advantage over you. He has the money, the visibility, and the social capital necessary to influence and manipulate your choices. I’m sure some dude reading this will roll his eyes, or send me a nasty tweet about how he didn’t rape you or that being horny isn’t a crime. But abusive behavior extends well past physical violence. Abuse is about power. And when someone uses their power to make you feel intimidated, terrified, and powerless, that’s abuse.

One of the things that strikes me as particularly insidious about your abuser is how he preyed on your empathy. He painted a picture of himself as pained and weakened by his depression and anxiety. Consciously or not, he communicated to you that he was in a state where he needed care and therefore was incapable of harm. He then proceeded to take advantage of your trust.

I am especially disturbed by the fact that he publicly criticized a young powerful woman for the way she wields her body and sexuality. What an absurd twist. This guy is luring women into posing for nude photos, but a woman who has built her career on sexually provocative images is a bad role model? That stinks of fraudulent feminism to me. Any “male feminist” who seeks to be the authority on feminism and on how and when women can use their bodies isn’t a feminist at all. He is a fraud.

I could truly go in on all the ways this guy was a jerk. From emotional manipulation, to playing the victim, to his sense of entitlement. But I firmly believe that the only way to disarm abusers is to empower their victims. So fuck this guy. Let’s focus on you.

When you’ve experienced abuse, whether physical or emotional, it’s normal to feel anxious about what will come next. It’s also common to experience self-doubt and shame. Many victims of abuse believe that if only they had acted correctly, their abuser wouldn’t have been able to harm them. I am so sorry that this person treated you in a way that made you feel so fearful and paralyzed. But instead of rushing to take action, I think the most helpful thing at the moment may be to pause and reflect on ways you can gently remind yourself that you are indeed powerful.

What makes you feel powerful? Perhaps it’s working on your art. Maybe it’s going for a run. Maybe you feel strongest when you’re sharing a moment with a good friend. Maybe you just need to take a look at your sweet dog who sees you as the Goddess of Food and Parks to remind yourself that you are a force in this world. Whatever you do next, please take some time for you that is supportive and kind. Spend time with people who encourage you and lift you up. Hold your pup close and write yourself kind notes. Build yourself back up.

As for the unwanted photo on his account, report report report. While he may have legal rights to the image he shared, Instagram is pretty good about protecting users personal preferences when it comes to sharing their image on the platform. In this case, the fact that you posed semi-nude may actually do more to help you because the photos will be viewed as highly sensitive.

As far as sustained contact with this guy goes, I think you’ve made the absolutely correct choice to disengage. There is no sense in trying to talk sense into an irrational person, especially one with abusive tendencies. This guy may very well need “help,” but trust me when I tell you that you are not going to be the one to fix him. In fact, I am glad he showed you his true colors before you extended anymore caretaking his way. It sounds to me like you got caught up in a cycle of setting firm boundaries, and then later, bending them and backpedaling for fear that you were causing someone else harm. I point this out not so that you can see your choices as failures, but so that you can realize that the moments you perceived as faulty were actually moments of strength.

You had every right to stand up for yourself, and I’m so glad that you showed him your anger. Women are so frequently conditioned not to show their anger and I think this is very dangerous. Obviously, excesses of anger can be toxic. There is no sense in getting drunk on your own rage. But at its core, anger is a human emotion and it can be a very healthy one. Anger is a form of self-love. It’s a part of you that says, “No. This isn’t right. I deserve more!”

I also would encourage you to rethink blocking him. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to, but I think you gain nothing by monitoring his account. If he does something weird with your photos, I’m sure you’ll get wind of it. To me, blocking him isn’t about your access to him, it’s about his access to you. He lost that right when he betrayed your trust, and I think you will rest easier knowing this creep can’t keep tabs on you.

And finally, I know your last interaction with him was nightmarish at best, but this guy actually handed you all the protection you’ll ever need. He sent you incredibly menacing texts. Hold onto those. I doubt he will ever follow through on his threat to take you to court, but if he did. any judge would be able to see that this man did not hold up his end of your agreement and went on to harass and intimidate you. He doesn’t have a tripod to stand on.

So tuck those texts away for safekeeping and delete the rest of his existence out of your world.

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.