Adelaide photographer, Michael Townsend, who worked for a performing arts group, has been arrested and charged for allegedly committing child sex abuse offences.
Police allege Townsend indecently assaulted several children and procured a child for sexual activity, with incidents occurring from 2020 in South Australia. Police allege the photographer lured his victims with photo shoots at their homes, with five girls including a 10-year-old among the victims.
A police prosecutor told the court the alleged offending relates to photographing children in various states of undress and indecently assaulting them during photo shoots. And in some cases, parents or caregivers witnessed the alleged crimes.
According to 7News, Townsend allegedly touched two victims in separate incidents on the chest during photo shoots and helped one to change her clothes, while in another incident requested two girls participate in a nude shoot. Another alleged incident in Murray Bridge involving a photo shoot resulted in ‘sexually explicit conversations’ and the photographer ‘grabbed her top’.
Townsend’s duty solicitor, however, states the alleged crimes were ‘misunderstandings’ and the children ‘misinterpreted’ what he was asking. The photographer was initially arrested on February 1 and granted bail, only to be re-arrested on February 9 after he allegedly contacted witnesses which amounts to further alleged offending.
‘There are further complainants who are in the process of making reports so there are other charges to be laid,’ the police prosecutor said. ‘While subject to conditions of bail, Mr Townsend made contact with witnesses and potential witnesses of this investigation and those messages suggest he’s discussed the offending directly.’
The court heard messages sent by the photographer to alleged victims included ‘I wish I could go back and just do the photoshoot again’, and ‘I can only imagine what you are going through and I hate what I did’.
The prosecutor also told the court that messages from electronic devices seized from Townsend shows he may have deleted messages and ‘interfered’ with witnesses.
Inside Imaging has rover the years eported a handful of cases where a photographer is charged with counts of sexual abuse, after they use portrait photography to gain access to young women or children. If Townsend was merely conducting a photo shoot without a hidden agenda and it was all a ‘misunderstanding’, it’s the photographer’s responsibility to ensure the parents and subjects are comfortable with all interactions, and to identify and avoid potential ‘misinterpretations’.
Here’s an excerpt from our recent in-depth exploration of the topic:
‘Some predators have leveraged the camera, under the guise of ‘artistic fashion photography’, to gain access to younger female models. There aren’t many everyday situations where two strangers are alone in a private setting. It usually involves a professional service provider, and unfortunately photography is one of the easier professions to fake and exploit.’