Photographer Jock Sturges pleads guilty to sexual misconduct

November 17, 2021 GMT

GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A photographer known for his images of nude adolescents has pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old student in the mid-1970s while he was a teacher and dorm parent at a private boarding school in Massachusetts, prosecutors said.

Former Northfield Mount Hermon teacher John “Jock” Sturges, 74, was sentenced to three years of probation this week after pleading guilty in Franklin Superior Court to a charge of an unnatural and lascivious act on a child under 16, according to a statement Tuesday from the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

Sturges, who now lives in Seattle, was ordered by the judge to undergo sex offender treatment and stay away from the victim.

Sturges was 28 and a photography instructor at the school when he met the girl in 1975, prosecutors said.

The victim first went to Sturges when she was “lonely, homesick and had not made many friends,” prosecutor Frederic Bartmon said in court, according to The Recorder of Greenfield.

They bonded over photography, and he started bringing her on shoots, he said. Sturges persuaded her to pose for topless and nude photographs, and they had sex in his darkroom and in the woods, the prosecutor said.

The judge asked Sturges if he agreed with Bartmon’s account, and Sturges said he was comfortable with it, but added that “my memory, at 74, is not as good as I would like it to be,” The Recorder reported.

The victim, who appeared at Monday’s hearing via video, spoke of the effect her relationship with Sturges had on her.

“For a long time, many decades, I refused to believe that what I thought I wanted when I was 14 turned out to be a protracted form of sexual abuse and exploitation,” she said in an impact statement. “In the aftermath of my time at Northfield Mount Hermon, I fell apart. I had a complete nervous breakdown, suffered from extreme depersonalization and anxiety, to a point where I was not able to function at school or society.”

Sturges was originally charged in 2017 with statutory rape but pleaded to lesser charges.

Sturges’ photos have appeared in galleries around the world, and several books of his work have been published — though many see his images as little more than child pornography.

Federal authorities in California investigated him for child pornography in 1990, but a grand jury refused to indict him, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Sturges defended his work.

“They’re simply a celebration of beauty,” he said of his photos in an interview with The Associated Press in 1997 when the Christian group Focus on the Family was campaigning to have his books banned in Pennsylvania.

“We commend the survivor for her courage in coming forward and exposing the defendant’s misconduct,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. “Fortunately, the passage of time did not prevent the Commonwealth from holding the defendant accountable for his crimes, and achieving some measure of justice in this case.”