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Sexual abuse and the music industry

After years and years of abusing his position of power, 2017 was the year that Weinstein was exposed for sexual harassment and assault against a large number of women in the film industry. Last year there were never ending reams of stories from victims that finally felt empowered enough to speak out.

We saw the #metoo campaign, a viral social media hashtag that helped to increase awareness of sexual assault and harassment, spark up discussion between women, and men, across the globe. It seemed like every other woman, if not every woman, had her own #metoo story. The French called it #BalanceTonPorc (out your pig). People looked on in horror as more and more stories came out. When it hit my Facebook feed, I too considered sharing #metoo.

A handful of other major players in Hollywood have been called out and I reckon it’s a safe bet to make that there are countless others. (I could go into a diatribe about how other powerful people have covered up these issues for so many years but that would be another article in itself.)

These stories are likely to have barely scratched the surface, but it’s a step forward to changing the future.

In December 2017, a BBC report by Victoria Derbyshire highlighted that the music industry has its own share of abuse of power.

The BBC report explained that ‘Sexual abuse and harassment is “endemic” in the music industry, with “dangerous men” abusing their power’.

The report told the stories of four women who’d encountered sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry.

One women had been discovered when she was just 15 and was groomed and abused by her music manager. The BBC report says that the music manager, who remains anonymous, is still working in the industry now.

She told the BBC, ‘He told me that he was in love with me, and that if I didn’t agree to be his girlfriend he would ruin my career.’

He blackmailed her, forcing her to call him her boyfriend and allowing her to talk to her family and friends less and less. He then began to sexually assault her.

‘I thought, “I’m going to get a nine-to-five job and I’ll be banned from the music industry, but I’d rather be banished from doing what I love than spend any more time with this man”.’

Chloe Howl a singer/songwriter, who was signed at the age of 16 and later nominated for a Brit Award, said to the BBC, ‘I know girls who’ve been raped, and it’s always a man in power and a girl on the rise who needs as much support as possible, whose career hasn’t started yet.

‘I know that there are men who are getting away with it. They are given this untouchable power.’

29-year-old music manager, Yasmin Lajoie, told the BBC, ‘You’d be hard pressed to find a woman working in the industry today who’s never been a victim of sexual harassment or abuse.’

The report states that ‘The Victoria Derbyshire programme has spoken to many women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted but were too scared to share their stories, for fear they would never work in the industry again.’

The report also told Michelle de Vries story. When she was a young women, she got a job abroad working for a major music company. ‘She was made to stay with an older, more senior colleague who would repeatedly assault her. “He would walk into my room with no clothes on. He would masturbate in front of me and say, ‘I know you really like it,’.”

‘Then one day I was with a girl in the office and we were told to go and see him. So we went up to his office and he took out his penis and said, “I want to have a threesome with you”.

‘We went to a lawyer and were categorically told that he had committed a serious crime. But the lawyer said, “If you report this, you will never work in the industry again”.’

Some women have been empowered to speak out, giving other victims hope. But the fact that some of these men have still not seen the consequences of their actions, and perhaps never will, is deeply concerning.

The #metoo campaign has pushed the issues out into the open for some, but conversation is only the beginning. We must work together to ensure that the conversation isn’t dropped and take steps to prevent this abuse continuing.

Earlier this month, the Golden Globes saw women dressing in black in support of the Legal Defence Fund, Time’s Up. Lead by women, Time’s Up addresses the inequality and injustice of underrepresented groups in the workplace which prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Oprah Winfrey, the first black woman to win the Cecil B. deMille award, made a poignant speech at the Golden Globes, ‘speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

‘I want to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they… had children to feed, and bills to pay, and dreams to pursue.

‘We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by powerful men, for too many years women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up. Their time is up!’

At the Grammys last week, we saw attendees wearing a white rose on the red carpet in support of the #metoo and Time’s Up movements. Lorde took it a step further and had pinned a note to her back.

Rejoyce! Our times are intolerable. Take courage, for the worst is a harringer of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of oppressors. The old & corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Contradiction will be heightened. The reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom.

Kesha, who is also a victim of sexual abuse, was joined on stage by singers including Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Julia Michaels and Bebe Rexha to perform ‘Praying’. (Watch the video and you’ll understand far better than it can be explained in words).

Janelle Monae’s Grammys speech also gave a nod to Time’s Up. ‘I am proud to stand in solidarity, as not just an artist, but a young woman with my fellow sisters… who make up the music industry… We come in peace, but we mean business. To those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words. Time’s. Up.

‘It’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington. It’s right here. In our industry as well.

‘Let’s work together, women and men, as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women.’

We need to encourage and support those who speak out and show our young girls, and other women, that they won’t ruin their career by standing up to these predators. The more we push this out into the open, the more people will feel they can speak out and actions will be taken.

We have to work together to keep this conversation at the top of everyone’s agenda across the entertainment industry. We must move forwards and ensure that men are also part of the conversation, that they are there to listen, and that they too are creating tangible actions to help stamp out sexual abuse.

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