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Sexual Harassment Widespread Across the UK Music Industry

New data released today (23 October) reveals almost half (48%) of musicians have experienced sexual harassment at work. Alarmingly, over four in five (85%) victims did not report the harassment.

Published: 22 October 2019 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:30 PM
Photograph of guitarist and drummer playing an outdoor gig, taken from the side
The law frustrates survivors every step of the way and in many cases it is used to silence them. Photo credit: Musicians' Union

The research from the MU goes on to detail how almost two-thirds (61%) of musicians feel they are more at risk because they work on a freelance basis. Just one in five (19%) say the contracts they work under include policies or procedures to deal with incidents of sexual harassment.

  • New research reveals almost half (48%) of musicians have experienced sexual harassment at work
  • Almost two-thirds (61%) feel they are at risk because they work on a freelance basis
  • Over four in five (85%) victims of harassment did not report it, primarily due to the culture of the industry
  • The MU is calling on the government to protect freelancers from harassment and victimisation

With 90% of its members working in a freelance capacity, the MU is calling on government to extend the protections relating to discrimination and harassment in the Equality Act 2010 to freelancers, so that they are entitled to the same protections as the majority of individuals in the workplace who are already protected.

The MU is encouraging the public to back this request by signing a petition seeking stronger legislation to protect freelancers from sexual harassment.

Sign the petition here

Workplace culture is the greatest barrier to reporting

Workplace culture is currently cited as the greatest barrier to reporting harassment (55%), followed by fear of losing work (41%), expectations that the issue would not be handled appropriately (32%) and fear of not being believed or taken seriously (27%).

Further requests to government include introducing a mandatory duty on workplaces to take reasonable steps to protect people from harassment and victimisation, as well as a statutory Code of Practice to specify the steps employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and which can be considered in evidence when determining whether the mandatory duty has been breached.

Naomi Pohl, Deputy General Secretary at the Musicians’ Union, said:

“We are aware of far too many cases of talented musicians, particularly young or emerging artists, leaving the industry altogether due to sexism, sexual harassment or abuse.

“Many musicians who have gone public with their story are now being taken to court for defamation – evidence of the situation we’re dealing with.

“Survivors are often unable to speak out because the consequences for their career or personal life are devastating. In most cases we’re aware of, the survivor ends up leaving the workplace or the industry and there are very few consequences for the perpetrator.”

An anonymous case study, said:

“I reported sexual harassment by a high-profile individual to a major employer in the industry. I understand I was one of ten women making reports about the same individual and yet no action was taken as far as I’m aware.

“We are freelance musicians and the incidents occurred when we were performing on tour. I was told this was just “lad culture” by the person investigating my complaint. No wonder such a high proportion of issues go unreported”.

The law frustrates survivors every step of the way

Naomi Pohl, Musicians’ Union, continued:

“The data released today exposes the true extent of the problem – and, ultimately, we are eager to work with government to better protect freelancers.

“As a starting point for our campaign, we set up a SafeSpace email account back in 2018 – somewhere to confidentially and anonymously report sexual harassment, abuse, bullying and discrimination in the music industry.

“We set out to discover the problems that exist and seek long-term solutions, such as culture change within the music industry and legislative reform. Since then, we have received well over 100 reports but very few have led to any form of justice.

“The law frustrates survivors every step of the way and in many cases it is used to silence them.”

Nadia Javed, a member of band The Tuts, is proud to be backing the campaign. Javed is currently facing a defamation claim against her in the High Court after she and and others went public with sexual harassment allegations against Johnny Fox.

The MU is also calling on the public to sign up for free to its Supporter programme to become part of the movement to protect musicians in the workplace and add weight to its demand of the government.

To find out more about MU work on this issue, become a Supporter free of charge.

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