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November 25 is the International Day to End Violence Against Women. It’s also the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence project, spearheaded by UN Women, with the goal of eradicating gender-based violence. It all starts with listening, believing, and standing with survivors.

In the wake of the #metoo movement, we set up a Safe Space service (safespace@theMU.org) to offer a place for musicians and others in the music industry to report instances of sexism, sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual abuse in confidence. We’ve received countless reports of sexual harassment and the majority of those are from women working across the music industry.

We also ran a survey of our members this year and 48% of those who replied said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. As a woman, this statistic is grim but sadly all too believable.

When questioned about its validity, which believe it or not I have been, my response is that almost 100% of women have experienced sexual harassment and some men have, so why would we expect anything other a 48% figure?

#metoo and music

What was so powerful about #metoo when it hit Twitter was that thousands of women highlighted that they had been affected by sexual harassment. These women are mothers, sisters, friends, aunts, grandparents, all of us. No woman goes unaffected. I genuinely believe that.

The other thing to remember about #metoo is that many, if not most, of the women and girls using the hashtag had never told anyone about their experiences before.

Experiences musicians have reported to us include sexual assault and rape, inappropriate and unwanted sexual text messaging, online trolling, coercive controlling behaviour, and threats of legal action or retaliation when there’s a possibility of the survivor speaking out. 

The reason the Musicians’ Union has a particularly key role in tackling these issues in the music industry is that we represent freelancers, primarily, and the workplaces in music often involve late nights, audiences consuming alcohol and drugs, plus a major power imbalance between aspiring and emerging artists and those who can make or break their careers. The carrot of fame and fortune in the music industry is very sadly used by those in positions of power to control and silence. If you don’t believe me, watch the documentaries on R Kelly and Michael Jackson. 

Reporting harassment

Women, not exclusively but in particular, suffer sexual harassment on a far too regular basis and feel they have nowhere to go to report it.

This is compounded if the issue occurs in the workplace and you’re a freelancer. Without formal grievance procedures to rely on and employment rights to protect you if you need to take the matter to a tribunal, how can you guarantee that your engager will take action? 

Unfortunately, I have seen many cases where women have bravely reported inappropriate behaviour and even when a formal procedure of sorts is followed, the perpetrator still faces very little in the way of consequences or sanctions. Too often, the complainant leaves the workplace and the perpetrator remains.

As I reflect on my own life and career, I know there have been several incidents that I should have reported or taken action over and I’m sure this is an experience shared by many.  In reports I receive of historic abuse, there is often a sense of the survivor wishing they’d taken further action at the time. However, it is by no means easy or simple to report sexual harassment or assault even when it is clear that a criminal offence has been committed.

Thankfully, there are some fantastic support organisations out there who will advise on options for reporting such as Rape Crisis and Victim Support. Galop provides specialist support for LGBT+ people, and SurvivorsUK provides specialist support for men. 

Take action now

We are calling for changes in the law to better protect freelancers from sexual harassment and abuse.

It starts with giving freelancers an equal level of protection as people in other kinds of employment.

Sign the petition to show your support.

The Musicians’ Union is proud to take part in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Follow on the MU on Twitter and Instagram to get involved, or sign up as an MU Supporter for free for the latest campaigns news. 

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Naomi Pohl

Naomi Pohl is Deputy General Secretary at the Musicians’ Union. She has worked in the arts sector in the UK for nearly 20 years representing creators and performers. Since joining the MU in 2009, she has championed the rights of musicians, songwriters and composers working across TV and film, the recorded music industry, in education, orchestras and theatre. Naomi is currently involved in a high profile campaign for improved streaming royalties for performers (#FixStreaming) in conjunction with The Ivors Academy. Since the #MeToo movement started Naomi has been leading the Union’s SafeSpace service and the Union’s campaign to tackle sexual harassment in the music industry.

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