The Problem With Being Complicit – a look into abuse of power in the music industry, and how you can stop supporting abusers

By Emily Condie

In any industry where a platform (and therefore a degree of power) is distributed, it feels inevitable that at some point, someone in this position will abuse it. Although the idea of an artist you support – and oftentimes subconsciously put trust into – being capable of taking advantage of their success in a malicious way is alarming, it is not one that anyone should ever be completely closed off to. Particularly when a victim comes forward.

As a largely male dominated industry, sexual abuse, assault and harassment have always been endemic in the culture, and as a result of the continuous ‘turning a blind eye’, we see passivity in the face of these problems. Because of the 80s ‘groupie’ culture (wherein women would follow a band or artist around on tour, often hoping for a sexual relationship with them), and the glorification of the ‘rockstar’ type figure, the expectation that a lot of men in the industry will take advantage of their success and of women has become overly normalised. This shouldn’t be the case, and should never have been the case – so why are we only just talking about it now?

In any case, coming forward and speaking about sexual assault is a task that for a lot of women is terrifying for a number of reasons – one of the main being whether anybody will actually listen, and whether anything will be done. Unfortunately, this means that in England and Wales only 15% of those who experience sexual violence actually report it to the police, as well as a tiny 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. In this case, it’s obvious that when the abuser is somebody with a large platform or a lot of success, these fears and issues are only going to be heightened. Things such as the fanbase’s reaction, the accusations of defamation, even down to the power that the legal team and management hold and their ability to kill the accusations will all have a profound impact on the victim’s decision. This is completely wrong, rooted in sexism, and needs to change – something we as individuals can try our best to help with.

This starts with giving women a voice, and listening when they tell their story. It’s already troubling how common sexual violence is in the music industry, and ignoring or dismissing accusations allows this behaviour to continue unquestioned. By calling out and stopping supporting predators and abusers, as well as encouraging and listening to victims, the music scene becomes safer for everyone, and women won’t feel so trapped and silenced. 

Something extremely beneficial in this area was the founding of the #MeToo movement in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke. Burke’s aim was to empower survivors by providing a feeling of solidarity, as well as encouraging women to talk about their experiences in order to truly portray the extent of the problem, and the disturbingly high number of women who have gone through similar things to each other. Despite the success of the #MeToo movement and the attention it has received, it has only been in recent years that the music industry has had a breakthrough in recognising the problem rooted in its culture, with abusers such as R. Kelly and Ryan Adams finally facing consequences for their horrific actions. While this is naturally a good thing, there’s still a long way to go before the industry is safe for women: artists, fans and those behind the scenes.

Another surprising platform in the calling out of abusers is social media, particularly Twitter, where just last month The Regrettes’ Lydia Night talked about her experience with SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong. Her accusations detailed the feeling that she was forced into activity she didn’t consent to, and the way Armstrong enforced secrecy in their relationship while she was underage. Something she also mentioned was the sheer volume of harassment she received from SWMRS fans, which she felt was encouraged by other band members – she wasn’t listened to properly until Wallows’ Dylan Minette stood in solidarity with her in a series of tweets, which forced SWMRS to acknowledge the situation. She shouldn’t have ever been shut down by people who don’t actually know anything about her position, but she was – should Armstrong have had no platform, or not been a member of SWMRS, would this have been different?

By being complicit in abuse, fans make it more and more difficult for victims to get justice. When you like a band and actively support them, you allow them to maintain the platform that they’ve created. When you accuse a woman of ‘clout chasing’, or having ‘no proof’ when they make an accusation, you shut them down, and allow the said band to continue to abuse their position of power. Collectively, as fans, we need to hold artists accountable for their actions and stand with victims – particularly in certain alternative genres which are completely dominated by men, and in which the age gap between teenage fans and the band members would allow the artists to completely take advantage of younger, naive girls. The music industry has never been, and isn’t innocent. Don’t stop talking about it.

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