Rape and abuse: The music industry's dark side exposed

By Jean Mackenzie
Victoria Derbyshire programme

  • Published
Media caption,
"Amy" says she was groomed by her music manager

Sexual abuse and harassment is "endemic" in the music industry, with "dangerous men" abusing their power, the Victoria Derbyshire programme has been told. Some victims are now speaking out for the first time.

"Amy" was 15 when she was groomed by her music manager from one of the UK's largest music companies.

"I'd been writing songs since I was very young, and somebody emailed me and said he wanted to help me and manage me," she explains.

The singer-songwriter - whose name we have changed - began working with the man and soon had chart success, before everything went wrong.

"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.

"Over the next two years he continued to blackmail and threaten me to be in a relationship with him.

"He convinced me that I would be nothing without him and that if I told anyone, that success would go away."

The manager - who was still working in the industry - became more controlling as time went on, Amy says.

"He made a list of all the things I was and wasn't allowed to do.

"It had things like showing him more affection, talking to my friends and family less, and making sure he was the person I talked to most in my life."

Then, she says, he began to sexually assault her.

"I didn't want to survive any more, because it was just a horrible life.

"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'.

"Being a musician is all I ever wanted and it was finally happening. It should've been the best time of my life, but it was actually the worst".

'One of the lucky ones'

Singer-songwriter Chloe Howl felt exploited by a number of men at the beginning of her career.

She was signed to a record label aged 16, and later nominated for a Brit Award.

"I did have somebody come on to me in pretty strong way," she explains. "He was a lot older than me and we were meant to be professionally working together.

Media caption,
'I know women who have been raped in the music industry'

"He would drop me off at my hotel, and then text me to say, 'Why didn't you invite me in?'

"I remember one night he grabbed my bum and said something along the lines of, 'I feel like we'd have really good times in the sack.'"

Yet despite this sexual harassment, she describes herself as being "one of the lucky ones".

"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."

'Sex slave'

"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," says Yasmin Lajoie, a 29-year-old music manager.

Frustrated by the abuse that she had seen and experienced in the industry, she started collecting others' stories of sexual misconduct.

"I expected stories of sexual harassment… but what I've actually received are stories of rape happening on company property, men insisting on oral sex from young women, men seriously assaulting women, raping them in apartments owned by major music companies."

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.

Image caption,
Yasmin Lajoie says that she is "angry, and things need to change"

One woman who did decide to share her story, after 20 years, was Michelle de Vries, who has waived her right to anonymity.

After landing a job abroad for a major music company as a young woman, she says 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,'" she explains. "I felt like a sex slave.

"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.'

Media caption,
Music industry abuse: 'I felt like a sex slave'

"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.'"

Michelle and her female colleague decided to resign.

She says the man is still working in the industry - which has added to her resolve to speak out.

"I thought I was a hangover of the 80s and 90s, but it's very clear that this behaviour is still going on and young women are being sexually assaulted, still, today."

For Yasmin, recent media revelations have not even scratched the surface.

"Sexual assault and abuse in the music industry is endemic," she says.

UK Music, which represents the industry, said it takes "any allegations extremely seriously, and will always offer support and confidentiality to any complainant and do our utmost to guide them towards the help and advice they need".

Yasmin adds that she has "absolutely no doubt that there are people working in the industry today who should be in prison".

She says: "I am angry, and things need to change. There are so many amazing careers, it would be great to be able to encourage women to enter the industry without fear of assault, harassment and rape."

Watch the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.