BBC News

Musicians 'face high levels of sexual harassment'

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMusicians like Rita Ora wore a white rose to the 2018 Grammys to protest against sexual harassment in the music industry

Over the last 12 months, high-profile musicians such as Ryan Adams and Placido Domingo have faced accusations of sexual harassment.

Singers Lily Allen and Aluna Francis have also come forward with their own stories of abuse in the music industry.

And R Kelly and Michael Jackson have faced both new and historic allegations of abuse in major TV documentaries.

Now, armed with further case studies, the Musicians' Union is calling for legislation to protect its members.

More than 350 people, predominantly women, have contacted the union, detailing cases of harassment, discrimination and abuse of power.

The complaints included rape and sexual abuse - but more than four in five (85%) of the victims did not report the incidents "because they think they won't be listened to or they won't be believed," said Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary at the Musicians' Union.

One person, who asked to remain anonymous, said her complaint about being sexually harassed on tour had effectively been dismissed.

image captionLily Allen says she told Warner Music UK an industry figure had sexually assaulted her

"I reported sexual harassment by a high-profile individual to a major employer in the industry," she said. "I understand I was one of 10 women making reports about the same individual and yet no action was taken, as far as I'm aware.

"I was told this was just 'lad culture' by the person investigating my complaint. No wonder such a high proportion of issues go unreported."

Her experience echoes that of Lily Allen, who recently told the BBC her record label had failed to act on accusations of sexual assault by an industry figure.

The Musicians' Union said many artists affected by harassment end up leaving the industry while the perpetrators face little recrimination.

It asked its 30,000 members whether they had experienced discrimination or abuse at work. Of the 725 who responded, nearly half (48%) said they had.

"It ranges from things like a professional musician turning up for a gig and being given hot pants to wear, to backstage facilities that are only really designed for men, to abuse and rape," said Pohl.

She added that harassment was rife in the music industry because it presented a "very informal working environment, with late nights and alcohol consumption at gigs" as well as "working one-on-one in a studio environment, and places with no windows".

"Survivors are often unable to speak out because the consequences for their career or personal life are devastating," said Pohl.

More than half of the surveyed musicians felt the culture of the industry was the greatest barrier to reporting abuse, with other factors including fear of losing work and expectations the issue would not be handled appropriately.

The Union says its members are particularly vulnerable because they tend to work on a freelance basis, meaning they have fewer protections than those in fixed employment.

It is calling on the government to extend the Equality Act's provisions on discrimination and harassment so that they cover self-employed workers; and is asking the public to sign a petition calling for freelancers to be given "an equal level of protection to those in fixed employment".

In response, a Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: "Sexual harassment is appalling and it must be stopped.

"Our consultation on how the current laws can be improved closed at the beginning of this month and we are carefully considering all of the responses we received.

"We proposed a number of measures to strengthen and clarify the law so that we can provide explicit protections to anyone who experiences this vile behaviour in the workplace."

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Related Topics

  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual violence
  • Music

More on this story

  • Lily Allen says 'record label failed to act on assault'