‘I’m still traumatised’: UK music industry blighted by sexual harassment and abuse, report finds

Musician’s Union says it is ‘vital’ for industry to adopt a zero tolerance approach

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 03 September 2021 00:01
<p>Singer Rebecca Ferguson has spoken out against abuse in the music industry</p>

Singer Rebecca Ferguson has spoken out against abuse in the music industry

A damning new report has highlighted the ongoing prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry, as the UK begins to see the return of live music.

The Musician’s Union released its findings today (3 September) and called on the government to help spark industry-wide change to protect musicians and other industry members.

The report, which includes case studies and testimony from ex-employees and freelancers of assault, ill-treatment and sexual harassment, follows months of vocal campaigning by musicians such as Rebecca Ferguson and Lily Allen.

The findings of an MU survey released in October 2019 had previously revealed that almost half (48 per cent) of musicians have experienced sexual harassment at work, while almost two thirds (61 per cent) felt at risk due to their employment as freelancers. Ninety per cent of the MU’s members work in a freelance capacity.

One anonymous case study described experiencing “constant” sexual harassment, both inside and outside of work.

“I was regularly groped and touched inappropriately,” she said. “Outside the workplace, my manager would often send me lewd, explicit photos or videos of himself. I never felt safe.”

She added: “Like many of the other survivors I know, I’m still traumatised by my experiences. When you choose to work in the music industry it’s often because you have a real love of the arts. You want to be surrounded by passionate, creative people – not entering a workspace where you worry you may be assaulted by your employer.”

“It’s unacceptable that so many artists, musicians, employees, and freelancers have suffered abuse at work and that many have left the industry as a result,” said Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary of the MU.

“With more women stepping forward to share their experiences, it’s vital the industry adopts a zero-tolerance approach to ensure everyone in the creative arts is protected as they return to work.”

Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

Lily Allen pictured in January 2020

Lily Allen alleged that she was sexually assaulted in 2016 by a music industry executive in her 2018 autobiography, My Thoughts Exactly.

Speaking on The Next Episode podcast in 2019, she said she had told a chief executive at her former record label, Warner Music, about the assault but believed the man responsible was still working for the company.

She said she believed her career had been “f***ed with” as a result of her claim.

In a response at the time, Warner Music said: “We take accusations of sexual misconduct extremely seriously and investigate claims that are raised with us. We’re very focused on enforcing our Code of Conduct and providing a safe and professional environment at all times.”

Former X Factor contestant Rebecca Ferguson called for an “overhaul” of the music industry back in April, after claiming to know of industry bosses “grooming” teenage boys who were “confused” about their sexuality, as well as other instances of sexual assault.

“What we are talking about here is injustice. An imbalance of power and people using their power and their position to abuse people with less power. It’s not good enough! We need to be able to call these things out for what they are with no fear, or it will never change.

“We have future generations to think about; there is a huge responsibility on all of us working in the creative arts to create a better and safer environment for the youth,” she said in a statement accompanying the MU report.

“We have normalised abuse for too long and it needs to stop! I support the musicians union and I hope that 2022 is the year that adequate legislation is introduced to protect people working within the creative industries.”

Ferguson claimed to have been warned against providing a comment for the report as she had been “booked by the people involved in this case in the past”.

“To that I say, let me be compromised,” she said. “I will always speak out against abuse and stand up for people who are suffering injustice and the rest of the industry needs to grow a backbone and do the same, stand up and speak out against abuse! Because if we all stand together, it will stop!”