Half of musicians suffer sexual harassment at work, damning report claims

‘The incidents occurred when we were performing on tour. I was told this was just “lad culture” by the person investigating my complaint,’ says victim

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Wednesday 23 October 2019 12:03
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The Musicians’ Union is urging the government to 'urgently review' how it safeguards those on freelance contracts from the scourge of sexual harassment
The Musicians’ Union is urging the government to 'urgently review' how it safeguards those on freelance contracts from the scourge of sexual harassment

About half of musicians have been forced to endure sexual harassment in the workplace, a new study has found.

The Musicians’ Union, which represents more than 30,000 musicians working across the industry, found some 85 per cent of victims did not report the harassment.

Researchers said their silence was predominantly due to the “culture of the industry”.

Almost two-thirds of performers considered themselves more vulnerable to such treatment because they were freelance workers rather than on permanent employees, the research found.

Some 90 per cent of the Music Union’s members work on a freelance basis. Only one in five of those surveyed for the study said their contracts contained procedures to handle sexual harassment.

The Musicians’ Union, who polled 725 musicians for the research, is urging the government to “urgently review” how it safeguards freelancers, in particular by broadening the Equality Act 2010.

Workplace culture was found to be the most significant obstacle to musicians informing their employers of harassment, according to 55 per cent of people responding to the survey.

Forty-one per cent feared losing work, while about one-third said they were concerned their allegations would not be believed or treated with sufficient gravity.

One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I reported sexual harassment by a high-profile individual to a major employer in the industry. 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.

“We are freelance musicians and the incidents occurred when we were performing on tour. I was told this was just 'lad culture' by the person investigating my complaint. No wonder such a high proportion of issues go unreported.”

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The Musicians’ Union, which has launched a petition calling for more robust laws to shield freelancers from sexual harassment, asked the government to make it compulsory for employers to protect their staff from such mistreatment. It also argued for a statutory code of practice.

Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary of the union, said: “We are aware of far too many cases of talented musicians, particularly young or emerging artists, leaving the industry altogether due to sexism, sexual harassment or abuse.

“Many musicians who have gone public with their story are now being taken to court for defamation – evidence of the situation we’re dealing with. Survivors are often unable to speak out because the consequences for their career or personal life are devastating. In most cases we are aware of, the survivor ends up leaving the workplace or the industry and there are very few consequences for the perpetrator.”

Ms Pohl said they set up a SafeSpace email account back in 2018 which all workers in the industry can contact to anonymously and confidentially report sexual harassment, abuse, bullying and discrimination in the music industry.

She added: “A vast majority of our cases of sexual harassment involve women as victims, as a staggering 95 per cent of reports to SafeSpace have been from women.“

A US survey of 1,227 musicians carried out by the Music Industry Research Association last year found 72 per cent of female artists had been subjected to discrimination due to their gender. Two-thirds said they had been sexually harassed.

Rebecca Hitchen, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition campaign group, said: “It is overwhelmingly women musicians who experience sexual harassment and assault and who therefore face the backlash and repercussions if they do speak out or report. We find the increasing use of libel law as a way of silencing women who speak out about abuse, as experienced by the #SolidarityNotSilence campaign, extremely troubling.

“The music industry is male-dominated, can be exploitative and has very few regulations. Much more needs to be done to both prevent harassment from taking place, and support those who speak out.”

Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, added: “The law should be changed to include protections for freelancers so that they know someone will be held accountable.”

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Michael Dugher, chief executive of lobbying group UK Music, said he welcomed the report and would discuss its findings with members. “UK Music takes allegations of sexual harassment and abuse extremely seriously and promotes best practice across the industry,” he said.

A government Equalities Office spokesperson 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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