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‘I’m still traumatised’: Sexual abuse and harassment ‘rife’ in UK music industry, report claims

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Sexual harassment and abuse remains a prominent problem in the music industry, despite progress made thanks to the #MeToo movement, a new report claims.

The Musicians’ Union is calling on the government and music industry organisations to protect those in the sector from victimisation and harassment, particularly as it bounces back from the pandemic and more offers of work become available.

The industry has recently been hit by abuse claims from prominent artists like X-factor contestant Rebecca Ferguson and singer Lily Allen, who have spoken about experiencing exploitation, bullying and abuse by senior figures.

However, the Musicians’ Union warns it’s not just high-profile artists who are at risk of victimisation.

Lily Allen, whose album ‘No Shame’ has been nominated for the Mercury Prize 2018, poses for a photograph ahead of the ceremony at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, Britain, September 20, 2018
Image: Lily Allen alleged she was sexually assaulted by a music industry executive in 2016

Sexual abuse is also “rife” behind-the-scenes, according to testimony from ex-employees and freelancers.

The union says it has received new reports from a group of women from a promotions company who have revealed “shocking testimonies of ill-treatment, sexual harassment and assault” allegedly at the hands of their employer.

One anonymous music industry worker told the union she was harassed “constantly”, regularly groped and sent explicit images from a manager.

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She said: “I experienced sexual harassment constantly at work – both in and outside of the office. I was regularly groped and touched inappropriately.

“Outside the workplace, my manager would often send me lewd, explicit photos or videos of himself. I never felt safe.

“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.”

Prior to the pandemic, a poll of the union’s members found that 48% of musicians had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, 58% had witnessed an incident of sexual harassment and 10% said they had witnessed similar incidents regularly.

Singer Rebecca Ferguson
Image: Singer Rebecca Ferguson has spoken openly about her experiences in the music industry

Ferguson said: “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.”

Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: “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.

“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.”

She added: “Now we ask for action: we need the government to strengthen the law to prevent sexual harassment at work before it happens.”

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage said: “Everyone has the right to feel safe at work, whatever industry they are in. Allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the music industry are concerning.

“I met with musicians and industry partners to help those facing these issues. We called for commitments from the sector such as cross-industry codes of conduct and the guarantee of better signposting to support available. It is vital that we all keep up the momentum in tackling this issue.”