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‘Giving Women Credit is a Good Place to Start’: Harassment and Bullying in the Music Industry

Nick Smith explores what the music business is doing (or not) to put its house in order

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Alamy

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Speaking to DJ Camz, a Brazilian DJ and music producer about whether she has experienced any harassment during her career, she replies: “Yes, there has been a few times. It has occurred backstage, onstage – DJs, managers and security being aggressive and disrespectful.”

DJ Camz remembers a few years ago, when she was performing at a festival in London and was watching another artist, a famous DJ’s tour manager grabbed her by the arm and dragged her off the stage that she was running because she was making videos of that artist. “There was no apology from the tour manager as he believed, in his mind, he was doing the right thing.”

Whether enough is being done to prevent harassment within the music industry, DJ Camz believes “most behaviour goes unpunished” and goes on to explain a recent story she was made aware of about a DJ who had been accused by one woman of harassment, with others coming forward with similar accusations. The woman who made the initial accusation was portrayed as a ‘crazy’ fan who had been rejected by the DJ.

According to DJ Camz, there is verbal and sexual harassment towards women in the music industry “because we are perceived as inferior”.

“We have had many cases of women coming forward about sexual abuse and being painted as crazy, always fuelled by the general audience’s opinion that ‘this person is too nice’ to do something like this,” she says. “I think giving women credit is a good place to start.”

The Musicians’ Union, which represents more than 33,000 musicians, works toward protecting the rights of its members and is fighting for fairness in the music industry. It conducted a survey of its members back in 2019 to understand how prevalent sexual harassment was within the music industry. Around 800 members responded and the results showed that almost half – 48% – had experienced sexual harassment; and more than 10% had witnessed sexual harassment on a regular basis.


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Key findings from the survey also highlighted that almost two-thirds – 61% – feel they are more at risk of sexual harassment because they work on a freelance basis and most contracts don’t include provisions for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment.

John Shortell, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at the Musicians’ Union, says allegations come from  “across the board” and “can range from racism to homophobia, sexual assault and rape, every type of discrimination that you can think of”.

Shortell looks after Safe Space Reporting, a mechanism created in 2018 whereby anyone in the music industry can report anonymously complaints of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. “The reports that we receive are horrific, from inappropriate touching to rape and sexual assault.”

He points out that 99.9% of reports that are received are from women. “I would say 100% that the perpetrators are men. We do receive reports from men but it’s usually men being sexually harassed by other men.”

Shortell says that the type of cases the union deals with are as wide-ranging as “inappropriate sexist comments being left on sheet notes for women musicians; executives forcibly trying to kiss artists, pupils being groomed by music teachers… and several incidents of rape reported to us, but people will not report these to the police”.

He says members usually do not want to carry forward their complaint as they are too scared of losing work and not being believed.

“So far, we have had 25 cases through Safe Space this year which range from name-calling to rape.”

Since the 2019 survey was published, there have been no material improvements, other than that people are willing to listen more: “Earlier this year, the UK Government held an inquiry into Misogyny within the Music Industry and I hope the Government listen to the recommendations from that report and we see change”.

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“At the beginning of the year,” he says, “we ran a project with Help Musicians which was called the Musicians’ Census That is, to my knowledge is the largest piece of data collected on musicians to date and we just had short of 6,000 responses. It wasn’t just on sexual harassment, we looked at demographics, earnings, career barriers, discrimination and much more. We really want to see positive change for people who work in the music industry.”

He says the Musicians’ Census will release insight reports over the next 12 months.

Joe Hastings is the manager of the Bullying and Harassment Service at Help Musicians where he oversees a 24/7 confidential helpline, created last year to deal with issues of bullying and harassment within the music industry.  

“When people call, they can access confidential space and they will speak to highly trained  therapists who can spot emotional needs and they are trained to support people, informally and formally,” he says.

The helpline is open to anyone who works in the industry – artists, freelancers, event coordinators and any other roles which are based in the music business.

“I would like to see a significant improvements for the music industry and fundamentally what would really be beneficial for freelancers is something that really empowers and manages their relationships and what they should expect from people,” Hastings adds. “A really good understanding of boundaries and how people want to be treated in this industry would be very helpful.”

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