Four women allege rape and assault as new research shows breadth of Australian music’s #MeToo plight
TRIGGER WARNING: This article and pages it links to contains information about rape, sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
Six years ago, an Australian producer led Rosie Fitzgerald into a taxi after her band I Know Leopard’s showcase at Brisbane’s BIGSOUND conference. It was her first show with the band and this producer, using his experience with many of Australia’s well-known acts, had been helping Rosie navigate the music industry.
He led Rosie to his hotel room and allegedly raped her as she said ‘No’, over and over. When he had finished and she made for the door, Rosie said the producer placed a $20 note in her pocket. In an interview with The Brag Media, Rosie recalled the incident.
“I told him no multiple times,” she said. “[…] I just got out of there, got back, and I didn’t know where anyone was, and I freaked out.”
A publicist friend noticed she was in a bad way and put her into a taxi outside Brisbane venue The Wooly Mammoth, which took her to the band’s accommodation. Rosie was married at the time and cried herself to sleep that night. One of Rosie’s band mates in I Know Leopard heard her cries that night.
An investigation by The Brag Media (Rolling Stone Australia, Tone Deaf, The Industry Observer), uncovered multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment, some of which took place at BIGSOUND.
Australian photographer Michelle Pitiris (who works under the name SHEISAPHRODITE) contacted BIGSOUND in December 2019 regarding the alleged rape of Rosie. Michelle did not receive a reply for eight months due to decreased capacity. QMusic’s CEO Angela Samut told The Brag Media she is putting internal and support measures in place so this never happens again.
When Angela Samut did respond, she invited both Rosie and Michelle to a “closed group” discussion at BIGSOUND 2020. BIGSOUND didn’t go ahead last year due to Covid restrictions, and neither did the discussion between QMusic or BIGSOUND with Rosie that year. However, QMusic did host multiple closed discussions about how to make BIGSOUND a safer, more respectful place for attendees.
“For me, at that point it was just confusing because you don’t know who to go to,” said Rosie. “If you were at a normal job there’s someone to report to, but in music, and being young in music, you don’t really know.
“[…] I didn’t feel strong enough to go to the police at that point, it felt too much. I didn’t know who to tell.”
According to ABC research published in February 2020, Police “cleared” or resolved more than 25 per cent of sexual assault investigations without making an arrest or taking other legal action. “This can be because police don’t have enough evidence to press charges, they don’t know who committed the crime, or other reasons – for example, the suspected offender has died,” read the report.
In March this year, Michelle Pitiris was sent a Concerns Notice from a solicitor working on behalf of QMusic, BIGSOUND and Angela Samut. Michelle had seen QMusic and BIGSOUND’s press release, sent on International Women’s Day this year, announcing a playlist and In Conversation pieces to celebrate local women in the industry. It had been over a year since Michelle had contacted QMusic on Rosie’s behalf, so she took to Instagram Stories to share her disappointment and called the press release “performative”.
The Concerns Notice asked Michelle to publicly apologise for her post, which she did, via her photography account’s Instagram Stories. Angela Samut later apologised to her for the legal notice and the pair are now collaborating on an industry-first safety and inclusion program for this year’s BIGSOUND event in September.
The Brag Media sought comment from BIGSOUND, which issued the below statement:
BIGSOUND is committed to combating sexual and gender-based violence by rolling out new initiatives that are centred around safety. We are engaging like never before, with a suite of changes and initiatives involving technology, security, education and most importantly, listening to those impacted the most.
It includes a top-down review of how we view and understand the reality of sexual violence and creating rigorous new protocols to ensure the ongoing support for all patrons impacted at our events and beyond.
Safety and gender-related abuse will also be a theme throughout the content stream of this year’s conference and we will also be working with industry to roll out a suite of live music initiatives that will not only make BIGSOUND safer, but will be trialled with venues and others in the live music space to create new best-practice solutions to be shared across the industry.
This is a conversation that the entire industry needed to have years ago and while we regret not facilitating it sooner, it is a conversation that we will not shy away from having now.
It is through the courage of women coming forward that we have been able to have conversations over the last year and put in place actions that will help protect the safety of others at BIGSOUND moving forward. We look forward to announcing our full program and initiatives soon.
Multiple interviews with those in the music industry whose roles range from artists to managers to booking agents and music photographers revealed the covering up of certain incidents with cult-like precision.
This investigation follows research by Dr. Jeff Crabtree into workplace sexual harassment in the Australian music industry. The Brag Media can exclusively reveal the results of this research, which marks the first extensive study of this kind in Australia and New Zealand.
Dr. Crabtree’s research found that harassment occurs across the breadth of professional relationships including patron to artist, bandmate to bandmate, artist to manager, manager to artist, label executive to artist, producer to artist, senior industry figure to junior industry figure, male sound engineer to female artist, tertiary music educator to student.
The below quotes are from women who spoke to Dr. Crabtree for the research:
“He then put his hand up under my skirt, and between my legs and managed to get around my underwear. At that point I screamed.”
“I was almost constantly sexually harassed. Pretty much verbal at every performance … and once I was digitally raped.”
“Paranoid, petrified that his powerful connections in this town are going to kill me. I thought he was going to kill me. Absolutely in fear of my life. I thought I was a dead woman walking.”
“The crowd were going so crazy that they pulled me in and were all ripping at me… I was having a panic attack because I’d just been physically assaulted.”
In fact, just under 79% of the 33 interview participants described power as a factor in their experiences of harassment. Meanwhile, 19% of the 145 online survey respondents referred to abuses of power either directly or indirectly. Power was used to manipulate, intimidate, humiliate, and coerce sex.
76% of all interview participants specifically mentioned alcohol as a factor in their experience of harassment, and 13.5% of female respondents in this research reported experiencing sexual innuendo either weekly or daily.
Some interview participants for the research believe that their life would be in danger if their identities were ever to become known. Multiple interviewees reported that colleagues had taken their lives as a result of sexual harassment.
Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research was undertaken over a period of two years after it gained ethics approval in February 2018.
Speaking up in the Australian music industry can be a costly exercise. Many abuse survivors fear they’ll lose their jobs or never find work again, and Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research echoes this.
The report noted that certain powerful people coerced industry workers on the basis that they can ensure that “you will never work in this town again”. Often, the threat of reputational damage is enough to ensure coercion. Shockingly, the participants who refused sexual overtures experienced terminal damage to their careers.
The Brag Media spoke to two women with the same alleged abusers: Deena Lynch, who performs music under the name Jaguar Jonze, and another artist, who has chosen to remain anonymous. Deena recounted an incident at a Brisbane nightclub in March 2019 which caused her to disappear “off the face of the planet because of the trauma.”
Having previously been invited to a writing session at a Sydney studio, two producers later invited Deena to their show in Brisbane and then for a drink at a nearby nightclub, where multiple sexual assaults allegedly took place. In the police report, obtained by The Brag Media, Deena said every time one of the producers touched her body inappropriately she would have to peel his hands off her.
“I would have said no about 20 times,” Deena said in her statement to the police.
The police report shows how calculated the pair allegedly were, working in tandem to isolate her from the crowd, ensure she stayed at the nightclub, and physically hold her as they assaulted her. “I can only describe the situation as a tug-o-war,” Deena said in her statement.
“They just kept pushing it,” Deena remembers. “Even if I was lining up for drinks, one producer would come up and put his hand up my shorts and go right into my underwear. It was definitely crossing boundaries that I had clearly asserted. They both worked together to physically hold me down.”
Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research established a connection between social exclusion, sexual objectification, sexual harassment and sexual assault. “Women in the music industry experience sexual objectification, which serves, amongst other things as a mechanism of social exclusion,” said Dr. Crabtree. “Sexual objectification is a form of gender discrimination that functions to dehumanise women by regarding them as objects that exist for the pleasure of others.”
“It was really disturbing and I went into freeze mode eventually,” said Deena of the incident. “There are different survival strategies and we always talk about ‘fight’ and ‘flight’ but there’s ‘freeze’ as well, which is playing dead.”
Deena’s experience mirrors much of Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research findings around power and coercion. The music industry examples of coercion used in his report include: threats to reputation and future work, damage to reputation, and sexual harassment.
Deena recalled the producers using her music career as a way to try and coerce her at the time.
“They would say stuff like, ‘Don’t upset your career. You don’t want to make it awkward for us working together in the industry. I just want us to all be friends. We just wrote a really awesome song together. We’re going to be able to have so much fun in the industry’.”
As soon as the pair were preoccupied — when one went to the toilet while the other began talking to a group of people that was known to him — Deena ran approximately 1km away from the venue until she called an Uber. For months afterwards, the pair sent her multiple messages, which The Brag Media has seen.
“For months they both messaged me threatening and emotionally blackmailing me,” said Deena. “I was scared. I didn’t really come out of the woodwork back into the music industry until I got my own head sorted and rebuilt my self worth.”
Participants in Dr. Crabtree’s research described a normalised industry culture of coercion, sexual coercion and threat. Dr. Crabtree explained, “Injustice, inequality, toxicity and the subordination of powerless people, most notably of women, are a product of vastly asymmetric power structures that are fed by an economy that rewards a disproportionate few.”
9.1% of participants reported instances of serious harassment—harassment is defined as serious if it is experienced daily or weekly for at least six months. That 9.1% is three times higher than in Europe, where the prevalence of serious harassment in the workplace is thought to be 3%-4% (Zapf et al. 2011, p. 77).
Deena’s case again reflects this research. One producer’s consistent messages to her, spanning six months after the alleged assault, show clear calculation and suggest he was observing her activity on social media.
In one of the many messages provided to The Brag Media, one producer said he would send a letter of apology to Deena. The Brag Media understands Deena never received the letter. Instead, one of the later messages shows that he blamed her for the incident.
In November 2018, four months before Deena was allegedly sexually assaulted, a fellow Brisbane artist had just completed a day of writing and recording with the aforementioned producers in Sydney when they invited her to an apartment to make homemade pizzas.
As one producer sat by the window watching, the other proceeded to sexually assault this artist, touching her inappropriately.
“I said, ‘Seriously stop’ and it just kept going on for ages,” she recalled. “He was putting his arms around me and trying to kiss my neck. I said ‘Don’t, seriously don’t’. I was getting scared and in that moment, I was thinking, ‘Oh god there’s two of them and I’m not going to be able to get away’.
“[…] I remember looking over at [one of the producers] to be like, ‘Tell your friend to calm down’, but he just kept watching. Not saying anything. It was weird. He was just watching and being silent.”
This artist made an excuse to go to the bathroom and called an Uber. Even as she left the apartment to wait for the Uber outside, the producer who had been assaulting her followed and tried to kiss her, again.
“It was getting to the point where I thought, ‘If I don’t leave something is going to happen’,” she said.
Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research noted that sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and workplace harassment are normalised in the music industry. In The Brag Media’s research, many of the assault and harassment survivors who were interviewed believed their experience “wasn’t that bad” because they had not been raped.
Both Deena and the aforementioned artist went to the police to report their alleged abusers. Deena went to Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley Station on June 6th 2019, and again on July 8th 2019. Meanwhile, the second artist with the same alleged abusers went to Brisbane’s Stafford Police Station on July 14th last year. Their alleged abusers are still working within the music industry.
The Brag Media also spoke to Ash Waterman, who records music under the artist name Azure. Ash was allegedly sexually assaulted by a male musician at a Halloween party in 2018 at a Sydney Airbnb. Ash said she was in one of the bedrooms falling asleep when the member of a now defunct boy band snuck away from the party and crawled into the bed.
“I couldn’t even talk, I was so drunk, and my eyes were rolling back,” Ash recalled. He then digitally penetrated her.
“I was just crying. My best friend Hannah and another girl came in and caught him under the blankets on top of me. They said, ‘Get away from her’.”
Hannah Dickenson, who had seen the incident take place from outside the room’s glass balcony door, confirmed the incident. She said she banged on the glass door and told him to stop.
Ash noted that she had previously “fooled around” with this band member in the past and that when she confronted him about the assault a year-and-a-half later, last July, he said, “Once you consent once I can do whatever I want”.
Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research paper includes actionable suggestions for individuals, the industry and the government to make the Australian music industry a safer place.
The 10 ‘implications’ for the industry from the Workplace Harassment in the Contemporary Music Industries of Australia and New Zealand research report are:
- Peak bodies should also collaborate on the development and publication of a Mandatory Code of Conduct for the contemporary music industry. I would note that APRA-AMCOS has in place a service provider code of conduct and that Screen Australia has developed a code of conduct to prevent sexual harassment, both of which may serve as templates for a music industry code. However, a binding code of conduct is required that strengthens a zero-tolerance policy beyond sexual harassment to include workplace harassment of all kinds. Finally, peak bodies need to support positive change to the music industry culture by advocating the recommendations for government (made in the report).
- The MEAA should invest in the expansion of its membership amongst all musicians who work in the contemporary music industries, in a bid to offset the significant imbalances of power in an economy that places musicians in the small live music scene at great risk.
- The MEAA needs to invest in the expansion of its membership to technical and production crew who work primarily in the music industry, so as to more effectively exert its advocacy within the live performance sector, including contributing to cultural change in this sector.
- Music industry peak bodies should establish a network of suitably qualified psychologists who are registered to deliver services under the Medicare Mental Health Plan to music industry workers suffering from PTSD-like symptoms. Peak bodies should also establish a fund to cover the gap payments. This fund can be administered through Musicians Australia (the MEAA). Such therapeutic services go beyond the ambit of crisis care offered by Support Act.
- This research recommends the formation of an effective professional association for top and middle tier artists, similar to the Featured Artist Coalition in the UK. The purpose of such an association should be to act as a trade body that represents the rights of artists and advocates for them with powerful figures in the industry.
- Tertiary music education institutions should enforce existing policies on staff conduct. The evidence in this research is that male teaching staff behave in a way that is tantamount to sexual predation. This is a matter for urgent attention for leaders in the contemporary music education sector. There can be little effective cultural change if cohort after cohort of music graduates has been normalised into a culture that objectifies and sub-ordinates women during the course of their pre-career development. Music education institutions should not only incorporate mandatory consent training but also anti- sexual harassment and anti-bullying training, not just for teaching staff but also in their curricula.
- Participants in this research often commented that there was no one that they could report to in the wake of harassment. It is imperative that the crisis service Support Act develop a harassment hotline in Australia, wherein music industry practitioners can confidentially report harassment, and to develop a system to triage such reports for appropriate response (i.e. legal action, therapeutic intervention and the like). A similar service should be developed in New Zealand by Music Helps.
- Peak bodies are already engaged in delivering training to the industry as well as advocacy to government. Consequently, peak bodies are the logical choice for the implementation of professional development programs outlined earlier.
- Music industry organisations categorised as medium to large businesses (more than 20 employees) should appoint and train a female member of staff to be the sexual and workplace harassment referral officer. This position should be senior in the organisation and empowered to confidentially hear and investigate harassment complaints and to implement zero tolerance for harassment policies.
- Medium to large industry organisations should change their hiring practices to ensure that there are women employed in senior positions, who have the power to call out workplace and sexual harassment without fear of reprisal from senior male figures. Moreover, the binding code of conduct should be adopted at board level by these organisations and become enforceable on the part of CEO’s and managers by virtue of appropriate board directives.
Dr. Crabtree has noted that many industries within Australia have mandatory consent training, sexual harassment training, and respect training. Currently these kinds of training sessions are not mandatory in the music industry.
“[Consent training would mean] people can’t get out into the industry and go, ‘Oh I didn’t know, I thought I was doing the right thing’,” said Dr. Crabtree. “There’s no excuse once they’ve actually completed that training.”
The Australian music industry’s MeToo movement has been ramping up of late thanks to multiple incidents of sexual harassment coming to the surface on social media and through media reporting. Following Stuff.co.nz‘s extensive research into sexual harassment and discrimination in Australia and New Zealand, Warner Music Australia terminated its A&R executive contract with Scott Maclachlan in late January.
In February, Alex Mather of now inactive boy band Darling Brando was accused of sexual misconduct and his manager at the time David Simon admitted “these situations could have been dealt with better”.
More recently, Sydney Morning Herald‘s Nathanael Cooper investigated allegations against Tony Glover, vice-president of commercial music at Sony Music Australia. Glover’s employment was terminated on April 8th.
More incidents of harassment and assault in the local industry are coming to light thanks to the bravery of those who — as outlined in Dr. Crabtree’s research — have been made to believe they didn’t have a voice.
“We have to understand the culture around all of this,” said Deena Lynch. “Which is, you don’t want to be ‘that girl’ that’s creating drama or causing interruptions, disruptions, disturbances within this small little clique of the Australian music industry. At the time I was at the bottom of the industry and so I had less power. People at the higher ends of the industry abuse their power. There’s a really strong power imbalance that silences us.”
If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment and feel you would like to speak to someone for support or information, 1800RESPECT (Phone: 1800 737 732) can provide counselling 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.
Australian music industry workers can contact the Support Act Wellbeing Helpline. It is staffed by professional counsellors who offer expertise in all areas related to mental health. It is free, confidential and open to anyone in music or the arts. Call 1800 959 500, 24/7, 365 days a year.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.