Report: Sexual Harassment In The UK Music Biz

BBC reporter Jean Mackenzie interviewed four women who came forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the music industry.   

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The interviews were shown on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire program. Here’s a summary of each woman’s story.

Yasmine Lajoie had moved to London from Leeds to work in the A&R department of a “major music company,” going out to gigs every night.

Lajoie recounted one particular incident with a “manager of a couple of artists that we were trying to sign.” After an evening involving a lot of drinks, both went home to Lajoie’s place “to continue the night.”

“He fell asleep on the sofa and I went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night and he’d got into bed with me, and his fingers were inside me. He had lit all the candles in my room; he acted like it wasn’t a big deal. He did stop, but I didn’t know how long he’d been doing it before I woke up.”

Lajoie remembers the night as “one of the most horrible experiences of my life. I felt truly violated.” She told colleagues at work about what happened, but was encouraged to keep quiet as not to jeopardize the signing of that manager’s acts.

After the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the subsequent revelations of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, Lajoie encouraged other women to share their experiences of sexual conduct in the industry.

“I expected stories of sexual harassment: ‘Oh, he wouldn’t stop looking at my boobs,’ or ‘I got unwanted compliments from him all the time.’ But what I’ve actually received are stories of rape, insisting on receiving blowjobs, seriously assaulting women, chasing them down the street, raping them in apartments owned by major music companies.”

She concludes, that “sexual assault and abuse in the music industry is endemic. I don’t have a single peer in the music industry, who’s never been sexually harassed or assaulted.”

Chloe Howl is a singer-songwriter who got signed to a major record label at the age of 16, “fresh out of school.” She was nominated for a Brit Award soon after. “There was a guy that I was working with within the industry. We were working quite closely together.”

“Slowly as time went on he would sort of encourage me into doing things that I had never really done before, you know, drugs, I had no experience in whatsoever.”

She recalls the individual hinting at wanting more than a working relationship at various occasions. Being still a teenager, Howl wasn’t sure how to handle the situation.

 “Am I meant to invite this person in that I’m working with? And then I would feel almost pressured to flirt back with him or to not make it seem weird because I didn’t want to disappoint this guy, who, I thought, held my career in his hands.”

One night, “completely out of the blue,” Howl received a text message, in which the individual announced that he was “madly in love” with her, adding, that “if he wasn’t working with me he would totally be cracking on to me.” By that point, Howl was 18.

One night he made a clumsy effort to get Howl into bed, who was “off her face,” which is exactly why she hesitated a long time to come out with her story – for fear of being told it was her own fault.

Howl, too, knows girls who have been raped. “It’s always a man in power and a girl on the rise who needs as much support as possible, whose career hasn’t started yet.”

Another artist, whose name was changed to Amy for the program, told her story of starting to work with a manager “from one of the UK’s largest music companies” when she was 16 years old.

She remembered the first years of working together being “actually really good. My music was getting attention from labels for the first time, and we had chart success with my first release, and we were quite a good team until everything went wrong.”

According to Amy, the manager at one point told her he was in love with her, and that if she didn’t agree to be his girlfriend, he would ruin her career. She said, he got “very angry” if he saw signs that the feeling wasn’t mutual. “I was 17 at this point, and he was quite a few years older than me, so I went along with it.

“He made a list of all the things that I was and wasn’t allowed to do. It had things like showing him more affection, talking to my friends and family less, and making sure that he was the person I talked to most in my life.”

She said he had convinced her that he was the only reason she was having any success, and that “no one would want to work with me without him in the picture.”

After some time, the manager started to sexually assault her, at which point Amy was ready to abandon her dream of being a musician and take on a 9-to-5. “I’d rather be banished from what I love than have to spend anymore time with this man.”

Looking back, she felt like she was groomed. “From afar I check up on him to make sure he’s not managing any other girls, and, at the moment, he isn’t.”

Michelle De Vries was working in a record company with “amazing people, all men that just looked after me and treated me like a younger sister, and I had a great time there.”

She had the ambition of running EMI Records worldwide one day, and one day she got offered a job abroad that sounded like it could be the next step toward that goal. However, upon arrival she was told that her work permit hadn’t yet come through, and that she would have to stay with an “older, more senior colleague.”

“I hadn’t been there more than a few days when small things happened. He would walk into my room in the mornings with no clothes on. One night he came into the room and said that he wanted to sleep with me.

“I mean, I was a young girl, and I really didn’t know how to handle this kind of thing, because I had never come across this before. He would masturbate in front of me, he would masturbate on me, and say: I know you really like it.”

More than being terrified, De Vries recalled feeling ashamed. “I felt like a sex slave, actually. That’s the best way to describe it.”

When phoning up the immigration agency, she was told that her papers had been ready for several months. De Vries got herself an apartment and continued working for the same company.

One day, De Vries and a colleague were summoned to the executive’s office, where he “took out his penis and said: I want to have a threesome with you. Come on girls, let’s do it.”

While a lawyer confirmed that a “serious crime” had been committed, the lawyer also said: “If you report this, you will never work in the industry again.”

So De Vries and her colleague “went for a coffee, handed in our notice, and never went back to the office again.”

De Vries recalled deciding to join the #metoo movement when it started, soon after the Weinstein allegations. “It was a big thing for me to do. And then I woke up in the morning and my Facebook feed was full of almost every other woman I know in the music industry, also saying me too.”

She said she decided to speak because she never wanted anything like it to happen to anyone ever again. “I thought I was a hangover of the 80s and 90s. I thought that sort of behavior was no longer in the business, but it’s very clear that that behavior is still going on. Young women are being sexually assaulted still today. There are some very dangerous men in the business.”

When interviewer Mackenzie asked whether the men De Vries was talking about currently sat right at the top of the industry, De Vries affirmed.