Op-Ed: Abuse – It Starts & Ends With Us


 



“Growing up means watching my heroes turn human in front of me.”

That’s a line from The Wonder Year’s song, ‘Hoodie Weather’, and its times like these that I’m starting to realise just how goddamn true that is.

For the man who wrote those words, Dan “Soupy” Campbell, it meant he became friends with bands like New Found Glory and they were then humanised to him. But for me right now, it means that the people and artists you look up to and the people and artists who inspire you are not what they seem. For in the blink of an eye, the golden image you had of them can crumble away and reveal the flawed, terrifyingly human truth beneath.

Right now, I’m thinking about all of this as I sit here at my computer at 4AM in the morning, writing most of this out as a stream of consciousness, just trying to dissect how I feel about all this and what’s next in this national and international multiple-industry sexual assault scandal*.

[*I hate that word as it suggests that this is some form of tabloid gossip that can be rectified with good PR and a positivity campaign but I’m not sure what else to call it as “a complete and utter fucking mess” seems a tad wordy.]

Brand New's Jesse Lacey

Brand New’s Jesse Lacey. PC: Ryan Bakerink.

The age of disregarding the age of consent:

Firstly, I want to address some of the horrendous comments from people about the victims of these allegations. Not just the victim shaming comments though.

So many people over social media – in Facebook comments and buried in Twitter replies – are echoing the sentiment that these girls at the time, some of the young age of fourteen, were aware of what they were doing and as such, the accused band members are free and in the clear because all was consensual.

It seems like these people have forgotten the laws around the age of consent and how we as a society decided that people under the age of eighteen cannot consent to sexual acts because they lack the maturity, experience and world knowledge to fully understand what they are getting into and what they are deciding to do. Hence why statutory rape is a thing.

I mean, that makes sense, doesn’t it? We also know that sexual acts at a young age can have inverse effects throughout a person’s life leading to substance abuse, difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and an overall lower quality of life. So for as much as you want to say they know what they were doing, they didn’t and multiple times has this been said by the very victims themselves on reflection of these past events.

Yet there’s another layer to this besides their age and that is the power dynamics in these “relationships”. Let me put it in the words of a recently outed perpetrator of such transgressions: Louis C.K:

…When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

[While what C.K. said in his statement was good, he still didn’t actually apologise for what he did which was shitty.]

Louis C.K.

Louis C.K.

To break it down even further, when you are in a position of power over someone, whether fully or marginally, you have erased their choice in the matter. Their answer is now filtered through the lens of the repercussions that will come from what they say and do. Or even what they don’t say or do not do.

Also, due to the fact, as seen particularly with With Confidence’s Luke “Rockets” Thomas, when these grown men groom young girls those repercussions might be as small as “he won’t talk to me anymore”. To those on the outside that may seem insignificant but when you are manipulated by the power of another person, things distort and your perception of the matter undoubtedly shifts. Example: one of the women to come out against Brand New’s Jesse Lacey spoke on how he blackmailed her into doing sexual favours for him in return for access to the band to report on. This is far more black and white and is not excusable by any means whatsoever.

So how do we fix this?

I think that’s the question on everyone’s mind. What can we do to ensure that both children and all people in the music scene remain and feel safe? The answer lies in reformation. Reformation of how we talk, how we act, how we treat each other and how the business side of the industry conducts itself. And this reformation cannot wait another day I feel.

It starts with labels and agencies.

It starts with labels and agencies vetting the bands and artists they are signing more so than ever before. They need to ensure that the people they are going to employ are safe to be around young and impressionable people and that their artist’s gross actions will not come to affect the label’s interests.

With the sheer volume of information coming to light now, it seems like we’re at a real tipping point. Things cannot continue the way they are.

An idea for change would be for labels and agencies to run police checks on all potential signees and require that any artist signing a contract with them getting a Working-With-Children check and attend Child Safe training sessions; whether they’re playing under 18 shows or all-ages events or not. If we set the precedent early on that this behaviour is not okay and we factor this into the very contracts and agreements that bands sign, it adds an extra weight to the decisions they ultimately will make in the future should a young fan message them on Twitter or add them on Facebook or should they simply feel a compulsion to abuse their power in some ways. It also gives a footing for fellow band members to talk about each other’s behaviour that they deem inappropriate.

Labels and agencies making a commitment to child safe practices is another thing that is also needed. We need solidarity in this if we truly want to stop sexual assault and abuse in its tracks. I know that getting band members to all have a Working with Children Check and getting promoters to do thorough research on the bands themselves isn’t going to fully end sexual assault. But we need to take steps forward to progress and we also need to be holding people accountable.

The days of the rock star musician that trashes hotel rooms, fucks groupies and does a line of cocaine are fucking dead. So let’s stop digging them up.

Also, just a kindly reminder that while With Confidence were dropped from Unify Gathering, they are somehow still on the roster for Hopeless Records; a label who has yet to actually say anything on this matter.

With Confidence

With Confidence

It starts with venues and promoters:

It starts with venues and promoters taking a stand and ensuring that the bands playing on their stages and at their shows are safe to be around young people. Doing some research beforehand on the artists they are looking at booking which includes searches on all social media platforms to see what’s being said about them, making sure they have the appropriate licenses to play and such. Now, let’s take this reformation a step further and say that bands over the legal age should not be able to wander around underage shows willy-nilly. The obligatory behind-the-merch desk hangout pre or post is fine but other than that, we cannot be taking any wider risks. Venues and promoters need to step up and be a part of this change, just like we all need to step up.

While we’re at it, let’s double down and say that in order to play an underage show, bands should most definitely have a working with children check. If you’re serious about playing music then you should also be serious about ensuring the safety of all the people in attendance at your shows, especially young people.

It starts with the fans:

It starts with the fans first and foremost looking out for each other and themselves. If there is one thing that all of these accusations and new information about these artists has given us, it’s the chance to talk to one another and to young people about consent; about what is okay and what isn’t okay. By doing so, when the next up-and-coming pop-punk band hits up their fans for twerking videos and foot images, the fans in question feel like they can talk to their friends about what’s happening. Ensuring that they don’t have to be alone in this and someone with an objective stance can let them know it’s not okay and help them.

This starts with fans really listening to each other. By talking to each other openly and honestly about what’s happening. By taking these claims seriously and supporting the victims so that should someone find themselves in an inappropriate situation with a band member or anyone in a position of power, they feel like they have the power to come forward.

It infuriates me and hopefully everyone reading this that there are people out there who are excusing the actions of these artists because they like the music that they produce. Because what that really translates to is: “I care more about my personal enjoyment than the sexual and emotional abuse of a young person”. Which just sounds borderline fucking psychopathic! It also further perpetuates the stigma around sexual assault and stops victims from coming forward. Something that is already a struggle when the perpetrator is someone who had power over you as I talked about above.

 

But I get it. I really do. When the comments came out about Jayden Seeley soliciting nudes from a minor, I was hesitant to believe. I fucking adored With Confidence’s music, interviewed Seeley last year, and I simply didn’t want it to be true. But it was true, despite what the people who reply to the KYS’s Twitter post on the matter last week feel otherwise. We cannot let our love for a band’s music overshadow the pain, the harm and the misconduct they have caused and committed. That is not right and not fair on the victims. It is not how we mo forward and stop sexual assault from being the immense issue it already currently is.

We need to build each other up and support one another in these matters. Fans need to communicate the importance of not idolising the band members to the point where they are untouchable individuals and have (please feel free to drink every time I use this phrase) power over their fans. It’s not at all healthy and is one thing we can all do to stop sexual assault before it starts.

Fans outnumber band members thousands to one. There is strength in numbers. What we need to do is tap into that strength. If you see a band member acting inappropriately to another fan then step up and call them out. Let them know that that is not okay and that you won’t stand for that. If fans as a collective can do that and can speak up as one against those things, no matter how small, then the difference that could be made is unprecedented. If we can do that, we can prevent a lot of harm from coming to people who do not deserve it. Which in case you were curious, is everyone.

It starts with the bands and artists themselves:

It starts with the bands themselves. It’s time that the bands nowadays – the first generation of bands to deal with the internet and instant messaging – hold each other accountable for their actions and keep checks and balances between their own members and other bands in the same scene they come in contact with. And not just in regards to underage fans or even underage staff, media members or young writers,  but ALL fans, punters, and media alike.

In my line of work of youth leadership and education, when we run overnight events it is a necessity that people over the legal age are with another adult when speaking one on one with young people. We should never ever be alone with a young person as it is about having those checks and balances to ensure no harm can come to a young person. I implore bands to do the same and never be left alone in the company of fans. And if you’re terrified of a false-rape or sexual assault claim, having a bandmate and someone with you during any and all fan interactions ensures that won’t happen and that you’re safe. But most importantly, it’s also about the safety of the fans. This may seem like an overstep and at times, it’s just not possible to always be with another band member but at least trying to do so helps to make a start that just might make a real difference.

If you see your drummer or your bassist or any member of your band or team taking a young girl into the back of the van after the show, call them out for taking advantage of their position and power. If you see them being inappropriate and saying things that they shouldn’t to or around fans, call them out on it. If you see them touching fans or acting in ways they just really should not be then – yep, you guessed it – fucking call them out! Let them know that that shit does not and that it never will fly. And you don’t have to be mean or rude about it; a tap on the shoulder and a “Hey, don’t do that again” is more often than not enough to set the boundary.

If you’re nervous and you can’t do that in front of others, talking to the band member in question afterwards and flagging it with them is a hell of a start and also allows for a more meaningful conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate. Hopefully, in the future, you may even bring up the fact that it’s in your band’s contract that you should never behave that way – something bands and labels should really look into establishing when writing up contracts.

In fact, make sure you always bring it up again when you have the moment. If they get angry at you for calling out their behaviour, that’s a fucking massive red flag right there. Let some of the other members and your management team know what you saw and how they reacted to being spoken to so that if it keeps happening, you can talk as a group and act upon it faster.

Recently, Suicide Silence’s frontman, Eddie Hermida, apologised for his own past transgressions, which while good to see him owning up to it and also sounding genuinely apologetic, it really shouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

 

Whilst some of the small incidental stuff mentioned above might seem harmless on the surface, it’s when you tolerate those things and let them slide the boundary of what is deemed appropriate grows wider. Those things aren’t “questionable” anymore in that person’s eyes as they are now “acceptable” and they’re searching for the next thing they can do to shift that boundary further. As such, now I want to reference Ted Bundy because no article about sexual assault would be complete without a serial rapist and killer mentioned, right?

So, when Bundy was a kid, he found a porn magazine and became infatuated with it. But eventually, the still images of girl’s bodies wasn’t enough. He needed more. He needed movement. So he found some pornographic videos and that settled his needs for a while. But he needed to keep intensifying the content of these videos for them to be enough. That stopped being satisfying soon enough and so he yearned for the next thing, which was actual human intercourse but as you can see where this is going: that wasn’t enough after a while. Consensual sex stopped being satisfying and then after a while, he needed to raise the stakes even more and that then escalated to his killings.

I’m not saying that Rockets or Seeley were a month or two away from kidnapping woman in parking lots – not at all! What I am saying though is that what you saw as a harmless and playful comment about a fan’s body can manifest into inappropriate touching and misconduct with fans if it goes unchecked and then even further as it so clearly has with artists like Mike Fuentes of Pierce the Veil.

Mike Feuntes

Mike Fuentes of Pierce The Veil. PC: Kane Hibberd (originally shot for Hysteria Mag). 

As I said above, when we turn the other cheek to certain behaviours, the boundary of what we accept moves. And it keeps moving and moving until you have the situations we end up in now with grown men literally soliciting and possessing child pornography and grooming young girls into sexual relationships with them.

For reference, look at this Twitter thread from a girl sharing her experiences with Rockets outside of a show once. Now, look where he and his bandmate Seeley are at.

 

 

It also starts with us:

As I write this, I understand that these types of change might seem almost totalitarian and quite drastic. I would ask you to look at the alternative, but that’s easy to do; we’re living in it. We’re living in a world where these band members and musicians who champion themselves as role models to both younger and all people are grooming and abusing their position in order to get some sort of sexual release – physical or not. These men (for they sure as shit aren’t boys) know what they are doing is wrong and inappropriate, regardless of the age of some of these victims. There’s a power these men hold over these young women that they should be aware of and should impact the decisions they make.

Yet, we need to dive deeper and look at how we all treat women and young people in today’s society. What kind of things do we say when we talk about the woman in our lives? Are we routinely slut-shaming woman who might be otherwise promiscuous? Are we disgusted by girls who maybe post images showing moderates amount of skin? Or perhaps we’re asking “What was she wearing? What did she say to him? Did she provoke him?” when we talk about rape and sexual assault cases. As a society, it seems we fucking love to shame a victim for their sexuality yet what we really don’t like is when they are in control of it. This plants a seed in the minds of young men, who when are thrown into a position where they are in control and are admired, then have no idea how to act appropriately and let their sexual drive take hold. That’s not an excuse for any of the actions that have come out in the past few weeks, it’s merely a reason.

A serious examination of how we speak and the ideas we’re putting out there is needed, as well as a look at how we truly treat the woman in our lives. As I wrote in my Unify Gathering 2017 review, a woman could not get on someone’s shoulders without a ravenous chant of “tits out for the boys” breaking out from the lads (read: dickheads). That is not acceptable. It is not okay that a woman is seen solely as entertainment for these men to gawk and stare at; that her body is not hers but simply a display piece. That might sound like an overreaction, but truly think about what this type of behaviour suggests and where it can lead. It’s a microcosm of the bigger problem and that is that we do not care about women the way we do about men.

Unify Gathering's intent and mission statement this year, that sadly , a couple individuals didn't adhere to,

Unify Gathering’s intent and mission statement this year, that sadly , a couple individuals didn’t adhere to,

I mean, did you know that that infamous “Aussie Sluts” forum is still alive and well? That there are people (who I’m assuming are a majority are boys and men) across our own country sharing the nude images of girls they know without their consent? That they call them “wins” as if these women are nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold and traded. These men who desperately search for the nudes of the girls they know, begging and pleading for people to post them online, then also shame these very woman for even taking those photos in the first damn place. Because the very thing they want and love is something girls should be ashamed of. That is the logic and the sexism that is prevalent today.

When news broke out about it, it got whisked away the moment a jucier news story came out that A Current Affair could report on and people seemingly forgot about it. Because… it just wasn’t that big of a deal apparently. These are our future and possibly current teachers, doctors, lawyers, community members on this vile site, one that is so easily accessible, and that’s upsetting and deeply disheartening. Anyone can access that site and communicate anonymously through it and guess what? Hundreds do! If this is the standard we’re allowing and accepting, how can we expect any different from these band members?

Furthermore, a look on any porn website will show that the “Teen” category is one of the most viewed of all categories and so many of those videos refer to girls as “jailbait” or depict women who’s age looks rather questionable. Let’s stop for a second and think why that is. The answer is because we have a paedophile culture that we refuse to talk about. When you mix in the aforementioned power these artists have with their steady access to taboo material that eventually becomes numbing, it is no wonder these men are engaging with and abusing young girls to get a higher, stronger sexual fix. We are enabling this through turning a blind eye to the explicit media we consume and we aren’t questioning it and the effects it so clearly is having.

We are fueling and fanning the flames of rape and paedophile culture without even being aware of it. It’s time we take a good hard look in the mirror, at the media we view and digest, the words we say, the actions we undertake and the people we support and ask ourselves: “Is this right? Does this align with the person I think I am and the person I want to be?” And what we’ll find is that sometimes, more often then we’d like it to be, the answer is “no” and we need to do something about that.

In conclusion, I will say that this article has not even touched the surface of this issue’s many different facets of it and I apologise for that, it doesn’t mean I’m not conscious of certain things; it just means that in this very moment, as bands are dropped from labels and tours for being sexual predators and power abusers, that is where the focus is at right now for the music industry.

I myself am not perfect. I have no doubt said and done things that are not alright as a younger man, but they are not representative of who I want to be as I move into my twenties next year. I have no doubt said things to women that are not appropriate and acted inappropriately without even me realising. It’s time things like that ended. It’s time we all became more self-aware of how we act, how our friends act and how we as a whole act and look at how we can change to become a society that supports victims, woman, children and everyone equally.

The end of power being abused and the end of sexual assault starts with all of us. And it has to start today.

It has to.



Header photo credit: Yvette De Witt

If you or anyone you know has been a victim or is/are distressed by any of the recent revelations relating to sexual misconduct by musicians, please know that there are a number of helplines listed where you can get support from:

1800-Respect
Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
State-specific support services

Also, some other interesting insightful articles on this widespread issue can be found below for your consideration:

Emo, Where The Girls Aren’t (Jessica Hopper, 2003)
Unraveling the Sexism of Emo’s Third Wave (Pitchfork, 2017)
Dear Men In Music: Do Better (Georgia Moloney, 2017)


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