Publicist Beth Martinez of Danger Village on Sexual Harassment: 'I'm Sorry Means Nothing Without Retributive Action'

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Beth Martinez

Before the Harvey Weinstein scandal made headlines, an earlier wake-up call about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment was sounded on Jan. 18, 2016. That’s when Amber Coffman, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist for the Dirty Projectors, fired off a series of tweets about the inappropriate sexual behavior she was subjected to by Heathcliff Berru, the founder of Life or Death PR and Management.

Following Coffman’s brave admission, more than seven other women stepped forward with claims of their own against Berru. Soon thereafter, Berru resigned from Life or Death. And the firm’s remaining staffers dismantled the company to establish a new venture called Liberal Arts.

Among the seven females supporting Coffman’s claims was Beth Martinez. The founder/owner of the artist development company Danger Village tweeted -- and reiterated in a Billboard interview -- that Berru put his hand down her shirt multiple times while he drove her home from a bar.

Martinez will be moderating the first panel on sexual misconduct in the music industry at SXSW in March: https://schedule.sxsw.com/2018/events/PP70021. In the wake of new sexual harassment allegations against music industry veteran Russell Simmons, Martinez expresses concern about why female voices in the music industry are “still being suppressed and our career progress is being hindered” in spite of the Weinstein scandal.

After the Heathcliff [Berru] abuse scandal broke in 2016, I spent weeks giving interviews to everyone who asked me. Sexual abuse was an important issue I had been trying to talk about for many years, and finally people were listening. It was exhausting. Recalling the abuse that I’ve experienced to a new person several times a day took its toll. I wasn’t sleeping. I was fielding messages, calls, texts and emails from other victims of rape and assault -- up to dozens of times a day.

I didn’t know how to hold space for all of that pain without drowning in my own re-traumatization. Yet I persisted in answering the interview requests because I knew it was important to keep going and get this story out there. Overall, I did about 30 interviews and out of those, I believe about a quarter ended up being printed. I am concerned that in spite of the recent outpouring of stories from victims, our voices are still being suppressed and our career progress is being hindered.

In light of the Great Reckoning where women have started to come forward about the abuse we have been silently enduring for years, the music industry needs to start asking ourselves, “What can be done so that women can rise to places of power?”

As an abuse survivor and outspoken advocate for women in the music industry, it is grievous that women have to relive our trauma publicly in order to expose the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct. However, speaking up seems to be the only way that the power dynamics are going to change. Seeing as how the courts have failed us, law enforcement has failed us, HR has failed us and company policy and state laws have failed us, it looks like speaking out is the only way we can bring to light what is being done to us. 

To start this move to a place of equality, men need to be held accountable for their crimes against women. Recently FYF founder Sean Carlson admitted to Spin that he harassed several women -- without confessing to assault. In a statement to Spin, Carlson said he had stopped these actions after apologizing to his family and seeking treatment. He also apologized to his victims.

This has become commonplace for men who are called out by many victims for sexual predation. The script is: apologize to family members and seek therapy. The abusers hide for a while until they feel it is safe to come back to their community. This self-policing retreat is not an acceptable consequence in the eyes of the victims.

There is something we need to be very clear about here: assaults of a sexual nature are violent crimes perpetrated against women in order for the abuser to gain power and control. These crimes have long-lasting effects on the psyche of the victims that will affect their lives forever. Every woman who has experienced assault will suffer from symptoms of PTSD, which means that every woman you saw post #METOO could also be silently experiencing flashbacks, terror dissociation and shame. 

These aftereffects of trauma go a long way toward explaining why women are not able to get ahead in the workplace. Fear and shame make us afraid to go out and network. How can we leave the house when we’re experiencing traumatic meltdowns? How can we make connections when we’re afraid to face our abuser in public again? The power differential in the music industry is not happenstance and can be directly correlated to the abuse that has been placed on us for far too long.

A simple apology to the abuser’s family doesn’t go nearly far enough in paying retribution for a crime that is a life sentence of recurring trauma for a victim. In no other violent crime does a criminal get to say, “I have apologized to my family and I am seeking treatment.” Imagine if this was someone breaking into houses and stealing property. If the burglar admitted he was doing this but stopped two years ago, apologized to his family and sought treatment, he would still be liable for the property he stole or damaged. He would go to jail. Sexual predators should not just get to apologize, go away for a minute and be welcomed back with open arms by fans who are “ready to forgive.” 

The effects of harassment and assault upon women in the music industry is incalculable. You can see it in any list of “Top Players in the Music Industry,” where the lists are consistently predominantly men. I know many, many women who left the music industry after experiencing a sexual assault of some kind. Sexual harassment makes us afraid to speak up. It immediately tells us that we, as women, are lower than men. For women who have experienced sexual trauma, we receive those signals as dangerous. We know you can hurt us. We know you have been able to keep us silent when we have spoken up about harassment in the past. We are worn down by constant vigilance. We stop seeking promotions and raises. We stop volunteering to speak because we don’t want the eyes on us. We are shamed into silence.

Time after time, I do interviews about sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry. And time after time, I am told that I am the only person who will go on record to talk about these issues. What is this culture we’re living in where all of us have been abused, yet none of us are recovered enough to give statements to journalists who are working to uncover the truth?

Well-meaning journalists keep asking, “Why don’t more women come forward?” The questions we need to be asking are: What is in our culture in the music industry that these stories are not printable? What is making women afraid to tell our stories? With the Sean Carlson story, only one woman out of dozens was able to go on the record, and now I’ve seen men on Twitter seek her out for harassment. It is terrifying to speak out publicly, especially for someone already dealing with the effects of trauma.

Even if we want to speak out, we are often not allowed to by our bosses, by our work contracts or even by friends who, perhaps unintentionally, shame us into keeping silent. We need to look at the culture of NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] in the music industry that make women think they are not allowed to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace. NDAs are meant to protect information leaks from competitors -- not to keep victims of violent crimes silent. Yet they are contributing to rape culture by manipulating the abused into not speaking up.

What is going on now is just the beginning. More men will be named. Sociopathic behavior is rewarded in our society with promotions and raises. For the men who are rising to the top of the music industry while hurting women, I want you to know that your actions have consequences. 

For the men who are yet to be named, please know this:

Saying “I’m sorry” means nothing if not followed by retributive action. A real apology means owning up to what you did and taking responsibility. “I’m sorry” doesn’t go back in time and change the futures of the lives you interrupted. “I’m sorry” doesn’t change the fact that you became rich and successful while the women you abused were afraid to socialize, make connections and experience meaningful relationships. You are not off the hook. We remember. “I’m sorry” changes nothing.


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