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Sexual violence, abuse in the GR music scene needs even more conversation

Sexual violence and abuse are regrettably part of DIY and creative music scenes around the country. We must continue to have constructive dialogue and show support for victims in order to reduce and hopefully eliminate these issues in our community.
Let's Talk GR Music logo

Let's Talk GR Music logo /Courtesy of Let's Talk GR Music

Resources from the YWCA


24-Hour Help Line: 616-454-9922

Sexual Assault Services

TW: sexual assault and abuse

In the last decade, the use of trigger warnings, creation of safe spaces, and other instances of aiding victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse has become more popular and thus a topic of debate for many people in the United States. While violence and abuse is unfortunately common, most instances go unreported; a report published in 2015 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that an average of only 35 percent of cases of sexual assault in the U.S. are reported to law enforcement. Regardless of if they report the event or not, many experience some sort of post-traumatic stress following the abuse.

The countless music scenes and communities around the country are no exception to abuse. People of all ages, especially youth, join music and DIY communities for the sense of inclusion, creativity, and progression. They find others who share their passion for music, for art, and who may understand their lifestyle and sense of identity better than the outside world.

When I moved to Grand Rapids over half a decade ago, my few friends here introduced me to the local DIY music scene, changing my life forever. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of bands from around the world, and made countless new friends and acquaintances. The scene became a haven for me, as it is for so many other young people; a place of love and trust, where we can express ourselves without fear of judgment, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or appearance. However, as I’ve said before, abuse is commonplace. I am lucky enough to have not witnessed the assault or abuse firsthand, though it is staggering how many people I know personally who are survivors of abuse in one way or another. I have seen victims come forward either publicly or privately to tell their story and out their abusers, who are often a member of a band that we are familiar with, whether they are local, have toured through the area, or are very popular within our scene. In response, some perpetrators have given a statement of their own, whether it is confessing or disputing the allegations made, or else have avoided all forms of social communication. While all this is important in keeping our community safe, accepting, and progressive, some may not handle the situation appropriately, or not know how to handle it at all.

Let’s Talk GR Music, a monthly discussion hosted by Scott Rider, explores issues and elements of our local music scene and how we can support our community and continue to grow. Yesterday, at the 20th assembly, held within Wealthy Theatre’s Koning Micro Cinema, Let’s Talk GR Music invited Mara Furlich and Patti Haist of the YWCA West Central Michigan to inform attendees about sexual violence and abuse. The presentation covered statistics of perpetrators and victims, the impact sexual violence has on an individual and community, why this abuse happens, and how we can teach our community and try to prevent futures instances from occurring, especially in the Grand Rapids music scene. This is an extremely important conversation to have, and I was a bit disheartened to be one of a dozen or so individuals in the audience. However, the discussion was constructive, with attendees sharing personal experience with abuse, whether they were the victim, or are close with a victim or abuser, and considered what steps we can take to create a safe, inclusive creative environment for Grand Rapids and outward. The YWCA also presented their many resources for victims and survivors, including emergency services and 24-hour phone lines available to West Michigan.

I have discussed certain sexual abuse allegations against popular bands/individuals in the scene as well as within our Grand Rapids DIY music communities with friends, colleagues, and coworkers, and many have different ideas of how these situations have been held. What I have witnessed is immediate and strict social exile of the individual accused of the abuse from anything to do with the local community, regardless of them taking accountability for their actions or not. Some individuals have seemingly fallen off the face of the earth, deleting personal social media accounts and leaving band websites inactive. While many people I’ve talked to see this as a good thing, others have expressed confusion and sympathy for both parties, feeling remorse for the victim but also understanding that the abuser may very well no longer have any future in the local scene or even broader music community. It can be difficult to choose sides when the perpetrator is a close friend or family member, or has expressed their regret and apologies for their actions, pledging to fix what they can and improve upon themselves. It seems, however, that many groups or cliques of people within the scene, while calling out known abusers publicly, hold a blissfully ignorant belief that “it doesn’t happen” in their friend group, or if it does, fail to hold the person accountable for their actions. This has caused much turmoil in DIY music scenes around the country, and by no means is Grand Rapids an exception.

Ultimately, it is difficult to come up with a permanent solution to this ever-present issue. It appears that there is a constant separation on this issue; individuals either take a stand, loud and proud, continually active against abuse, or avoid the conversation when it is brought up, silently supportive, thus ineffective. At many shows I’ve attended, bands of all genres have spoken about unity in the community, solidarity with victims and survivors of abuse, condemnation of abuse, and speaking out if someone you know is responsible for abusive behavior, and that’s good. The problem persists, but I believe conversation and being vocal is the first step in eliminating harmful behaviors in the DIY and local communities. The discussion held yesterday was a start, and I believe we can all benefit from attending more events and public dialogues in the future. We must continue to talk about these issues with friends and strangers alike, confronting them before and after they arise, and be incessant in supporting those who have been affected by assault and abuse. I don’t know if complete excommunication of alleged abusers is the perfect cure; I don’t have the solution. What I do know is we must protect and support each other and denounce hatred, exclusion, and abuse of any kind. We need to talk with one another, identify and discuss the problems that exist, and nurture this wonderful scene so many people have worked tirelessly to build.

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