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Swedish industry hit by new sexual harassment scandal

Robyn and Zara Larsson are among the thousands calling for drastic change to a music industry where they say "sexual harassment is the rule, rather than the exception"

By Jon Chapple on 19 Nov 2017

Zara Larsson, Stavernfestivalen 2016

image © Tore Sætre

The sex scandal engulfing Sweden’s classical music industry has spilled over into popular music, after almost 2,000 agents, managers, promoters, production managers, artists and more signed an open letter sharing stories of sexual harassment or assault – and demanding “zero tolerance” for the alleged perpetrators and the “culture of silence” that protects them.

Like their counterparts in the opera world, the 1,993 women who have put their names to the new letter – who include some of Sweden’s biggest musical exports, including Zara Larsson (pictured), Robyn, Carola, First Aid Kit and Seinabo Sey – reportedly traded experiences in a private Facebook group before deciding to go public. The full list of signatories was published by Dagens Nyheter on Friday.

The accusations (many of which are listed here, in Swedish) range in seriousness from “sexist language” to attempted and actual rape by senior male industry figures, and have prompted calls for an industry wide response beyond existing gender-equality initiatives, which are criticised as not being worth the paper on which they’re written.

One particularly harrowing story involves the alleged attempted date rape of a 19-year-old woman by a prominent booking agent, while another concerns a publisher whose squeaky-clean public persona is at odds with his purported inappropriate behaviour behind the scenes, routinely excused by colleagues as a result of his being “too drunk”.

“Those who perpetuate the culture of silence are the same men who make sure they can be seen on television, wearing jumpers with feminist slogans or booking female artists for major festivals,” the letter reads. “The discrepancy between words and actions is enormous, and the policies drawn up on sexism, gender equality and equal opportunities in the music industry are just pretty words on glossy paper.

“In the music industry we work around the clock, often in unsafe and temporary employment. Being courteous and not making a fuss is important in order to not be replaced. This makes women in the music industry targets for demonstrations of power that are often of a sexual nature.

“If we report the incidents, they’re usually not investigated, as it’s our word against theirs”

“We live a life where we are objectified and where sexual abuse and harassment are the rule, rather than the exception. If we report the incidents, they’re usually not investigated, as it’s our word against theirs. […] So a culture of silence prevails.”

A hashtag associated with the letter, #närmusikentystnar (‘when the music stops’), has been trending nationwide since the publication of the Dagens Nyheter piece.

“We will lay the blame where it belongs: with the perpetrator and those who protect him,” concludes the letter.

“We know who you are.”

According to MBW, a senior Warner Music Sweden exec – due to begin a UK-based role in January – has been suspended in connection with multiple allegations of sexually harassing young women.

In addition to the music business, women working in several other industries in Sweden, including film, TV, theatre and law, have in the past fortnight similarly penned letters alleging widespread sexual misconduct in their respective professions.

The issue of sexual harassment in the international music industry specifically was first brought to light last month, after IQ discovered many women in live music have been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male counterparts, ranging from unwanted comments to physical sexual assault. Representatives of the ‘big four’ multinational music agencies told IQ on Friday they are stepping up their efforts to protect clients and employees, as fresh allegations continue to surface across the entertainment world.

 


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