On Monday night, Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors spoke out on Twitter about an incident in which music publicist Heathcliff Berru sexually assaulted her.
Some fellow publicists and artists who are familiar with Heathcliff’s behavior spoke out about their own experiences, including Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast and publicist Beth Martínez. Beth’s incident with Heathcliff goes beyond sexual misconduct—besides sharing her own tweets about her experience, she also released a statement via FADER in which she gave details of the assault, claiming that he roofied her.
“None of this was meant to bring Cliff Berru down. I replied to Amber’s tweet because I had had a similar experience and I wanted to share my story. I think it’s very important for young women in the music industry—and all industries—to know that unwanted sexual attention is not their fault and not appropriate. You do not have to give in to anything you don’t want to do in fear of not moving higher on the ladder. This is not just the work of one sexual predator—this is the culture in our society of how women are treated that needs to change. I’m glad this story is getting out in the open now, because women have been silent for years about the harassment we face on a daily basis. Every woman I know has multiple stories of harassment and/or sexual assault. The stories you are hearing about Cliff today are not the exception. This is what we deal with as women every day when we leave our houses. What’s unusual here, maybe, is that so many people have faced harassment at the hands of one man. But we’ll start hearing more stories soon from women who face these same situations all the time. And I know that people are listening now, finally. I’ve been dealing with these issues with myself and my friends since I started college in 2000. This is not new. What is new is that we are finally being heard.
I tried to tell my story about getting roofied on Twitter in 2012, and I lost hundreds of followers. I was not heard then, so I wrote a book about it in order to have a way to share my experiences with other women. I never spoke publicly about it again until now, and finally things are changing. People are listening. This is good.”
Although many artists and bands such as Speedy Ortiz and Wavves have shared their support towards the multiple victims and Heathcliff stepped down from his position as CEO of Life of Death PR, it’s important to consider why it has taken many of these women so long to give their account of their experiences. Publicists control the image of the artists, which can make or break careers. He was a man who held enough power to make artists and other publicists fear speaking out about their assaults, despite knowing that his behavior is not only extremely harmful, but also unprofessional. While the music industry seems extensive, the indie music world is small. Many of these stories are ones that had been shared before, yet weren’t discussed openly until now. It’s difficult to even process how many of these women, including Beth Martínez, had dealt with the emotional trauma of these experiences yet feared sharing them, whether it was due to the risk of losing their careers or dealing with the process of reporting an assault, which often results in women being shamed even more rather than being helped.
Of course, this type of incident doesn’t apply to just the music industry. This can be found in virtually any industry, especially when there is a man in a position of power. Just a month ago, Stoya used Twitter to discuss her own experiences with sexual assault from fellow porn star and ex boyfriend James Deen. She received plenty of support, but was also met with criticism from people who believed James’ allegations of Stoya being mentally unstable and lying about her assaults. By speaking out about it in such a public way, she helped other victims share their own stories. As Beth Martínez said, it’s good that people are finally listening, yet this doesn’t change that some men are capable of getting away with acting in such a way, no matter if they’re famous or just that one guy you went to college with.
Unfortunately, this is our reality. According to statistics, 1 in 6 American women are raped during their lifetime. While some men do experience assault, women are more likely to do so. I can honestly say that most of my female friends have experienced some sort of sexual assault or harassment. As a rape survivor, I know how difficult it is to be open about these incidents. As women, we are constantly judged and blamed for our own sexual assaults, to the point where people question the validity of our experiences. Even after experiencing my assault, it took me years to recognize assault because it had become so normalized, from men who forced themselves on me without my consent, to men who attempted to get me drunk in order to try to take advantage of me.
In order to change how sexual assault is treated, we need to continue speaking out. This shouldn’t apply only to cases involving famous or powerful people; every victim of sexual assault deserves the right to be heard and gain the justice they deserve. By speaking out about this, it creates a space for survivors to feel validated. When stories like these open up, it seems to be a domino effect. One victim allows themselves to be visible, which in turn helps another victim feel validated enough to open up their story. Recently, one of the largest examples of this has been with Bill Cosby’s victims, with the number of accusers rising to 55. I believe the main reason why so many women have shared their stories of abuse and assault was because other women had created a visible space for them to exist. Without these survivors speaking out firsthand about her experiences, we may never have heard from the other numerous victims. It may be easy for the public to ignore, or not hear about one assault, but it’s hard to miss over 50 survivors recalling their stories with the same aggressor.
It’s incredible to see so many supporters of all genders deciding to do everything in their power to make the survivors’ stories be heard and respected. If these reactions to assault continue to grow and expand beyond listening to celebrity victims, there will be a positive change in how sexual abuse is treated, and perhaps will lead to better after care of assault victims.