Earlier this week social media exploded when Amber Coffman of the band Dirty Projectors tweeted that indie-music publicist Heathcliff Berru had groped her at a bar. Afterwards, several other women came forward with even more disturbing complaints.
The allegations forced Berru’s resignation from Life or Death PR, a firm he cofounded and which has represented major music artists. Several artists severed ties with the firm. In a statement, Berru blamed his behavior on drug and alcohol and promised to go to rehab.
Notably missing from the voices of outrage, however, were Berru’s business associates – not just his coworkers, but the agents, managers and executives who worked with him.
It’s a pattern repeated over and over in the entertainment industry. A woman or man speaks out against someone in a position of power, only to have the allegations denied or excused as “bad behavior.” In a worst case scenario, the accuser finds herself on the receiving end of a costly lawsuit for defamation, as has happened to some of the Cosby accusers and to Kesha after she accused music producer Dr. Luke of drugging and sexually assaulting her.
In the past year I spoke out about being raped in 1975 by Kim Fowley, the then-manager of my band, The Runaways. Following my disclosure on Huffington Post Highline, others wrote to me to tell me that they, too, had been assaulted by Fowley or had known about what he was doing. I also received hundreds of emails and phone calls from friends and strangers alike telling me how sorry they were for what I’d been through.
But I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I worked with during my nearly 20 years as an entertainment attorney who contacted me after the story broke. It wasn’t possible they didn’t know about it. The story had gone viral on social media and been reported on by numerous other publications, including the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, two prominent trade publications subscribed to by agents, managers, lawyers, executives and others.
The silence from the entertainment business community in these cases begs a question:
Where is the outrage?
As The Atlantic recently, noted “The motif of silence and complicity is common when it comes to harassment and assault in rock.”
Author and Slate music critic Carl Wilson discussed his own internal struggles with the issue in a piece for Slate after several women accused Jian Gomeshi of sexual assault in 2014. Gomeshi is the former host of the CBC public-radio culture show “Q”. Wilson wrote:
[Y]ou didn’t know, of course. But you knew. There was doublethink, a split consciousness. “Everybody” knew, so perhaps you had no special burden, not compared to his employers, for example…
[M]aybe you, too, downplayed the problem because facing it might mean making a sacrifice: You liked doing that show. Just as the CBC and the U.S. stations liked having that show. As his publisher liked selling his 1980s memoir. As organizations liked having Jian host. As websites and newspapers liked printing his handsome photos.
To speak out against your boss, your client, or the person who can throw you business is to risk not just your income and social standing – it’s to call attention to yourself as something other than a team player. It’s to risk being voted off the privileged little island that is the entertainment business, where the opinion of the rich and powerful so often outweighs that niggling voice of conscience.
But if we are to end sexual assault and harassment in entertainment, the burden can’t just be on the performers. Nor can we wait for accusations from almost sixty people — the current number of Cosby accusers – who can do little for us professionally.
Taking action is a scary thing. But the tacit approval we give abusers with our silence is costly – not just for our business, but for our psyches. The least we can do is offer support to those who have been victimized by the powerful. If we truly want to make a difference, however, we must do more, which is why I’ve adopted a new motto:
Step up. Speak out. Change your world.
Consider this your invitation to join me.
 Dr. Luke has denied the charges and countersued Kesha for defamation. Neither Dr. Luke nor Bill Cosby has to date been convicted of a crime.