Abuse & Consent in Edmonton
As allegations grow in frequency,
our music community reflects on an unavoidable issue
By Clint Hoekstra
“The people who don’t want to know how big of a problem it is will continue to ignore how big of a problem it is if they can,” says Sam Mason, bass player and vocalist for the Edmonton punk band Feminal Fluids.
She’s talking about an issue that has been gathering momentum this year in arts and entertainment communities around the world: sexual abuse.
A massive scandal erupted in recent months around Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; FOX News pundit Bill O’Reilly and his old (and now deceased) boss, Roger Ailes, were both ousted from their jobs after allegations of sexual misbehaviour; the list of male musicians accused of sexual abuse is growing. This year, Ben Hopkins of punk duo PWR BTTM, R&B singer R. Kelly, and the pop artist Usher have all faced allegations.
“Things have always happened in the music industry as well,” the 1960s superstar singer Tom Jones told People last week. “There’s been people complaining about publicists and different things they’ve been expected to do to get a record contract, just like a film contract.”
The public outcry gathered momentum when actress Alyssa Milano initiated the use of #metoo as a way for abuse victims to show public solidarity without having to go through the emotionally exhaustive process of publicly describing what had happened to them or who did it.
So, it was just a matter of time before the attention being paid to the issue filtered down through social media to smaller arts communites – like Edmonton.
“Despite the awful circumstances for these people posting the #metoo tag, I think it was an important thing to happen,” says Nicole Boychuk of the Edmonton band I Hate Sex. “It also gave a perspective to others who may have not realized the wide spread of sexual assault and abuse that happens to people they know, spend time around, share a stage with.”
Mason adds, “The more inspiring thing that came out of #metoo posts were abusers recognizing their behaviour, whether publicly or privately, and hopefully seeing some change in that.”
When the hashtag spread last month, female and male musicians around Edmonton reposted the tag, including Mason and Karlan Morrison, bass player from the now-defunct band Flint.
In 2015, Morrison moved to Vancouver where he runs a downtown music venue. So far, he says, he has a bleak opinion of his new home city.
“This has been probably more of an issue in Vancouver than what I’m seeing from my Edmonton friends’ posts.
“I posted my #metoo in hopes of people realizing that this issue affects men as well. It was too little, too late for me to realize that the issue is way more important the other way.”
While there may be reported cases of male victims of sexual abuse, as in the recent allegations against Kevin Spacey, reports of female abusers are few and far between.
Artists around Edmonton have plenty of advice for men in the community on how they can avoid being part of the problem of sexual abuse.
“Hold your friends accountable,” says Boychuk. “If you feel uneasy about one of your male friends, confront them, and then warn people you think could be at risk of their possible abuse.”
And that means saying or doing something when someone describes something that sounds like abuse, Mason adds.
“Make all the people around you know you won’t tolerate it. Make sure everyone in your life knows that you will believe them and will be there for them if something happened and they need to talk about it.”
Concerts are the primary gathering places for music fans – and, unfortunately, offer prime opportunities for abusers. But fans can take action here, too, says Ayden Falcon of the Edmonton hardcore band Stalagmites.
“Actively take a stance, and try to promote shows as safe spaces because that’s what they should be. Although you may have problems with some individuals, in order for it to be a safe space everyone needs to feel welcome. That means abusers should not be welcome.”
This attitude appears to have spread around the Edmonton scene in the last few years, with many venues advertising “safe space” guidelines to help audiences understand how to constructively react if and when abusive situations arise. Even smaller, house-based venues such as Chess House and Skymall have at times made very clear that abuse is not tolerated at their events. Edmonton production companies also have often added notices to their event listings about the importance of securing the safety of concert-goers, sometimes specifically advocating a zero-tolerance attitude toward sexual abuse.
For example, The Forge concert hall on Whyte Avenue recently dealt with a set of allegations against someone who had been contracted to provide music for a monthly theme night. They cut ties with the person until the claims had been cleared up or proved. They posted a lengthy explanation for their actions on facebook.
“Don’t ever be ashamed of the actions you take to protect yourselves and your band,” Falcon says of a situation Stalagmites recently had to address.
They had briefly added a member to their band, not knowing that this person would soon be prosecuted for distributing child pornography.
Falcon says that, though he and bandmate Daniel Ludwick were stupefied by the allegations, they didn’t hesitate to quickly fire the abuser, just months after the person had joined the band.
“While they may be associated with your band, their actions do not represent who you are, or who your bandmates are,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to call someone out on their mistakes.”
Stalagmites eventually replaced the problematic member and wrote a song called “Witness” that challenges members of the music community – themselves included – to act when they see abuse. Lyrics include, “If you stand idly by when you’re a witness to injustice, you’re a part of the problem.”
They’re not the only Edmonton musicians who have addressed abuse in their songs. Mason wrote the Feminal Fluids song “423” after going through serious abuse.
“I wrote it on the anniversary of the incident because I couldn’t figure out a way to cope,” she says. “It was mostly meant for me to get everything I wanted to say out of my head and into a song where I can scream it over and over again.”
The chorus runs, “You fucked me / You fucked me up / You fucked me over.”
As that lyric indicates, the song deals directly with an abusive situation.
“If anyone out there needs to know how sexually abusing someone makes them feel,” she says, “-hopefully they take that away from my song.”
“In some ways this situation has made its way into the songs I write, in themes of trust, broken friendships, etcetera,” Boychuk says, “But, in other ways, it hasn’t surfaced yet.
“I don’t feel like I need to specifically address it often because it’s caused myself and so many others in our community a lot of pain. And I don’t think that giving this person who hurt so many people the time of day is something I want to put my energy into.”
When her band, I Hate Sex was founded in 2015, they also went through a line-up change because of allegations against one of their members.
On a positive note, the music community has started to make efforts to educate itself and eradicate the culture of abuse. Local folk artists Kimberley MacGregor and Raine Radtke helped organize the Enthusiastic Consent event in October, which MacGregor describes as, “a step away from ‘No Means No‘ to ‘Yes Means Yes.'”
“Consent seems to be an issue that is on a lot of people’s minds these days.”
The event featured performances by Radtke and MacGregor, as well as educational presentations on consent provided by the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.
“I’m confident that there’s at least another hundred people in the city who have valuable information to disseminate and who really want to help,” Radtke says regarding the event.
“I learned a lot during the SACE presentation on consent and how to avoid participating in a culture of violence. I think education is the first step to holding each other and ourselves accountable.”
MacGregor adds: “I think the more Enthusiastic Consent is popularized as the standard and the more acquainted people are with consent laws, we can make an impact on our culture.”
Publicly addressing accusations of abuse has often created more issues and larger headaches for everyone involved, so perhaps an educational strategy can lead to more positive results and fewer arguments online.
Boychuk talks about how disappointing the process of discussing her band’s issue online was.
“I felt after all the emotional labor I had to go through and the others we collaborated with, preparing for what we were going to say to everyone, very few male members in our community stood up to relieve some of this emotional labor.”
MacGregor says she understands that, while consent is an important concept that everyone in the community has to be on board with, it’s only “one small way that we can impact the health and well-being of our own communities.”
“The #metoo campaign was very lucky for us in terms of timing,” Radtke says. “I think it led to a surge of people wanting to learn more about how to support survivors and what their part in the movement could maybe look like.”
Another aspect of the sexual abuse issue is the often overwhelming role played by males in relevant discussions, despite their near monopoly as perpetrators of it. In March, U.S. President Donald Trump held a now-famous meeting in the White House to discuss women’s health care – which was attended exclusively by men. The reporting on this meeting kicked off a wave of discussion online about how men need to stop speaking on behalf of women, especially when qualified women are available to speak for themselves.
“As men who identify as allies, it’s time for us to not stand up, but stand down,” says Morrison. “Women in our community have gone unheard and unseen for far too long.
“I’m not trying to preach, but this is not our fight to be on the front lines of. We need to be supportive, understanding and believe victims.”
We need to eradicate problematic people from our community, and we need to help educate younger people, especially men, how to achieve this mentality.”
In the meantime, there is an uncountable number of victims of sexual abuse in Edmonton and elsewhere who have to deal with this problem directly. For many, publicly contributing to a solution first requires recovering from abuse.
“It’s going to be hard,” Mason says, “- having even one other person who you can lean on while going through the process is important. There will be a lot of emotion, and you might have to recount the incident over and over again.
“So having someone you can rely on to scream with you or cry with you is a huge help.”
For resources useful to victims of sexual abuse in Edmonton, go to Winehouse.org.