Sex assault survivors to music titans: Do better or lose your fortunes

For years, advocates for sexual assault survivors have accused the music industry of not doing enough to protect women — and have often felt like no one was listening.

Now a coalition of advocacy groups is pushing for a strategy based on an aggressive approach that directly targets the finances of major recording companies. In a scorching, 200-plus-page report released Wednesday, the coalition accuses the music industry of a decades-long pattern of enabling and covering up sex crimes committed by artists and warns that new laws erasing or altering statutes of limitations for sex crimes are likely to be deployed in costly civil lawsuits.

“The only way to truly hold profit-seeking entities accountable is to affect their bottom line,” Samantha Maloney, a former drummer for the bands Mötley Crüe and Hole who heads one of the coalition groups, the Punk Rock Therapist, said in an interview. “We are speaking to the music industry in the only language they understand: money.”

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The industry’s culture “opens the door” to sexual abuse, according to the report. “Major record companies ignored allegations, silenced victims, and even enabled such abuse,” the report says.

The report essentially lays out the building blocks of what could amount to a pressure campaign waged in courtrooms and in corporate suites designed to spur change. Activist investors could file shareholder actions to elect new directors and launch litigation for breach of fiduciary duties and securities violations, for instance, the report says. It also features an encyclopedic listing of dozens of allegations drawn from public records and media reports involving big name entertainers, such as R. Kelly, dating back to the 1950s.

The report criticizes the industry writ large, but also specifically cites the “Big Three” music companies — Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music Group — as potential targets of litigation and shareholder activism. (The labels could not immediately be reached for comment.)

Along with Maloney’s group, the coalition issuing the report includes the Female Composer Safety League, the Representation Project and Lift Our Voices, an organization co-founded by Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who reached a $20 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging she was fired because she refused sexual advances by the network’s CEO, Roger Ailes.

The groups are urging music companies to end the practice of using nondisclosure agreements to silence people who allege sexual assault, to work with an independent organization designed to prevent sexual abuse and to create a “survivors bill of rights.”

To buttress their arguments, the four organizations are highlighting the case of a woman who has long alleged that she was raped by Guns N’ Roses lead singer, Axl Rose, in 1985 when she was 15 years old. The allegations, which have been mentioned in books and news articles over the years, did not result in criminal charges. Rose has denied the allegations.

In an interview with The Washington Post before the report’s release, Rose’s accuser, Michelle Rhoades, said she suffered from a bout of post traumatic stress syndrome when she saw news of a Guns N’ Roses reunion in 2016.

Last November, Rose was sued for alleged sexual assault by a former Penthouse model, Sheila Kennedy. His attorney has said the accusation is false. Kennedy’s suit was one of many filed under the Adult Survivors Act in New York shortly before a deadline expired to file lawsuits that would have been barred by statutes of limitation. Comedian Bill Cosby was sued under the same law in New York and also faces suits in Nevada and California following changes to the statutes of limitations laws in those states.

Rhoades — who is now 54 and works as a performance artist, tarot card reader and sexual health advocate in Oregon — says she anticipates being criticized in some circles for publicly speaking about a nearly-four-decades-old alleged incident.

“In this day and age there are going to be so many different factions — people that going to believe a survivor and people that immediately going to be like, ‘Uh, why talk about it now?’,” she said. “And that’s okay. It’s not going to stop me.”

Through a spokesperson, Rose denied the allegations on Wednesday.

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