Does DIY Have a Sexual Assault Problem?

Yes. The simple answer to that question is yes, DIY does have a sexual assault problem. The large number of underage fans, combined with one of the finest lines between fan and artist in music, means that not only does DIY have a sexual assault problem, it is uniquely situated—in some respects—to having one. But like many of the incidents themselves, this issue is rarely simple. Though DIY is one of the most vulnerable scenes to sexual assault, it is nowhere near the only scene with the problem, and the past few years have seen it become the one of the most vigilant spaces for reporting and dealing with these issues. DIY is having discussions and considering problems that many other scenes would be wise to catch on to, as soon as they can.

Two recent events bring this topic to the fore, yet again. The first is the release of Fail Better, Heal Faster by Lou (formerly Matt) Diamond, of the now defunct JANK. The reason for the band’s demise is the revelation that Diamond was an abuser, causing bassist Reuben Polo to leave the band. Drummer Sam Becht, however, decided to remain with Diamond for their new “project,” Get Better, Heal Faster. The release will never be sold in any physical form, and the musicians (using the name of the record to refer to themselves as well) will never play any of the songs in a live performance.

I was skeptical when I first heard about the project. Something about how soon it was coming out felt off to me, but I will admit I downloaded it. Upon listening to it, it was a much more serious record than a JANK or even Diamond’s first band Panucci’s Pizza— detailing Diamonds feelings and regrets in the wake of the assault—  but something still didn’t sit right with me. This feeling was corroborated by bands like Kississippi and Prince Daddy & the Hyena who were vocal in their condemnation of the project without even listening to it. It would soon turn out that they knew something we didn’t.

Only a day after the release of Fail Better, a reddit thread, authored by someone close to Diamond would reveal that they were guilty of not only the initial assault, but another much more aggressive one: this time, of an underage girl. As post author Claudio puts it, Diamond “copped to a lesser crime to avoid being judged for the other, far worse one, and they are now attempting to accrue social capital by making this project appear to be about ‘forgiveness’ and ‘recovery’.”

While Diamonds’ reprehensible behavior is more Machiavellian than the average, it is by no means unique. Members of bands such as Dowsing, Turnover and Front Porch Step are also guilty of much of the same behavior, to varying degrees. This is to say nothing of the scene’s largest fall from grace, Pwr Bttm. After allegations were brought against singer Ben Hopkins, the band went on the defensive, corresponding through a lawyer, and setting up an email by which victims could communicate grievances to their abuser. Luckily, in many of these cases, reaction has been swift and decisive. Pwr Bttm was dropped by their label and tour mates, and abusive members of Dowsing and Turnover were removed from their bands. Front Porch Step, while removed from Warped Tour, was allowed to play an acoustic set in Nashville on the tour in 2012, however.

Events like this, especially so many high-profile cases in less than six years, lead many to wonder why this is so prevalent in the DIY scene. One factor might be access. DIY shows are usually less than $20 a ticket, more easily afforded by a teenager than stadium seats. The shows are also often in unconventional places like pizza parlors and basements, meaning a lack of distance between the artist and underage fans. Sexual assault is in no way exclusive to the DIY scene, but there are clear channels for abusers to interact with teenaged victims physically, in addition to online.

Many young people form their identities around DIY, and grow to idolize musicians in their local scenes. These musicians are by-and-large male. The localized nature of DIY scenes allow for a feeling of security that comes from easily being able to know and identify members of the scene, but this is not always earned, and many women (I focus on them because they are the most likely victims of assault) learn the hard way just how unsafe their local scene can be.

But these are not all underage cases, some artists assaulted adults, ex’s and friends of friends. A reason for this might be the lack of immediately apparent threat that comes from someone who sings about their depression. The typical DIY performance of masculinity is at its core self-aware to some degree, something that may lead some women to let their guard down around an abuser. The much more likely reason, however, is that sexual assault is a serious problem nationally. One in five women will be raped in their lives. This is an issue that requires a nuance, care and a support network for victims of abuse. There has yet to be a music scene to perfect this community of care, but I believe DIY is taking necessary steps toward it.

The second event that brought this issue back into my attention was the readmission of Elijah Bouldin into Swordfish on August 30th of this year. Bouldin was let back into the band after the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault revealed he was falsely accused. I think this case was handled properly from start to finish. Elijah was removed from the band during the course of the investigation, and upon finding his innocence, the band very explicitly mentioned that this should not be used to invalidate the reports of other victims.

The specter of false allegations is something that, unfortunately, hangs over every accusation of this kind, (especially in online circles) and each time it is validated, it can do a lot to set back real victims when they attempt to come forward. I believe Conor Oberst, who was falsely accused of rape in 2012 has had some impact in the witch hunting that occurs each time one of these assaults comes forward. While he was in the right, Oberst’s case has provided many with a black-and-white outlook on the subject that makes many of the more nuanced cases in the scene go ignored or subject to snap judgements.

I say all of this not to disparage the DIY scene, but to be honest about it. I think it’s incredibly important to be able to critique something that you love, precisely because you love it. I think, for all its faults, the scene is one of the most supportive to victims of sexual assault. The same grassroots element that allows abusers such easy access to their victims also ensures a lack of centralized power, compared to mainstream music. This means cover-ups are harder to pull off, and an open, connected group of fans can make a difference. Other communities create environments so toxic that women are rarely, if ever, willing to come forward. DIY calls for shows to be safe spaces and their efforts to vindicate the feelings of those who come forward is a great positive. I think there’s a long way to go, but I am proud that the scene is making the effort.

This transparency, however, has come at a price, both literally and in reputation. DIY bands are held to a higher standard than in many other scenes, and will be outed for their sexual assault as soon as they gain any modicum of popularity. This is a good thing, but it has taken down artists who would have been able to skate by in other genres, limiting the reach of DIY as a whole. My hope is that this means when DIY artists do break through, they will be well-trained and powerful voices to stand up to issues of sexual assault and abuse, but as Pwr Bttm was the last band in a position to make such a statement, it may be a while before we find out.

Image: AltPress.com

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