Music has been one of the most important factors in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was 6, my teachers praised me for my extensive knowledge of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Van Morrison songs (thanks Mom!) and by the age of 8, I had begun wearing vintage Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Journey shirts to school (thanks Dad!) Shortly before I turned 15, I began attending DIY shows in the Chicagoland suburbs with one of my closest friends at the time.
|Photo courtesy of LEAP Photography|
We were easily the youngest pair in attendance at these shows, as well as two out of just a handful of women. However, I never felt belittled or uncomfortable because of my age. Everyone at these shows was welcoming and always seemed excited to see younger faces supporting local music. It was at DIY shows that I first developed a sense of family within the music community.
I remember being 15 and feeling flattered when an older boy, 17-going-on-18, asked for my number at a show and began to show interest in me. I thought nothing of it at the time; most of my friends have usually been a few years older than me. Since I only saw this boy at shows and briefly afterwards when we would grab food with other people in the scene, nothing developed between us. In hindsight, there certainly should have been red flags regarding the issues of legality and consent between a 15-year-old and 17-year-old.
It wasn’t until I reconnected with this friend a few years later at Riot Fest that I realized something was off. After pointing out a girl he thought was attractive in the crowd, he asked me to help him follow her and strike up a conversation so he could get her phone number. I turned to him, now 19-going-on-20, and told him that the girl in question couldn’t be older than 15. I’ll never forget what he said:
“That’s okay, I like younger girls. Or at least girls that look way younger than me.”
After making sure we “accidentally” lost the girl in the crowd, I quickly ditched him. It was at that moment I realized sexual predators in the music community aren’t always the creepy 25-year-olds trying to talk to 14-year-old girls. They’re the people we consider our friends and fellow music lovers until something devastating happens.
I continued to attend suburban house shows and shows at small clubs and venues in Chicago for a while. As the years passed, life dealt me some unforeseen cards that resulted in my decision to slowly stop attending shows, as well as ceasing to keep in contact with many people in my scene. This remains one of my biggest regrets. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in August of 2016 that I slowly began to reimmerse myself in Chicago’s music community.
Chicago’s music scene is huge. Because of this, I’ve met many interesting and fantastic people, as well as rekindled old friendships. However, I’ve also met and heard about some pretty shady people. I’ve attended shows at welcoming houses and DIY spots; I’ve also seen some bands play at spaces that fostered sexist attitudes and unwelcoming environments.
Despite the small amount of negativity present in the scene, I’ve always felt the happiest at local shows. There’s something about people who are passionate about music coming out to support musicians who love what they do that creates an unreplicable feeling. While I’ve had my fair share of encounters with men that made me feel uncomfortable or made unwanted advances, I’ve never felt unsafe at a show. This is because I trust the people I’m with. I know that if someone is intimidating me I can tell other people, whether I know them or not, and they will make a conscious effort to physically put themselves between myself and the person making me uncomfortable. I’ve even had acquaintances approach someone for me after I told them I was feeling creeped out. The support that comes from this scene gives me hope.
Lately, however, there has been an influx in accusations of sexual assault within the scene. It is impossible to tell if this is because the number of assaults is actually increasing, or if the number of survivors choosing to speak out is growing. Either way, I feel sickened and angry every time I see another name called out, and I feel helpless knowing that these assaults occur at shows I’ve attended, and that no one had a clue it was happening.
As a survivor of sexual assault, knowing that other women are not only experiencing the abuse I have experienced, but that it is happening to them in places I consider safe for myself, shakes me to the core. I’m not here to validate anyone’s experiences other than my own, and I’m not here to imply that I have all of the solutions. However, I do have a few tips and thoughts:
1. Don’t ever feel like you’re overreacting. If you feel unsafe, tell someone. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, tell someone and do something. An embarrassing misunderstanding is better than turning a blind eye to a potential assault.
For more information about intervening, check out these tips from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
2. Acknowledge that anyone is capable of committing sexual assault-even those you consider friends. Don’t overlook warning signs just because you know the people involved.
3. If you go to a show with friends, make sure you know where they are and generally what they’re doing. If you come alone, don’t feel embarrassed to seek help if you feel uncomfortable and intimidated. I speak from experience when I say almost everyone at shows is 100% dedicated to helping anyone who feels uncomfortable.
4. Get educated about consent. Even if you think you know what that means, refresh yourself. Having a deeper understanding of consent and what it looks like in sexual relationships can help you navigate confusing situations and prevent potential assaults.
Check out RAINN’s information on consent here.
I am completely aware that some of the things I mentioned above focus on avoiding becoming a potential victim opposed to explicitly preventing assault. I am not attempting to promote rape culture, but as a young women, these are unfortunately things I have to consider every single day.
I will leave you with one parting thought: don’t believe everything you read. While I am in complete support of having 0 tolerance for abusers in the scene, believing a call out post because multiple people in the comments section agree that someone is creepy is not valid proof of assault.
That being said, do not tread lightly around this issue, either. Sometimes, there is no explicit evidence because survivors do not wish to reflect on their assault. Sometimes, the best evidence you will be presented with is testimony from others in the scene. Become more knowledgeable about evaluating the authenticity of these testimonies so we can create a safer environment for everyone.