High levels of sexual harassment reported by professional UK musicians



A new study by Incorporated Society of Musicians has found that 60% of those who responded had experienced sexual abuse, in what is deemed a ‘toxic culture’






Performers at the reopening of Queen Elizabeth Hall this month.






General shot of classical musicians performing – this picture is for illustration only.
Photograph: Mark Allan

A survey of around 600 professional musicians has uncovered a culture of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in orchestras, bands and music education in the UK.

The survey was conducted by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), a non-profit organisation with nearly 9,000 members, who work to protect the interests of professional musicians. Among the respondents, 60% said they had experienced sexual harassment, both from superiors – such as conductors, teachers or established musicians – as well as peers in musical groups.

“I always take a sleeping bag on tour, because often we are sharing sleeping space, and a sleeping bag (that doesn’t zip all the way down), is the most effective way of not being molested while asleep,” one respondent wrote. Another said: “‘I have been propositioned and/or expected to engage in ‘casting couch’ or flirtatious behaviour so many times I have lost count.” Other respondents spoke of musicians exposing themselves, being kissed and touched against their will, and, in 6% of cases, being victims of rape and assault.

Of those reporting sexual harassment, 82% were female, but male musicians also reported instances at the hands of both men and women, as well as instances of racism and bullying. Nearly 77% of those who said they had been sexually harassed did not feel able to report the incidents, suggesting there is much to be done around support and harassment procedures in these workplaces.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, said the levels were “worryingly high” and called for a “sector-wide code” of conduct that would “challenge this toxic culture”. The vast majority of respondents said they supported the idea of an industry wide code of conduct, with calls also for better training on the subject of sexual harassment.

The victims were 72% self-employed. “The music sector has a much higher level of self-employed workers, which makes them particularly vulnerable,” Annetts said. “Very often they do not have access to the protection and support mechanisms which are to be found in more traditional employment. As a consequence, this vulnerable but highly talented workforce is afraid of reporting their experiences for fear of victimisation, being blacklisted and losing work opportunities. The sector needs to tackle this fear of reporting.”

The survey’s respondents work across a wide range of musical jobs, from session musicians to music teachers, choir singers, orchestral performers and other ensemble players. Some 23% reported discrimination based on their gender – including reports of only “attractive” women being wanted for session work or wedding performances – while 7% reported bullying or intimidation.

The report follows some high-profile cases of sexual harassment that have recently emerged in major orchestras and opera companies, having taken place over many years. James Levine, the conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, was fired in March following an investigation that found “credible evidence that Mr Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct”. Charles Dutoit, principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, quit in January following accusations of sexual assault. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, for whom Dutoit guest-conducted, conducted an investigation and said women “credibly described incidents in the 1980s and 1990s in which they, too, were victims of sexual misconduct by Mr Dutoit.”

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