Why Rapper Killer Mike Speaking Out For Female Sexual Assault Victims In The Music Biz Is Important

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ICYMI, New York-based musician Amber Coffman of the band Dirty Projectors recently caused a storm in the music industry when she boldly tweeted about her experience being sexually harassed by a well-known male music publicist by the name off Heathcliff Berru, CEO of Life or Death PR. It was a move that could’ve potentially ended her career, or have her slut-shamed into oblivion, instead it caused many more women in the industry, including Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino to tweet Amber, thank her for speaking up, and admitting she too had been harassed.

It became such a heated topic on the social media platform, it forced Heathcliff to step down from his role at CEO of the firm. Given that sexual assault and harassment is still such a taboo topic in society, the fact that a musician publicly dared to speak out is a big freaking deal. All you have to do is look at the way harassment, assault, rape and domestic violence toward women is treated generally in public industries.

The way the NFL has covered up accusations and reports of domestic violence toward women by the hands of star players is monumental, and something that has been widely discussed in the media over the past few years. The more than 30 women who have publicly come forward accusing Bill Cosby of rape or assault should be shocking and makes you wonder why it was allowed to happen and be kept hidden for so long.

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Yet the insipid amount of vitriol and shaming toward the women who spoke up, including models Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson, tells a sad tale of how far off we are from treating victims in the right way.

In the case of music publicist Heathcliff Berru, something interesting happened as details about his actions were exposed by some of his victims. One of his former client, rapper Killer Mike, known for being a social justice mouthpiece about issues of race and discrimination, decided to cut ties with the firm and also speak out in a detailed manner about this move.

While he claimed, in a series of tweets, “Cliff” was still his friend and that he needs to sort out his drug and alcohol issues, he also said he stood by Amber and all the women who spoke out. Then he decided to write a more extensive post on Facebook, not just talking about the incident, but about the responsibility of men in the music industry to stop the pervasive spread of sexual assault and harassment.

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It’s an important stand to take and a powerful message to share with his legion of followers. His reaction to this incident gathered plenty more media headlines than Amber’s initial admission, and sure, that could be explained by his larger following and celebrity status. But when you look at the different way women’s and men’s voices are treated in cases of sexual assault, Killer Mike speaking up matters on a whole different level.

It shouldn’t be that we are automatically trained to second guess women when they report a rape, assault or harassment incident, and when men speak up we stand to attention and listen. It shouldn’t have to take 30+ women for people to believe someone like Bill Cosby could rape someone, ONE allegation is too many!!!!

This Heathcliff Berru incident is not an isolated one in the music industry. Right now, singer Kesha is awaiting the verdict of a sexual assault case she brought against producer and hit-maker Dr. Luke, aka Lukasz Gottwald, who is responsible for producing mega hits for the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and more.

Kesha alleges he had been sexually, verbally and physically assaulting her for a decade, and that he is responsible for her stint in rehab. Dr. Luke counter-sued, as did her record label Sony, and she is not allowed to make any more music until she fulfills her three-album deal with Sony and Dr. Luke as contractually obligated.

Depending on the verdict, she is hoping to be released from her contract, and says this is the reason she has not been making music for the past 3 years and also admits this case could adversely affect her career. While the specific details of the case matter most to Kesha, what we see as a bigger problem is that there are no major media headlines touting other major artists standing up for her.

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Christina Cauterucci, writing for Slate.com, puts it like this: “Even in Kesha’s rarefied world, where a Sony contract hangs in the balance, her case can help explain why non-rich, non-famous sexual assault survivors don’t often report their abuse. Most survivors know their abuser, as Kesha allegedly does, which means that coming out against them can have a domino effect on other relationships within a family, friend group, social scene, or workplace. By opposing a powerful, well-known figure in her industry, Kesha has drawn the ire of fans and made herself a less attractive business prospect for other record labels. Few have stood up to support her.”

This is not a new problem in the music and entertainment world. You may remember when ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was released toward the end of 2015, a woman by the name of Dee Barnes spoke publicly about a major problem with the film: the fact that is easily erased Dr. Dre’s history of domestic violence and abuse of women.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Dee talked about her career as a music journalist back in the 1990s when Dre’s group with Eazy-E and Ice Cube, N.W.A, was starting to become a hug name internationally. She claims after being physically assaulted by Dre, she started becoming blacklisted within the industry. Dre went on to become an uber-successful artist, producer and billion-dollar entrepreneur with his Beats by Dre franchise, but Dee Barnes’ journalism career fizzled out.

She once even had a conversation with ‘Straight Outta Compton’ director F. Gary Gray back in the day when he was working on a project she had auditioned for, and he essentially shrugged his shoulders and told her she would not be getting the job because she publicly spoke out about Dre abusing her.

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Since her allegations came to light after the movie’s release, Dr. Dre did admit his actions were wrong and hurtful, but too little too late if you think about it. Not once during the past 2 decades did he seek to right the wrongs by admitting he cost Dee her career. If anything, the extra publicity from her unearthing his shameful past probably helped the box office sales for the film.

If we scratched a little deeper elsewhere in the industry, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find other horrible cases of assault or manipulation of women. The systematic and unspoken rule of silence of women whose very livelihoods hand in the balance when being victimized by the hands of a very powerful abuser is sickening. But it can’t just be women standing up together and raising their voices, although that has to happen exponentially more.

With the power of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, yes they have become havens for cyber bullies and trolls, but they have proved to be a mobilization force for issues such as race, rape and gun violence. Amber choosing to bite the bullet and tweet her experience could open the floodgates for more women and victims of assault in the music industry to speak out, instead of being shamed into silence because of the fear of losing their careers.

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What Killer Mike’s words do is show a glimpse of what happens when men join the fight. This is their problem too. They have to be willing to take a stand and cut ties with those who perpetuate violence. Perhaps they are the missing component to ending the status quo of silence and shaming of assault victims. We can’t say for sure, all we can do is hope more men are encouraged to stand alongside women in this epidemic which weaves its way deeper and deeper into society the longer we stand by and keep our mouths shut.

Why aren’t there hundreds of female artists banding together and advocating for Kesha, the way women affected by gender discrimination in the film industry are? If there is anything to learn from the movement pushing for gender equality in all aspects of the film and TV, is that speaking out can spark change and revolutionize people’s attitudes.

Although the music industry has been slow to follow, Killer Mike has sent a message showing where he stands, and hopefully he will be willing to call out other examples of this in the industry. We doubt this is the last of this type of assault that the media will hear, all we ask is that both male and female artists continue to raise their voices!

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