My thoughts on sexual violence in the PDX music scene
Written by Rachelle on September 4, 2016
The Portland, Ore music community is a very tight knit one. It’s extremely common for musicians to play in friends and friends’ of friend’s bands. It’s also very common to see the same people at completely different genres of music concerts multiple nights in a row. Even though there are thousands of bands in this city, it doesn’t take long to feel like everyone knows everyone.
When I saw a social media post referring to a member of this community confessing to sexual assault, it didn’t take long for the rest of my feed to blow up with the news. Some commenting with disgust and unfriending status, others asking how as a community we should respond, some commending the perpetrator for seeking professional help and confessing, more who relayed their personal experiences with sexual assault both within the music scene and outside it. How should I respond?
— Trigger warning: rape, violence, other icky stuff that may be bad for some to read. Everyone else: please proceed.
I personally know this community is capable of tremendous good. When I battled cancer (over a year in remission now – Woo!) though I didn’t need financial support because I had great insurance and a well-paying job, the outpouring of love and support was overwhelming. Rides to the hospital, Facebook messages of encouragement, stupid jokes to make me laugh, etc. are what got me through that time. So it’s not without great consideration that I write this blog post in response to yet another act of sexual violence. It’s not the first time and not likely to be the last time someone in our community faces this particular brand of violence. I’m not talking shit about anyone personally and I’m not talking trash about our community. This is a long response but it’s a complicated issue so it is a lot to unpack. This is how I personally feel about it so take it as that: my opinion.
I considered relating my own personal experiences with sexual violence but then I thought about how wrong that term is. The fact is, the assault committed not just by this person but by many others (in and out of the media spotlight) have absolutely nothing to do with sex. Just because our sexual organs are involved doesn’t make it sexual. Guess what else those body parts are used for? Pissing, shitting, birthing, menstruation, all kinds of bodily functions people don’t talk about in polite conversation yet when a violent act is committed using them it’s somehow about sex. Nope.
Let me put this very bluntly: it’s never about sex. It’s always about control aka POWER. It’s just like any other act of violence: mugging, stabbing, gun violence, beatings, gang violence, etc. are not about sex. They’re about some form of control/power.
For those going: blah blah blah yep I knew that one. Ok, how many of your peers know that? Do you actively educate them? Probably makes you uncomfortable and that’s ok, just work on it. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable and you do actively educate your peers– good on ya.
That leads me to my next point: how as a community should we respond. Instead of focusing on the victim and perpetrator, let’s focus on the third party who intervened. THAT is how as a community we should always respond. Be aware not just of own surroundings but that of the people around us. Is everyone around us ok? We care about those people so we should be paying attention to them. If one of own is misbehaving – call them out. If one of our own is in trouble – do something. It’s always better to hear it from someone we know, trust, and care about than someone else. We need to have these uncomfortable conversations or it won’t change. I know it’s cliché but yes “see something say something”. That phrase doesn’t just apply to terrorists. It applies to any other potentially criminal (including rape-y vibes) we witness. Even if it wasn’t a clear cut case, if they were just being creepy or weird, people need to be educated on those social skills. Forever alone because of creeper weirdo status, or uncomfortable conversation with a friend who wants helps you change that behavior? Go with the latter. Been years since a sexual assault took place and a friend wants to talk? LISTEN TO THEM. This might help: www.rainn.org and/or the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
The aftermath of such violence can take months, years, even decades to process and move forward. A person is never really able to “recover” or “get over it”. Any more than one recovers or gets over the death of a family member. I’m speaking from experience on both fronts: I’m a survivor of sexual violence and completely unrelated to that violence: my father died of complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Fascinating that both experiences have such similarities emotionally though. I don’t mean just for the grieving process, although there is that similarity too. An act of such intimate violence and the death of someone so intimately linked to my life completely changed my world view in many ways. Not the least of which is how I view the consequences of a single action. Delaying a doctor’s appointment by an hour, waiting a split second longer to call a cab, stopping to buy a coffee, simple actions can have an enormous ripple effect. Telling someone you enjoyed their music, asking if they would like a hug, letting them know you’re available to talk, and so many small gestures can move a person to tears.
A word of caution: everyone has different triggers. I’m not saying this to be politically correct or inclusive. I say that because everyone processes trauma differently. Walking down a certain aisle of Home Depot causes tears to form in my eyes. I may be thinking of what I need to purchase but that smell triggers some deep response that I have zero control over. I don’t feel choked up or emotional but somehow tears are streaming down my face. My brain says one thing and body completely reacts differently. I’ve learned to avoid triggers like that certain aisle of Home Depot my dad loved to browse. I avoid talking about my father’s death as much as I do talking about my sexual assault because both are deeply personal, painful, and it doesn’t make me feel better. Survivors of violence each have their own set of triggers they’ve learned to avoid. Respect those boundaries.
Even though it has been many years since, I still struggle with many issues related to it. I’ve made better friends, gained new hobbies and grown personally in wonderful ways. Yet occasionally a stupid trigger related to that act of violence will send me spiraling. The most horrible awful things a person can say about you, suddenly I am thinking those things about myself. Not just casually, I take those horrible awful things as an absolute truth about myself. Not because anyone has said them. I am thinking those things about myself because I think that’s my reality to own up to. It’s a dark ugly place to be and an extremely difficult one to pull out of. All because of a simple trigger. Don’t assume someone is just being sensitive. They’re trying to avoid a nasty emotional spiral. I know I am.
In time I will conquer some of those triggers. Others I will accept as a constant. It’s my personal battle but with the support of those around me, I’ll work through it. One of the terrible ways I’ve coped is by not being physically fit. Weird, I know since intellectually I get that my physical appearance had nothing to do with it. Emotionally I feel that if I am overweight, I’m not as attractive and therefore not going to attract unwanted attention. It’s like my girth is a physical barrier to violence. I know overweight people are just as likely to be a victim, just like people of color, men, LBTGQ, can just as easily be attacked as a white slim female. Tell that to my emotions when entering a gym. It’s something I plan on working through but motivational speeches about health and fitness won’t fix my emotional issues or my emotional eating habits. Support from my peers and perhaps a bit of therapy will.
I’ve heard people discussing the idea of separating alcohol/drugs from music as the answer. Deep exhale. First, don’t use being under the influence to justify anything. Whether the perpetrator was drunk and/or on drugs or the victim was drunk or on drugs or both doesn’t excuse anything. Sober or not, that behavior is not ok and it’s not the alcohol/drugs fault it happened any more than it is the victims fault. On the same page here? Okay. Second, not being under the influence is a way better way to enjoy music. I like to remember the concerts I go to. I also feel that I appreciate the music better if I am sober. Not that I’ve been to every concert that way but it’s just better. Third, if we’re all even a little bit more sober perhaps we can look out for each other better. Let’s be that person. The one isn’t trashed and can say something to a buddy who needs help.
I can simplify all of this by quoting Bill and Ted “be excellent to each other”. Don’t say whatever bullshit thing you think is the exception to what has happened like “he’s such a nice guy” or “you don’t really know her” and go on about how you coped and therefore it must be the way everyone should cope. Instead ask yourself if we are being excellent to each other. Not just okay, nice, good intentions, seems cool – is everyone really making the effort to be excellent to each other? Let’s change that. It’s never one sided; it has to go both ways. Stand up for each other, be supportive, call each other out when we’re not being excellent, and let’s continue enjoying live music. That’s what this community is really about – good music and good people. That’s how I view the Portland music community and I hope you do too.
Thanks for reading and/or scrolling the end. As a reward here’s an adorable cat pic. This pic doesn’t show a Portland musician onstage but cats are awesome and complicated creatures just like us.