The National:

THIS week, I spoke about a situation I experienced three years ago, when I was propositioned for sex in return for help in securing a festival slot by a man from a well-known Scottish band.

It’s taken me this long to talk about it, because as an aspiring 20-year-old singer, I thought that bringing attention to this man’s behaviour would damage my career, cause undue drama, and possibly interfere with potential future opportunities. This mindset was what the industry had already conditioned me into thinking. I kept silent because I thought this was the best thing to do.

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Over the last few years, the Me Too movement has permeated every aspect of the entertainment industry, not least the music industry. But when members of the folk music community of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland came forward with several accounts of exploitation, abuse, sexual harassment and assault, the response was mostly shock – people genuinely couldn’t believe that this could happen within the folk music community. But it does.

When I think back on my career to date, I can think of several micro-aggressions which compound into a bleak scenario of misogyny and sexism.

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I’ve worked as a professional musician since 2015 and graduated with a degree in music from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, yet when I’m introduced by MCs and promoters, they use words such as “lovely” and “beautiful” which describe my appearance. When they introduce the men who accompany me, they use words such as “skilled”, “formidable” and “talented” which describe their ability as musicians.

Why can’t I be appreciated for the art I create?

Audience members saying things such as “Boy, if I were 50 years younger, you’d be in trouble”, folk club organisers who would get a little bit too handsy for my liking, and then the transactional soliciting of sex in return for securing me a slot at a festival. What irked me the most was the abuse of power – a "gatekeeper" in the community trying to abuse their power in the guise of helping a young singer with their emerging career.

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At almost every turn, I had been shocked, silenced, and numbed. Instead of calling it out then and there, I often just smiled and awkwardly removed myself from the situation, because that’s what I believed would cause the least drama.

But that night in 2018, I had the guts to “leave politeness at the door” – I laughed in his face and walked away with my female friend who witnessed the event, but I have grave concerns for what might happen to other young people, especially women working in the industry who could be vulnerable to harassment, grooming, assault, and abuse.

Whilst many people have contacted me with messages of support and solidarity, there have been several people in my Twitter mentions criticising me for not “naming and shaming”. To them, I say this: I do not owe anyone anything.

I deserve to control the narrative of what happened to me, and any victim of harassment and assault deserves the same. Victim blaming is not conducive to moving forward and changing the scene for the better. The folk music scene is one which is built on community - you meet the same people in all manner of settings - colloquial settings, academic settings, work settings and everything in between.

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Folk music is very community orientated and is rather colloquial in nature, which almost in itself creates a breeding ground for blurred lines, misuse of power and for exploitation to take place.

In the classical music world, musicians are often employed by organisations and orchestras which have in place codes of conduct and HR departments which should be able to deal with allegations of harassment and abuse swiftly and through official channels.

Genres such as folk, pop, indie and rock do not have the safety and security of a functioning HR department, or organisations' codes of conducts. If something happens to you, you feel like you are pretty much on your own. But it’s reassuring to see the Musicians Union creation of the Music Sector Code of Practice, to tackle and prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Organisations and bands can sign the code of practice which sets out principles to help employers meet their legal requirements and promotes and maintains a positive working culture. It would be great to see more folk clubs, organisations, bands, and individuals sign this pledge.

Whilst I’m glad that I could speak up about this incident, we do need to consider the wider picture – how do we catalyse a culture shift and create more safe environments for musicians of all ages, backgrounds, and career levels. Organisations such as EFDSS, Esperance, Feis Rois and The BIT Collective are doing brilliant work in discussing and addressing equalities issues within the folk and trad genres. The BIT Collective have established a confidential contact line where people can access support in relation to harassment, assault, and abuse.

I hope that moving forward we can build a community in which these instances of abuse are far less prevalent. I think we need to start with education. When I studied Traditional Music at The Royal Conservatoire, we never had any training on safeguarding or codes of conduct or methods of best practice. Our up-and-coming musicians should be able to access the correct training, but our established musicians should lead by example.