Heathcliff berru

Heathcliff Berru proof it’s worthwhile to talk about abuse, even if you can’t go public

A handy, and depressingly inadequate, guide to bringing down sexual abusers in your music scene.

- Jan 21, 2016

Earlier this week, Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors revealed on Twitter that Heathcliff Berru, the then CEO of Life or Death PR (the company that handled GZA, Run The Jewels, Speedy Ortiz and BADBADNOTGOOD, among many others), had molested her, in public, to no consequence. What followed was a rapid barrage of similar sexual assault stories from women across the music industry, a distancing by many artists who'd worked with him, his resignation, and, finally, a dissolution of Life or Death PR as a whole.

Caitlin White’s initial coverage in Brooklyn Magazine hit me hard — that sinking “another one” feeling combined with a relief which also articulates in words as “another one.” As in, another creepy dude outed (out of tens of thousands to go).

Accountability doesn’t come from above — it comes from the people in an immediate enough vicinity who care enough to make a difference. The safety of your world is, literally, your responsibility.

On Monday, as the day grew later, more voices joined in, including Yasmine Kittles of LA band Tearist whom I count as one of the strongest, fiercest women I’ve met in the industry. So many people knew about this dude that the death spiral for his career and reputation was swift. My mental shitlist started burning between my gut and my typing fingers — other names I want to put out into the open but can’t because the stories aren’t mine to tell. Names I tell my (female and male) friends at parties — “I’m skipping this bro’s set, he’s a date rapist, pass it on,” “don’t add that dude back on Facebook, he’s a sexual predator,” “shit, that guy who deals roofies is here, watch out.”

Heathcliff Berru resigned as CEO and blamed substance abuse, as if the world doesn’t contain a large percentage of human beings who are high as fuck 24/7, especially in music, who can keep their hands and their junk to themselves.

Now, Life or Death PR is dissolving in light of the assault allegations, as if no one on their team knew Heathcliff was a slimebag — as if no one was enabling him to continue to act that way. Look, that’s not how this works, and it’s hard not to believe someone, if not everyone, at Life or Death knew, and for a myriad of reasons, those someones did not prevent further abuse from happening.

Which is why White’s followup story, Heathcliff Berru’s Bullshit Apology Is Not Enough to Address the Industry-Wide Issue of Sexual Assault, is so essential.

“I have received numerous stories from women who wish to remain anonymous–that’s how scared they still are of repercussions. I have been told about a woman who experienced this kind of behavior from Heathcliff Berru as little as a week ago,” she writes.

Reading White’s editorial, I can feel the presence of all the women who have reported abuse to her over the years even as she sticks to the stories about Healthcliff as an individual, because I know from experience that is how this works. Women are reporting to women (and men) every day, behind the scenes. Not just in the music industry — across the board, across communities. And if women aren’t reporting abusers to you, hi, it might be because you’re a threat.

There are different ways to be a threat preventing a woman from coming forward with the truth about a man who treated her like garbage. Yes, you could be the abuser. You could also be best friends with this abuser (and know — or not know. Dude. You might not know.)

You could also be the kind of person who doesn’t believe women when they come forward — or the kind of person who only believes them after major publications cover their story. Which is a behavior you need to reign in. Now.

On believing women when women speak out, White writes:

“Doubt is always the first response. That needs to change. Women can expect to reap nothing from coming forward, except perhaps a possibility of healing, and many of the victims who revealed their stories yesterday are currently trapped in their own cycles of guilt, shame, and fear—all just for speaking out. It took hours for the bigger, more respected sites to acknowledge the story’s existence.”

White has a right to be angry at the slow response to Amber Coffman’s tweets (no publication covered them until White was able to get a post up), but the way this worked echoes real life. A hushed, behind the scenes distribution of information, unless something miraculous happens, and then it’s okay to believe this particular woman, or group of women.

This is an oppressive, broken system that does not function in the interest of any human beings, and it’s also the best system we currently have. Recognizing that change is slow, and harm works fast, women and activists scramble to help each other with makeshift signal blasts. Typically, that means passing on second or third hand information and hoping no one gets sued or attacked, or directs unwanted attention toward the victims.

In the music industry (though this is happening, too, in hospitals, in banks, in ad agencies, in factories, in the media), what does an alternative look like?

What if every music site and blog active in 2016 collects their scenes’ shitlists, cross sections them every other site for a master list, places the names in a raw template, and at 12:08AM everyone “accidentally” posts theirs all at once, Yahoo-covering-Rihanna’s-ANTI-style. No one would know who to sue.

It’s a nice fantasy.

This is an oppressive, broken system that does not function in the interest of any human beings, and it’s also the best system we currently have.

A realistic plan? To believe the women who do come forward and help them share their stories. To watch your friends and the people in your community or workplace and, if you see them being fucking assholes, to call them on it and get them the support they need to stop being d-bags, even if that support is you sitting said pal down and telling him he needs to stop, never again letting your pal out of your sight at the bar, or telling everyone you know that your best pal is your best pal, but he’s also a dangerous misogynist. To realize these two states (best bud, total pig) can exist at the same time. Examine the people in your life.

We’re all fuckups, we have all done harm, and accountability doesn’t come from above — it comes from the people in an immediate enough vicinity who care enough to make a difference. The safety of your world is, literally, your responsibility.

I can’t and won’t ask any victim of abuse to come forward, knowing how dangerous and terrifying it can be.

But if you can, consider telling someone you trust, someone who will believe you, for yourself and your own safety, and in the hope of preventing it from happening again, as much as this shoddy pay-it-forward warning system (you tell three women, who each tell three women) can.

As I posted on Twitter yesterday, you can tell me, especially if you’re Toronto based. As many women’s are, my aforementioned mental shitlist is miles long, and I respect the dire necessity of anonymity and regularly talk to local activists who handle this stuff (with care). I’m out a lot, I know and talk to a lot of “industry folks,” and I also know a lot of people, women and men, whom I don’t want to see hurt. And maybe your abuser will someday get his own swift shame spiral. One can hope.

DM me, or my email is kristel.jax@gmail.com, or my Tumblr has anonymous ask.

Caitlin White has posted that you can email her, and there’s also this anonymous Tumblr aggregate, which has yet to post any bands and, unless they keep it that will, probably will last about as long as the Toronto Shitlist Tumblr did.

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