When music publicist Heathcliff Berru stepped down on Wednesday from his CEO position at Life or Death PR and Management over allegations of sexual harassment and assault, many in the music industry have been repeating one question: How can we stop something like this from happening again?
One anonymous industry insider has come up with what she believes to be the best solution: Crowdsourcing stories of sexual misconduct on Tumblr. The Industry Ain't Safe was set up as a response to Berru's alleged behavior, which was initially exposed by Dirty Projectors band member Amber Coffman. Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino, Yasmine Kittles of electronic duo TEARIST, and other women in the industry followed Coffman's lead by tweeting about their apparent encounters with Berru, which they said ran the gamut from harassment to full-blown sexual assault.
The creator of The Industry Ain't Safe told Broadly that she works at a record label in Los Angeles and previously had worked in music full-time for two years, though she's been involved with the industry in some capacity for a total of six. "I was inspired by University of Chicago students who took matters into their own hands and made (alleged) attackers' names public when the university wouldn't do so. We have all heard stories of sexual harassment, but as long as the harassers are not acknowledged for who they actually are, their behavior is likely to continue," she said. "As yesterday goes to show, naming and shaming can 1) cause the entire industry to take accusations more seriously, 2) provide a sense of relief for victims who may have talked about their experiences without attributing them to anyone specific and 3) encourage others who have been victims at the hands of the same man to know they are not alone."
Read More: Sexual Predators in the Music Industry
The Tumblr invites women in the music industry to submit their own stories of abuse via email or the Ask function. People can submit as much or as little detail about their own experiences as they want. The stories will be compiled on a public site, as well as a database. "It should be noted that I am not asking women to only submit their stories if they name names. It's meant to be more of a resource where as much or as little info can be shared without risk or fear," she added. "That can mean divulging all details as well as someone's name, their role and where they're located. It can also mean candidly discussing the lack of support you find within your own work environment, or the internal struggles you face, or literally whatever else you want to voice but feel as though you can't elsewhere."
Beth Martinez of PR company Danger Village was one of the several woman who named Berru on Twitter, alleging that he "repeatedly put his hand down my shirt while driving me home after I told him to stop many times."
"I did not in any way anticipate the response that Amber's retweeting of my story would get," she said in an email to Broadly. "It has been incredible and important. Someone just emailed me that they have had more dialogue in their office with women sharing their stories of sexual harassment in the past 24 hours than they have had in two years. That alone makes it worth it."
The Industry Ain't Safe founder told Broadly: "Sexual harassment is just that: pervasive. Its degree of severity varies but it is everywhere. I have experienced it from co-workers, clients, and vague acquaintances alike. I don't know a single woman in the industry who has never encountered it."
While Berru founded Life or Death in 2008, a Billboard article from 2014 names Partisan Records as partners in the company. According to its website, Knitting Factory Records—the label offshoot of Manhattan's Knitting Factory club—is run in partnership with Partisan Records. The Billboard feature also states that Life or Death shares an office with Partisan Records above the Knitting Factory.
Everyone knew Heathcliff was a scumbag. But he got results.
A former Knitting Factory employee who worked at the shared office for two years described the workplace culture as "toxic." Partisan Records and Knitting Factory did not respond to requests for comment. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the former staffer said, "Everyone knew Heathcliff was a scumbag. But he got results." When asked if that meant that Berru was considered good at his job, he replied, "Yes. He is connected. He parties. It's what a publicist does. You gain favor. But that doesn't mean you should be making unwanted advances. You can party without being a douchebag. Which is why this 'rehab' stint is a classic crock of shit."
In a statement, Berru revealed his intention to go to rehab to solve his drug and alcohol problems, which he linked to his sexual behavior. "There have been several reports about my alleged inappropriate behavior which deserve a response. I am deeply sorry for those who I have offended by my actions and how I have made certain women feel. If I crossed the line of decency or respectfulness in situations when I was drunk and under the influence, there is no excuse, of course. To be clear, while my conduct may have been inappropriate, I have never drugged anyone or engaged in that type of behavior. Nevertheless, I do not want to be the type of person who would let drugs or alcohol take command of his life and compromise how he treats people."
Martinez told Broadly she believes that Life or Death knew of Berru's alleged behavior. "The people there, including [Life or Death president] Nick Dierl, were aware of Heathcliff's behavior. He started the company. It is his values that that company represents," she said. Coffman also alleged that Berru's behavior had gone on for years in a tweet addressed to Killer Mike: "No sympathy for [Heathcliff] tho. His behavior lasted a decade or more."
As the tweets about Berru's alleged behavior circulated on Twitter, Life Or Death released a statement, which said in part: "Life or Death has a zero tolerance policy for the type of conduct alleged in today's on-line postings. We take these allegations very seriously." On Wednesday, Dierl told the Fader in a statement that the remaining staff at the company were leaving and "there will be a new venture imminently that bears no ties to Heathcliff Berru or the Life or Death name." Neither Life or Death PR or Nick Dierl responded to requests for comment.
If one question currently raging on Twitter revolves around how the industry can make sure this never happens again, another one simply asks: How could the industry let something like this happen? As Martinez herself tweets:
Why are women in the music industry still fighting misogyny and sexism alone while their male friends/bandmates/managers do nothing ?
— Beth Martinez. Hero. (@dangervillage)January 20, 2016
"I think it is really hard to accept that someone you think is a cool guy could also be a sexual predator," she explained to Broadly. "I think there is a culture of looking the other way. It's also like, if someone came up to me and told me something bad about one of my friends, I probably would not believe them. But if ten people came up to me and said the same thing about a friend, I would at least have a serious conversation with my friend about it."
Or, as the Industry Ain't Safe puts it: "Please remember to support your friends and colleagues, even if the incident in question involves one of your homies. It is possible for someone to be interesting, kind, 'chill' AND a sexual predator."