New Report Details Decades of Sexual Misconduct Allegations in Music

Four survivor-led advocacy organizations — including those founded by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and California governor Gavin Newsom’s wife Jennifer Newsom — published a letter and report on Wednesday calling for the music business to take further action regarding sexual misconduct across the industry.

The report, titled “Sound Off: The Make Music Safe Report” compiled decades of previously disclosed allegations against over two dozen prominent artists and industry executives such as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Axl Rose, Anti-Flag’s Justin Geever, composer Danny Elfman, former Def Jam head Russell Simmons, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun and former Republic Records President Charlie Walk. (Combs, Rose, Elfman, Simmons and Walk all denied the allegations. Geever has not commented.)

Along with Carlson’s Lift Our Voices and Newsom’s Representation Project, The Female Composers Safety League (founded by composer and advocate Nomi Abadi) and the Punk Rock Therapist (founded by musician and former record executive Samantha Maloney and Kristina Sarhadi, who accused Geever of sexual assault) made up the coalition behind the new report.

“I’ve spent years listening to survivors, years of taking names, I now work with women across the world,” Maloney said during a press conference to announce the report on Wednesday. “We will not stop until the music industry stops sexually abusing women.”

All of the people leading the report’s release have been tied to prominent sexual abuse claims against powerful figures in the music and entertainment industries. Carlson settled with Fox News in 2016 after coming forward with claims that Roger Ailes sexually harassed her. Abadi signed an NDA and entered an $830,000 settlement in 2017 over sexual harassment allegations against Elfman. Maloney signed a $240,00 settlement and NDA over harassment claims against former WMG CEO Steve Cooper. (Cooper denied the claim.) And Jennifer Newsom testified in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal rape trial in Los Angeles, alleging that Weinstein raped her. (Weinstein was convicted in that trial, but charges from Newsom’s claims specifically ended in a mistrial as the jury couldn’t reach an unanimous verdict.)

In the letter addressed to Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge, Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer, and Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl, the advocates called upon the leaders to meet five demands: To end non-disclosure agreements, to adopt policy protocols at their companies, to publish a list of industry figures credibly accused of sexual misconduct, to adopt an unspecified survivor bill of rights, and for the Recording Academy’s nonprofit arm MusiCares to fund a new division focused around sexual misconduct in music.

“How many women have abandoned their careers and dreams of success because they were being abused by some of the most powerful men inside the music industry?” the groups wrote in their letter. “How many of them could have been the face of music today?” (Reps for UMG, Sony, and WMG didn’t immediately reply to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)

The CEOs were specifically addressed, though the group also CC’d senators and congress members Mitch McConnell, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Mike Johnson, Hakeem Jeffries, Jim Jordan, and Jerrold Nadler, pushing for the legislators to investigate the music business. Also CC’d was Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr.

“This report documents seven decades of sexual violence and cover-up in the music industry. This is simply not acceptable,” Carlson, who wasn’t in attendance at the coalition’s press conference, said in a written statement read aloud on Wednesday. “We call upon our congressional leaders to investigate the music industry. Hold congressional hearings. Get to the bottom of why this industry has failed to comply with basic state and federal employment laws and basic human decency. We implore leaders in the House and the Senate, Republican, and Democratic leaders alike — use your power to make the music industry safer.”

The report itself paints a picture of an industry long-tainted by issues of systemic sexual abuse from the artist level through the C-suites at record companies. “For decades, the music industry has condoned, perpetuated, and often marketed a culture of sexual abuse of women and underage girls. Thousands of artists, executives, and shareholders have made billions of dollars in profit — while engaging in and/or covering up criminal sexual behavior,” the report said.

Aside from including the allegations, the report also hinted at other means of addressing the issues such as legislative action and shareholder activism to force companies to change their culture and hold them accountable.

The report comes amid a wave of allegations to hit the music industry over the past year since New York and California passed legislation to allow sexual abuse survivors to come forward to file civil suits regardless of if the statute of limitations had passed.

During the press conference on Wednesday afternoon, representatives from the advocacy groups as well as other women who’ve come forward with their allegations since the bills had passed spoke about the need for action from the industry.

Appearing on video was Michelle Rhoades, a woman who alleged that Axl Rose sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old in 1985, just before Guns N’ Roses rose to fame. Rhoades had spoken about the allegations on social media in the past, though this was the first time she’d spoken so publicly on the claims. In the video, Rhoades alleged that Rose and two other men assaulted her at the band’s rehearsal space and that afterward “Axl Rose would pick up my limp, bruised, and bloodied body and throw it out into the parking lot like a piece of trash.”

A rep for Rose didn’t reply to a request for comment.


Also appearing on video was Sara Lewis, who sued longtime publishing executive Kenny MacPherson last year over allegations that MacPherson sexually assaulted her in the mid-2000s. (MacPherson denied the allegations. Hipgnosis Songs Group placed MacPherson on leave the day after the lawsuit was filed.) In a pre-recorded video, Lewis said that her experience “is not an isolated incident. This is the baseline.”

“This is a war that is fought daily by women everywhere,” she said. “And you’d be hard pressed to single out one woman who could tell you that she hadn’t ever felt the need to white-knuckle her days because there was a man waiting nearby to lean suggestively over her desk, touch her inappropriately or say something horrible. A man standing between her and her job. It’s time for reckoning within the music industry. Women everywhere deserve to pursue their dreams without the fear of being assaulted”

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