It’s time to break through the barrier of fear that enables abusers within the music industry to prey on their victims with impunity.

It was a cold October night in Europe when I sat at a hotel bar with a group of colleagues.

There were six of us, drinking whisky and unwinding from yet another show. Our numbers eventually began to dwindle, but I was wide-awake, wired from the stage - I was in for the long haul.

Suddenly I found myself sitting with just two male colleagues - a situation that I would now likely avoid, but at the time I was 20, breathing in the first heady scent of my independence. I thought nothing of it.

Until I felt a hand on my thigh.


It wasn't the first time a man had decided, unbidden, to try his luck in my lap, though it was the first time a powerful manager had made a pass at me in front of one of his colleagues. It was time to go.

I stood up, and he followed my lead. He grabbed my arms, pulled me towards him and forced his open mouth upon my closed lips. "Come to bed with me," he demanded, this man who was old enough to be my father. My other colleague stared at his drink, steadfastly ignoring what was unfolding in front of him.

I mumbled something about being tired, yanked myself free and scarpered for the lift.

Fast forward to age 21, at a music industry party in Auckland.

I was walking across the dance floor on the way back to my friends, when suddenly another artist grabbed me. I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing. He seized the opportunity to shove his tongue down my throat. I hadn't spoken more than two sentences to him before that moment.

Age 23: I stood in the dark in the wings, waiting to go on at the start of a show. It's fair to say that I was in my own world, listening to the band warming up the crowd, when I felt hands encircling my shoulders and caressing my arms. Lips on the back of my neck. Hot breath on my back. "Good luck," a married colleague whispered into my hair as if it were the most normal thing in the world. My heart pounded and I wanted to be sick, but in that moment I had to walk out into the spotlight to do my job.

A few days later I called one of his colleagues - a friend of mine - and told her what had happened. Her response? "You are too friendly."

Age 25: I was at another music industry party, sitting in a booth next to an old friend and surrounded by powerful industry players. Shielded by the table, my [married] friend started to stroke my thigh. I froze. Shock and betrayal coursed through my system as I struggled to decide what to do.

I was boxed in with no hope of escaping. I turned to the woman on my other side and quietly told her what was happening. "You need to learn to laugh it off," she advised.

I shifted uncomfortably, his hand straying even higher, and threw a panicked look at a friend standing a few metres away. A music industry veteran himself, he read the situation straight away, and was able to extract me. I thanked him and we stood together talking.

...I need to join the voices that have come before me to help to shine a light on the culture of sexual harassment that infects our industry like a cancer.

The man who'd just molested me spent the next half hour interrupting our conversation, trying to coax me into sitting on his knee. I left the party.

The music industry has a problem.

A problem I've been too scared to talk about. Recent events, however, here and overseas, have shown me that I need to join the voices that have come before me to help to shine a light on the culture of sexual harassment that infects our industry like a cancer.

The stories I've shared here are just a selection of the incidents I've either experienced or witnessed over my decade in the industry. Writing this, I was reminded of things that I'd repressed. Incidents I'd completely forgotten about. Like being groped on stage at age 19.

Before now I worried that I'd never work again if I dared to speak about the sexual abuse that I'd endured, largely at the hands of powerful older men who had the means to make life difficult for me.

When you've been treated like a profit-generating object, styled and moulded to become a brand, it takes some time to realise that you were a person, a young person, who was mistreated by people who should've known better.

But now, I have control over my career and a life outside the music industry. Speaking about these things still means risking relationships with friends and colleagues, but staying quiet means being complicit in the disgusting behaviour that helped to inform my decision to take a step back from an industry I love.

Nothing quite prepares you for the guilt you feel when you decide to keep quiet about what a colleague did to you, and then hear that they've since done the same thing (or worse) to another younger woman. Watching other women walking the same tightrope, I realised that while I've broken free of the shackles that bought my silence, others are still trapped. Why?

Statistically, the industry is still dominated by men.

Men decide whether or not your song gets played on radio. They decide whether they'll promote your tour. They decide who gets a record deal, who plays a festival, and even who receives a New Zealand On Air grant.

Over the last five rounds of music funding, only eight women have served on the panel tasked with deciding which songs to fund. Compared to 21 men.

And even when women do call the shots, as a woman in the industry it's hard to speak up.

Especially when the people doing the abusing are your friends. It's much easier to stay quiet. I know. I've kept my mouth shut for years.

But that culture of silence enables abusers to prey on their victims with impunity.

Enough is enough. It's time for us to say, loud and clear, this has to stop.

If you would like to talk to anyone as a result of Lizzie's column, please call:
* Lifeline: 0800 543 354
* Rape Crisis: 0800 883300
* Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation: 09 6231700