Early yesterday, news broke that pop singer Melanie Martinez
has been accused of sexual assault by long-time former friend and artist Timothy Heller. In a statement
released via Twitter, Heller, wrote about her friendship with Martinez over the years, and specifically two nights in which Martinez allegedly coerced Heller and engaged in sexual activities with her without her consent. Martinez has since issued a response in which she denies that there was not mutual consent, though Heller stated that she said no on several occasions and that Martinez raped her.
Unfortunately, this case is only another chapter in the larger narrative of sexual assaults being written in the country right now. Since women first started coming out against Harvey Weinstein in October of this year, more than 80 persons
—nearly all men—in the media, entertainment and political realm have been named by women in cases of sexual harassment and rape. The Heller-Martinez case is novel in the sense that the accused is a woman, but gender is irrelevant in the matter. It is true that men are the perpetrators of sexual harassment and rape in an overwhelming majority of the cases, but claims of sexual assault against people of other genders should be treated as no less valid. What the Heller-Martinez case does have in common with the majority of cases that we've seen is that there was a power dynamic that the abuser used to their advantage.
Before going any further, it is necessary to stop here and clarify that this discussion is important for several reasons, beyond the breaking news element of it. The so-called "Weinstein effect
" has started a nation-wide discourse on the topics of rape, sexual harassment, and consent, but often times there seems to be a disconnect between the actions of the people in the news, and the people reading the news. These very public cases are important because they shine a light on what has for so long gone on in the dark. Though we often place them on a pedestal, celebrities are people too, and it is important to recognize that this isn't all one big "Hollywood scandal", but the result of many courageous people chipping away at an abusive and exploitative power structure. While these major media cases have gone on, acts such as the #metoo campaign are starting conversation amongst everyday citizens about these issues. Not only is it important for survivors in these cases to share strength with one another and empower each other to come forward, but it is important for society at large, especially men, to see the parallels between these public cases and what women everywhere are saying.
Of the utmost importance is supporting and believing the stories of those that come forward. A sad and disgusting rhetoric I've seen in several cases, and most recently in the Heller-Martinez case, is that Heller released her statement in conjunction with a recent song release, in order to bring more exposure to her career. This line of thinking is completely degrading and abhorrent. No woman or person is seeking to enhance their lives by falsely accusing someone sexual assault, they are seeking justice, and for what happened to them to not happen to others. It's time we started listening and taking seriously the accusations from those coming forward, whether they're our neighbor or in the limelight.
Additionally, we must push for more diversity in the spaces we frequent and the media we consume. This might not seem apparent at first, but more diverse spaces offer more protection for those that are vulnerable. While the Heller-Martinez case shows that gender isn't the sole factor in sexual assault cases, men are still the perpetrators in the vast majority of cases. We can help dismantle toxic, masculine power structures by supporting the endeavors of women, POC, and LGBT persons in numerous ways, including supporting the products of their labor, such as their art and music, supporting safe spaces for them, and most importantly, by not supporting those that have committed acts of sexual assault or violence, or those that expose problematic views. Read another post here
about why it matters that we separate the art from the artist.
Unfortunately, this will likely not be the last time we hear accusations leveled against a musician or celebrity. However, we can in ways, no matter how minute, make small and effective changes to help disrupt the culture that allows these things to happen in the first place.