Punk Rock and Alleged Sexual Assault: A Timely Story
Last month, fledgling blog Put Your Damn Pants On ran a guest post entitled "I Won't Apologize for Being Assaulted."
The article's author, identified as "Beth," described herself as a "recovering scenester, 30-something stay at home wife and mom. I listen to the Descendants from the comfort of my suburban home while cooking barefoot and pregnant to Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl.'"
She told the story of her sexual assault, which she says occurred 16 years ago, with aplomb and searing bitterness. Her story has evoked visceral reactions from the punk-rock community.
Sadly, the sexual assault she describes seems all too familiar to too many people. Her story is different because "the singer of THAT SHITTY NY PUNK BAND WITH SHITTY LARGE HAIR AND BONDAGE PANTS sexually assaulted me when I was 16," she writes. She allows a few more onion-skin-thin references before outing her attacker as "Jorge," as in Jorge Herrera from The Casualties. Wrapping a fall tour with Negative Approach, the group stopped in Houston just five days before the piece ran.
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Punk fans took to social media, spreading the story and taking sides. Which, as Beth -- yes, according to the blog's editor, she is a real person at least two of its contributors know personally -- predicted, proved to be "a total inconvenience to poor you to know something bad about a band you love."
What's ensued since says a lot about music fans, social media's role in justice issues and how modern Americans abhor even the suggestion of sexual assault.
Why did the accuser not report the incident to authorities? Who else has knowledge of this event to vouch for Beth? If the state the crime occurred in does not have a criminal statute of limitations, will she press charges? Will the band take legal action against Herrera's accuser?
I reached out to accuser and accused to discuss the alleged incident, but the biggest questions people have remain unanswered even after asking them. Beth is keeping quiet on these matters, declining to interview by phone or even respond to questions by email. However, she did give me the following statement:
I never thought my blog post would reach more than my local community and close friends. The amount of positive support the post has received has allowed the women who run the blog to start a second Web site dedicated solely as a voice to women of sexual assault and rape.
It's already had numerous submissions from people all around the world telling their stories of men and women who have made them survivors. I was able to tell my story and I hope the same women and men feel the same amount of relief by getting to tell theirs.
Since the blog ran, there have been rumors about other women being assaulted by Herrera. A band spokesperson, speaking on conditions of anonymity, wouldn't address the specific incident involving Beth, any rumored criminal actions or any possible legal action the band or its management might take.
The spokesperson gave the following statement: "We did put out a statement denying the allegations and they are 100 percent completely false; but, we do want to be sensitive to any victims of sexual assault or any sort of abuse."
While the parties involved aren't talking, everyone else is. Even without all the evidence, many have already judged and juried. There's a "Boycott the Casualties" Facebook page and a "Fuck the Boycott on The Casualties" Facebook page. People on both sides of the issue are posting on both pages so frequently, it's hard to know which page is which.
"So all you have to do now is say someone did something and it's automatically the truth? False accusations have destroyed a lot of lives," is a typical post.
"You know what else destroys lives? Rape," is a typical response.
Punk-rock news outlet Dying Scene ran a story on the allegations and later pulled it with the editorial disclaimer that "there is no evidence or charges filed to back up these claims," and said allegations "have the power to ruin lives on their own merit." It encouraged readers to research and reach their own conclusions.
By the time the tour hit Denver, many had done just that. A group of protesters blocked that show's load-in and were arrested. One protester, who identified herself as "Bailee," said the protesters and members of Negative Approach had a shouting match before the band called the police.
I asked if she had any personal knowledge that the assault in question actually occurred, wondering why anyone would spend the night in jail defending something that could possibly be a complete falsehood.
"For me, as an assault survivor, I feel that whenever a woman comes forward with her story of assault, it is best to believe than disbelieve," she explained. "Many other women have come forward with their stories of Jorge's behavior, and I tend to believe them."
Bailee said she grew up listening to punk rock and "honestly feel that it saved my life at times." She considers her local punk venues her home and "I'll be goddamned if I let a known abuser in my home without a fight."
Responding to the notion that Beth should have alerted the authorities, Bailee reminded me that police are typically not welcomed or trusted in the punk scene.
"Why is it that the cops or legal system have to be involved in order for people to take women seriously when they say someone assaulted them?" she said. "Our words should be good enough."
Story continues on the next page.
Beth's words -- true or not -- have mobilized people. Fans have supported the band at shows and encouraged tourmates to not drop from the tour, at the risk of being labeled "rape apologists" and the threat of physical harm.
"Portland did receive two credible threats from skinhead gangs claiming to beat up fans at the show and bring weapons into it," said the band's spokesperson. "We spoke with the promoter and he suggested we either pull out or get police involved, so the band decided not to play the show out of safety for the fans."
Elizabeth Engle is founder of Put Your Damn Pants On. She said she'd never heard of the Casualties before the blog ran and was surprised to learn what a following the band had.
"From what I've gathered, [Beth's] story wasn't really a shock to most of the people reading - there have apparently been rumors about his behavior for a while," Engle said. "I am really proud of our readers and the way this has been accepted. We did hear there were threats of violence posted on Facebook and other sites -- that is certainly not what we want and I added a note to the end of her post asking people to not do anything violent or illegal.
"The point of the post wasn't to bring down this band," she added. "It was about the reaction she gets when she shares her story with fans -- the way people are ready to dismiss it even when they believe her."
Which, it turns out, isn't always true. Beth did predict the Casualties' fans would come to the band's defense without all the facts, solely because they love the scene or identify with the band. That happened. What she probably didn't expect was how many readers would do the same for her.
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