Sexual harassment is rife among UK classical musicians

Sexual harassment is rife among UK classical musicians


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2017

A survey by the Incorporated Society of Musicians finds that 60 percent of classical musicians have experienced sexual harassment, rising to 70 percent among the self-employed.

There were, however, just 250 responses to the survey.

In Sweden, a much smaller country, almost 700 opera singers declared they had been harassed, practically the entire profession.


  • The View From America says:

    Is anyone surprised …?

  • Sue says:

    What constitutes harassment? Does any society have the same idea about that from one country to another? It’s very vague. If something is harassment simply because it is gratuitous or unwanted I’d recommend people keep to themselves and do not try to make contact between the sexes.

    When I was a young woman I had men occasionally try to put the hard word on me and I just laughed it off. However, if declining such overtures leads to lack of promotion or advancement in the workplace that’s a very different matter.

    • Juanwhonose says:

      If by the term ‘putting the hard word on’ is defined on the internet by ‘ask a favour of (someone), especially a sexual one’ I would suggest you were lucky that they actually asked you! In my experience, when I was in my twenties, thirties and into my forties, it was inappropriate touching from teachers, colleagues, soloists and conductors – basically there was nothing said. Even the runtiest of orchestral players seemed to think that they weren’t a fully paid up musician, if they didn’t act like a randy old goat! In parliamentary ‘list’ speak, they were ‘handsy’.
      One particularly, eminent, married soloist and teacher who is still receiving teaching plaudits, stood behind me when a group of us were waiting to enter a teaching room, and pressed his ‘hard on’ against me. Because I didn’t follow up on that and his other non-verbal advances, he treated me like dirt and I missed out on being suggested for a prestigious job. A few years later I actually found out that I might have got the job and I was specifically asked why this teacher hadn’t put me forward for it, when he had actually put forward one of my contemporaries, a male pupil who ended up getting the job.
      It’s basically, behave in a civilised manner and don’t get the work.

    • Antonio says:

      “If something is harassment simply because it is gratuitous or unwanted I’d recommend people keep to themselves and do not try to make contact between the sexes.”

      Your lack of compassion and your inability to understand sexual harassment are embarrassing.

    • Bruce says:

      Sue, I think you may be confusing harassment with flirting.

      With harassment, the harasser is banking on his victim’s inability to say no: either from fear of losing her job, fear of not being believed if she does come forward, fear of nobody caring (see my comment of Dec. 1 on this post: – the quoted section in italics), or any number of other reasons. (And yes, I’m phrasing this in terms of male harasser/female victim since that’s the most common. Feel free to adjust the genders as you see fit.)

      It doesn’t have to actually result in loss of work or lack of promotion to be harassment — it only has to be threatening or persistent. That quality is implicit in the superior/ subordinate situation where most harassment happens.

      Asking a co-worker (meaning someone of roughly equal status) out for drinks: fine, as long as the co-worker is free to say no and nothing bad happens because of it. A superior asking a subordinate out for drinks: not OK, since there are so many factors to consider regarding present & future employment. What could look like flirtation actually carries a distinct undertone of extortion, where even a reassurance like “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything bad if you say no” carries an unspoken reminder: “…although I could.”

    • Behind the scenes says:

      “Does any society have the same idea about that from one country to another?”

      Sue, if by this you’re trying to make out that the Swedish complainants are prudes, over-sensitive or somehow lacking in ordinary tolerance for flirting, then you’re dead wrong. The stories shared privately by that group are horrific – stories about abuse, crimes, blackballing and slander. None of it is trivial or exaggerated.

      And none of this is unique to Sweden. What the Swedish women are doing differently is getting organised, supporting one another, getting media coverage, getting the police involved and getting results. They are candidly refusing to take any more garbage and be dismissed by those who would wish this problem away or minimise the behaviour. And they are going to take down some big names.

  • harold braun says:


  • John Borstlap says:

    Harrassment depends upon the power structure, for instance between employer and employee. I make it a sport to occasionally harrass my own boss, since he cannot function without me.


  • The View from America says:

    … and we can add in the rest of the English-speaking world:

  • Mikko says:

    My comment is late, but for the record, the declaration by 700 in Sweden included many professions in arts, not just opera singers.