Dear Teenage Girls, You Deserve Better
[CW: childhood sexual assault, child pornography, grooming]
This couldn’t wait.
The news crossed my desk earlier today, but I admit I’ve only just gotten to spend some quality time on the internet reading about the allegations against Austin Jones, YouTuber and musician. (Check out his page if you want, but I’d think twice about watching his videos.) Jones has had a turbulent and controversial history of inappropriate interactions with fans—in 2015, he admitted to and apologized for asking fans to send him videos of them twerking. Read Alternative Press’ coverage of Jones’ apology here. At the time, there was lots of speculation as to whether fans were just on a witch hunt or if there was something of a darker substance at work.
I can’t speak to back then, but this time, it’s definitely the latter.
On Monday, June 11, Jones was arrested and charged with two counts of child pornography. You can read the entire criminal complaint, as written and delivered to court by Homeland Security agent Michael Ploessl, here, but be warned: the complaint contains graphic descriptions of Jones’ crimes. Take care of yourselves. If that means not reading exactly what happened, that’s okay.
Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which specific atrocities Jones committed. He went out of his way to victimize his fans. He used deceptive language to get them to perform acts that a) were highly inappropriate and potentially traumatic and b) they weren’t comfortable with. And he goaded them into it by telling him they would only be his biggest fans if they did these things.
As a musician who is also a victim of sexual assault, this makes my blood boil.
I’ve already posted plenty of times about my thoughts on sexism and rape culture, both in and out of music; I’m writing an entire body of work on the subject of sexual assault. But this hurts in a different way. As musicians, our job—our calling, some might say—is using our art form as our primary means of connecting with our audience. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And though we can sometimes be friends or mentors or role models to our fans (though that’s quite the minefield to navigate), most of us recognize that there has to be a firm boundary somewhere. Music is, generally, a one-way transaction; we aren’t meant to delve into our audience’s personal lives just because we think we can.
The issue arises when musicians, performers, and/or celebrities, often (but not always) men, use the sway they have over their fanbase to solicit sexual encounters of any kind. The power dynamic at play is inherently abusive, because there are so many things an artist can promise a starstruck young fan (recognition, exclusive early releases, merchandise, the title of “biggest fan”… the list goes on). And as someone who is fortunate enough to be surrounded by musicians who do not use their influence that way, my heart is breaking for those fourteen-year-old girls who were repeatedly told by Austin Jones the only way to impress him was to engage in an act that scared them.
I’m not sure how many teenage girls (or boys, or nonbinary folks, for that matter) follow me here, but for those of you who are listening: be aware of the power you hold over an artist’s career. Teenage girls have historically been one of the largest demographics of music purchasers in the industry. You’ve fueled the rise of Justin Bieber, One Direction, Little Mix, Fifth Harmony, Ariana Grande, 5 Seconds of Summer, and many more. There is power in your dollar. You have a right to be comfortable and safe when interacting with artists you like (and artists you don’t). If someone does or says something that you don’t feel good about, don’t support their career. Don’t spend your money on their music; don’t stand in line for their meet-and-greets or buy tickets to their next tour. Instead, tell the people who are in the best position to support you, whether that’s your best friend, your parent(s) or guardian(s), a mentor, your dog, or someone else entirely. Talking about being the victim of a sex crime is hard—I’ve lived that. But even if all you’ve got is a whisper, that’s okay.
Because, my dear reader, we will come running when we hear you. Countless musicians want nothing more than for our fans to thrive. You help us deliver music to your ears, and we hope that you’ll always be comfortable interacting with us should you choose to. If you need us, we will stand with you. You deserve so much better than to be taken advantage of by someone you look up to, no matter how old they (or you) are. You deserve so much better than Austin Jones and his ilk. If this ever happens to you, no matter how dark the day may seem, there will be someone holding out a hand to help you up.
I’ll be right here. ♦