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Brooklyn Magazine reports on the aftermath of Heathcliff Berru’s downfall, and the power of social media

By | Published on Monday 29 February 2016

Life Or Death

Disgraced former music publicist Heathcliff Berru has spoken to Brooklyn Magazine about the accusations of sexual assault that led to the collapse of his company, US-based Life Or Death PR, earlier this year. The interview was part of a larger article about how social media was used to expose Berru, and the wider problem of misogyny in the music industry.

As previously reported, in January Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman tweeted about a “very popular music publicist” who had “RUBBED my ass and BIT my hair at a bar a couple years ago”. Hours later, she named Berru as the man in her story, which prompted many others to come forward with reports of the PR man’s past actions.

Berru subsequently resigned as CEO of his company, while its staff all quit and formed a new PR firm with no ties to their former employer.

In the article, writer Caitlin White says she’s now aware of 43 woman who have stories about Berru, ranging from inappropriate contact to sexual assault. Several people interviewed for the piece said that the stories were common knowledge in the industry, and dated back as far as a decade. What changed was their being made available on social media.

“I’m trying to think of individual cases where something like this has happened, but I honestly can’t recall anything like this”, said music journalist Ann Powers. “I think that’s because of social media. It happens so fast, and it’s so public. It didn’t have to happen in a court of law, and it hasn’t happened in a court of law, so that is a factor. It definitely happened fast without the kind of backup you get when something has to be reported or prosecuted in a more conventional way. But at the same time, it’s so hard to prosecute these kinds of crimes. Is it even defined in court as a crime? There’s so much grey in it legally. I think it’s almost impossible to call out men definitively”.

“I think women speaking up about inappropriate men and having it spread sends a strong message to men that they can be held accountable”, added Biz 3’s Kathryn Frazier, who employed Berru early in his career, but fired him over his drug and alcohol misuse. “Women ending the silence of harassment-related shame is important, but I also felt uneasy at times watching how some ushered this entire accusation-to-trial-to-judgement of Heathcliff Berru over the course of a couple of days, and all via Twitter and Facebook”.

Speaking from a rehab facility, where he is being treated for drug, alcohol and sex addition, Berru commended the women who had come forward and named him: “I think it’s very brave and bold when people stand up,” he said. “I hope this motivates women and anyone to stand up, and put one foot forward in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable”.

And to target in general “sexism in music or entertainment, or in industries where people drink, use drugs and do other things that they’ll use to excuse themselves the next day when they clean up. I want to be a good example for people that have addiction issues. The reason I’m even speaking today is to express sincere apology and to acknowledge that I was a really shitty person and upset a lot of women. Men everywhere are shaken as a result of these stories, and you know what? It’s time that people own up”.

However, added Powers: “Men abusing their power to gain sexual access to women in the music industry is extremely deeply rooted. In my opinion, it’s rooted in thousands of years of social structure [and] this has been going on for the entire history of popular music”.

Read the article in full here.

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