This summer, an Instagram account called TimesUpDetroit landed on Outlier Media’s radar. Since the top of the year, the account — which is named after the Time’s Up nonprofit — had attempted to raise awareness of alleged instances of sexual violence at Detroit’s music venues. The account asked people to submit their experiences. They would post them, along with the name of the alleged perpetrators and the venue where the incident was said to have happened. 

We wanted to find out more, but the last post on the account was May 26. We don’t know the identity of the person or people behind the account. They have refused to comment other than to say the account was being phased out.

“The work we set out to accomplish was accomplished: to tell the (sexual assault) stories of as many women as possible,” TimesUpDetroit said to Outlier in a direct message via Instagram.

The account was short-lived, but whoever was posting these stories was trying to address something people have talked about for decades: Detroit’s entertainment spaces are not always safe from sexual violence.

“Music is the soundtrack to our lives. Venues are where we gather and socialize. It’s a shame that these places can also be places of harm.”

Kalimah Johnson, executive director and founder of the SASHA Center

Spot Lite founder Roula David says this issue has gone on too long, and music venues need help fixing it now.

“This is something that has been an issue in nightlife since I was a kid,” David said. “A lot of venues in my generation would ignore it … (Now), I feel people are trying to address it a little more and trying to make more of a safeguard for customers.”

Most sexual assaults happen at or near the survivor’s home. Reports of rape to the Detroit Police Department fell 15% in 2022 compared to the year before, part of an overall decline in violent crime that year, according to Chief James White. 

Sexual assault does still happen in Detroit venues. A 2020 DJ Mag investigation found several reports of alleged sexual assault against Derrick May, a Detroit producer who is one of the originators of techno music. It’s not just a Detroit problem either: an MLive investigation found a rampant history of sexual assault and rape at the three-day country festival, Faster Horses.

Music venues are typically dark, serve alcohol, have little space to maneuver and loud music that makes it difficult to be heard. Venues aren’t innately unsafe spaces, but these factors can create an environment for unwanted sexual attention or even assault. 

“That’s something, I’ll be completely honest, I don’t really know how to conquer,” David said.

Rossi Clark, outreach and education coordinator at Avalon Healing Center, which provides trauma-informed care to survivors of sexual assault, said venues have to take a “visible and loud stance” against sexual violence in order to deter criminals.

Most venues do have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual assault. Clark said that’s only the first step, however. An intervention plan is next. This can be having discussions about when someone should interfere in something they see happening in the space, putting staff through trauma-informed training or connecting survivors with community resources.

“It means checking your staff member who’s like ‘hey, beautiful’ too many times, or it’s checking in on somebody who seems like they don’t want to be dancing with that person,” Clark said. “It’s not just when there are these major, ‘level 10’ red-alert flags happening.”

Detroit venues are already getting some things right. Kalimah Johnson, executive director and founder of the SASHA Center — a sexual assault service, prevention and educational agency — said she’s seen preventative measures like drink coasters that can detect drugs, visible posters with national and local hotline numbers, and public announcements before events denouncing any type of violence. 

Big Pink, a music and arts venue in Rivertown, has attempted to follow this model. It posts its policies in its bathrooms, on the dance floor, behind the bar and at the front door. 

“The most important thing is to validate whoever’s looking for that help or protection,” co-founder Maher Hachem said. “It’s not to jump into ‘let’s figure it out’ mode or ‘who’s right, who’s wrong?’ It’s more (about being) a caring human.”

The Big Pink staff was trained in intervention by Avalon Healing. Clark said the training included studying the language and terminology around sexual violence, discussing how to respond to when someone says they need help and connecting the staff to more education.

Clark said the partnership with Big Pink has been successful, and that Avalon Healing Center is open for more partnerships with venue owners interested in sexual assault prevention.

Black and pink poster that reads, “Welcome to Big Pink! Our goal is to create a space to vibe & thrive together. Below are some guidelines that help us maintain a space to enjoy music, art, & expression. We have a strict zero tolerance policy for: Any forms of harassment. Acts of aggression. Racism. Sexism. Transphobia. Homophobia. Religious bigotry. Let’s work together to keep each other safe so if you see something, say something. Enjoy your night!” The poster also shows an illustration of a molecule, but with a dancer in the middle of it.
Big Pink posts its anti-sexual violence policies in its bathrooms, on the dance floor, behind the bar and at the front door. Image credit: Courtesy of Big Pink Media

Johnson said area venues are still falling short when it comes to preventing or addressing sexual violence. Johnson also said survivors of sexual violence at local venues are still falling through the cracks, even when those survivors are on staff. A study found that 34% of women working in the music industry — content creators, social media managers, servers and more — reported being harassed in the workplace. The numbers are higher for nonbinary and transgender workers in these spaces. 

“Music is the soundtrack to our lives,” Johnson said. “Venues are where we gather and socialize. It’s a shame that these places can also be places of harm.”

Most venue owners aren’t simply ignoring sexual violence. In those spaces, it can be hard to know when to intervene and when patrons are consenting and actually having a good time. David said venues shouldn’t play police, judge and jury, but instead should make their spaces as safe as possible.

There is a lack of local resources for venue owners who want to make their spaces safer but need training. Statewide, Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence and the Michigan Rape Prevention & Education Program offers training, though neither are specific to the music industry. 

David said she wishes there were grants through the city or the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to help venues afford staff trained to monitor abuse.

“It would be really beneficial for people going to shows in Detroit to have a consistent experience, a consistent level of safety from venue to venue,” Big Pink co-founder Toby Murray said.

Some are intentionally trying to create a different experience for club-goers in hopes of making things safer. Detroiters looking for nontraditional entertainment spaces, conscious clubbing — strictly sober clubs — can find one at least twice a month in the city. 

What to do if you’ve experienced sexual assault

Those who have experienced sexual assault should first ensure they are in a safe place. Johnson recommends that if you came with a group of trusted friends, return to that group and get to a safe place. If partying alone, survivors can (but are not required to) report the sexual assault to a staff member at a venue. They can request that the perpetrator be removed or that security walks the survivor to their car, Clark said. 

If a survivor is raped, it’s strongly recommended they receive medical attention as soon as possible to screen for sexually transmitted infections and possible pregnancy. All survivors have a right to a medical forensic exam up to 120 hours after the assault. Michigan has victim compensation funds to offset health-related costs, but many require survivors to file a police report within 72 hours. 

Finally, the decision to press charges is individual and can change at any time based on the survivor. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network offers a comprehensive outline of this process.

Avalon Healing Center offers free confidential support to survivors of sexual violence, including medical forensic exams. They also have a 24-hour hotline.

The SASHA Center provides free confidential support to sexual violence survivors over the age of 16, primarily for Black survivors. This includes peer support groups, community education and training and discussions on the intersection of race and sexuality.

Other local resources for sexual violence survivors include the National Sexual Assault Hotline, MaleSurvivor, Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community and First Step.

SaMya (she/her) believes in empowering and encouraging minority voices through local journalism because journalism is a service to the community, not vice versa. She loves Campus Martius, especially during holiday time with the bright lights and snow.