Milwaukee Restraining Order Case Spurs Women in Music to Band Together

Home for the holidays, and harassed …

Hartland native Emily White left her Brooklyn home for Milwaukee for the holidays, to visit family and friends and live-tape podcasts based on her book, How to Build a Sustainable Music Career.

It should have been a relaxing and productive time.

She ended up in court.

The 40-year-old entrepreneur and entertainment industry executive hired an attorney and filed a court action against a local musician who repeatedly harassed her online after attending the tapings. She won a temporary restraining order and, on Feb. 17, a 10-year injunction. For the injunction to be that long, a Milwaukee County family court commissioner had to determine there was a “substantial risk” that the man would kill or sexually assault White. 

“What began as my favorite-ever trip to Milwaukee spiraled into what I can only describe as feeling like living in a horror film,” White wrote on Instagram. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Her going public could be a galvanizing event.

White says she has been in touch with national leaders in the industry aiming to launch a program that would support women in music who are victimized by harassment or abuse. It would provide financial help and mentoring to go through the court process.


 

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“If I’m 20 and this happened, I wouldn’t even know how to find an attorney,” she says.

White’s episode also prompted action by Wisconsin Music Ventures, a Wauwatosa-based organization that supports independent musicians. In March, it did a zoom panel discussion and a podcast on women’s safety in the music industry. 

Musician Allison Emm, founder of the group, says she has spoken with other local women in the music industry about further action. She hopes what happened to White will spur the creation of a Milwaukee chapter of Women In Music, an international nonprofit, in an effort to provide more support and safety for women. 

“I want to get women more involved in behind-the-scenes music industry work, but it’s not easy to do that because it does often feel like it’s unsafe to be in that position,” Emm says. “It’s becoming a passion of mine to make sure we can feel safe doing what we want to do.”

There are indications the problem is widespread.

On the zoom panel, New York City early jazz musician Cynthia Sayer, a member of the American Banjo Hall of Fame, said a fan stalked her for eight years. Carolyn Ortiz, chief operating officer of the Big Ass Kids music label in New York City, said she has been assaulted and harassed. She said the industry needs to mentor young women on staying safe. “I never had a woman say to me: This is what you need to look out for.” 

On March 8, the third annual “Be The Change: Gender Equality in the Music Industry” study was released. More than 1,600 music industry professionals and creators from 109 countries completed an online survey. 

Thirty-four percent of women in the survey reported being sexually harassed or abused at work; among those who were harassed or abused, 97 percent said they felt that resources were not available to them after an incident occurred.

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Milwaukee journalist Tom Kertscher was a 35-year newspaper reporter, finishing that career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Now a national freelance writer, he is a contributing writer for PolitiFact, a sports reporter for The Associated Press and a contributor to other media. His reporting on Steven Avery was featured in "Making a Murderer." Kertscher is the author of sports books on Brett Favre and Al McGuire. Follow him on Twitter at @KertscherNews and on LinkedIn.