When the volunteer board that oversees programming at The Mr. Roboto Project surveyed visitors for suggestions about improving the do-it-yourself music performance space, they didn't know what to expect. But they certainly were surprised by what they got.
In response to a question asking, "Do you feel that The Mr. Roboto Project is a safe space? Why or why not?" a frightening trend emerged.
"No I've seen abusers there," wrote one respondent. Many others echoed those concerns.
"I was pissed off," says Pam Hanlin, Roboto's facilities manager. "I knew these things were going on, but I didn't realize it was happening in our space, where we're supposed to feel the most safe. It was completely shocking to me, thinking there were actual sexual predators around us."
- Photo by Ashley Murray
Rather than sweep the accusations under the rug to protect the organization's image, board members turned to Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, a group that helps victims of sexual assault, for help. This month, PAAR will begin hosting a series of workshops on dealing with and reducing sexual violence at Roboto, a move they hope will help address the problem of sexual violence in the music scene and signal to offenders that their behavior is unacceptable.
"We want everyone to feel safe no matter where they are, so we hope these workshops will address the questions and issues we all have as we're dealing with this," says Hanlin. "As for Roboto, hopefully other people will look at us and think, ‘They're the place that did those PAAR workshops, they don't tolerate sexual assault or violence there.'"
Roboto is a cooperatively run show space and art gallery in Bloomfield. It's long been a staple of the underground music scene, giving musicians an affordable venue to be seen and heard.
For Roboto's board, the responses it received about safety at the space were eye-opening. While there were also positive responses, the negative comments ranged from general statements about the kind of people visiting the space, to direct accusations against musicians.
"We got about 70 responses to the survey, and they were just littered with rape allegations and accusations," says Laura Krizner, Roboto's treasurer. "It's a very big issue, and it's very difficult to try to understand how to handle it."
Wrote one survey respondent: "The girls, I'm told, are too afraid to come to shows because [offenders] might be there and are too afraid to speak out because they are such prominent members of the scene and ‘don't want to cause any problems.'"
Another wrote: "Rapists and abusers are glorified there. I sometimes avoid going there because I know [abusers] are glorified there as punk and feminist icons. I will never feel safe at Roboto if they are welcome there."
The responses spurred conversation, and the board invited PAAR to two of its meetings to talk about the issue further.
"We started talking about the pervasiveness of sexual violence within the music scene and how it's been addressed with people basically pretending it doesn't exist and not giving any support to survivors," says Krizner.
Sexual violence is a wide-ranging issue that impacts children and adults in all age groups. It's defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person's consent. In America, a person is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, an advocacy group.
"It's completely unacceptable, so this is something we've been addressing because we can't just sit and do nothing about it," says Krizner.