Katie Armiger has been one of few artists to speak openly about her experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the country music industry and Monday at a press conference in Nashville for HB 1984/SB 2130 – new legislation designed to offer increased protections for victims who don't fall under traditional "employee" status – she, alongside Democrats Rep. Brenda Gilmore and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, detailed why she thinks this legislation is so crucial.
"By the time I reached 18, I had been exposed to behaviors and expectations that made me uncomfortable," Armiger said. "It ranged from innuendos and crude comments to outright unwanted touching. Not only was it confusing, but it was humiliating. This was happening at the hands of powerful and influential professionals that I was supposed to impress with my music. Like many, I was told that it all was just being part of the business."
As reported by Rolling Stone Country, one of the major factors in silencing artists who have been victims of sexual misconduct like Armiger described is that they are rarely (if ever) employees of their record labels – and thus have very limited rights when it comes to making complaints about any verbal sexual harassment. HB 1984/SB 2130 would change that, should it pass. "It is a discriminatory practice for an employer to harass an employee, an applicant, or a person providing services pursuant to a contract because of the employee's, applicant's, or person's sex," the bill reads.
"Most people in the country music business aren't falling into a typical employer/employee relationship," Senator Yarbro said at the press conference. "What this legislation does is expand workplace protections to those who are independent contractors, and contractors performing services, so those people too can be protected from sexual harassment in the workplace. Because all of our workplaces should be safe." Armiger agreed. "Here's the problem I see with the current industry," she said. "An artist is a product. A product that an entire business is built around. I was neither an entrepreneur, nor an employee. I wasn't a freelancer or a contractor. According to current law, being signed to a record label is a relatively undefined position. I was essentially allowed to use my talent and creativity to pursue my dreams, but only through the investment of others."
Today was the first time that Armiger has given a public statement about her experiences, and the process was an emotional one. "This is the first time I have publicly spoken out about this, and it is quite a bit harder to talk about than I thought," she said after pausing for a break.
Though not in attendance, Austin Rick, the artist who came forward with allegations against Nashville publicist Kirt Webster, also issued a written statement of support for the bill. "I champion this bill with great confidence," Rick wrote. "I believe the legislative body agrees that the evils of workplace harassment, abuse, and assault, along with the victim-blaming that follows it, should be eradicated – because all people, in all workplace arrangements, should feel confident that they are protected and empowered to speak out immediately so that violators can he held responsible."
Rodney Crowell, Lilly Hiatt, Andrew Combs and Lorrie Morgan have already confirmed their support for HB 1984/SB 2130, but both Senator Yarbo and Rep. Brenda Gilmore reiterated that more backing from other visible members of the Nashville entertainment industry would be vital for the bill to pass. So far, one Republican, Senator Mark Green, has signed on to support the bill, but Senator Yarbo doesn't see this as a matter of party lines. "We don't think of this as a partisan issue in the slightest," he said. "This is an issue about protecting people in our state."
HB 1984/SB 2130 will be heard Wednesday, March 7th, at 3:00 p.m. "We have a special responsibility here in Nashville, as the world capital of country music, to recognize our responsibility in this and take a leadership role," Senator Yarbro said. "We need to see a change in culture that says harassment isn't OK at any time, any place, in any industry for any sector of our economy. We have to say, 'enough.'"
"No one should ever have to endure harassment," said Armiger, "especially when just trying to put food on the table, or pursue their dreams."