Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Dear Young Voices *updated*

*Scroll down the page to read update from Young Voices*

My daughter is taking part in Young Voices and we have had to email them regarding some of the songs they are expecting children from 7-11 to sing as part of the concert. This is the main body of our email:

From: Natalie Collins
Date: 28 October 2013 17:14
Subject: Concerns about songs for Young Voices 2014 Concert
To: info@youngvoices.co.uk, helen@youngvoices.co.uk, gail@youngvoices.co.uk

Dear Young Voices,

Our daughter is participating in the Young Voices concert, taking place in January 2014 at the O2 Arena, London. Alongside being parents, Natalie is a professional working to address violence against women throughout the UK. This includes creating a youth domestic abuse education programme called DAY (www.dayprogramme.org).

We recently looked through the “Songs and Words” sheet for the concert and are deeply concerned about some of the songs within the “Pop Medley”. Our concerns are detailed below.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” includes the lyrics “I knew you were trouble when you walked in, so shame on me now, I blew me to places that I’d never been, now I’m lying in the cold hard ground”. This song suggest the woman singing the song is now dead, due to the relationship and is blaming herself for being dead, due to knowing the man “was trouble”. We find this message offensive and problematic. It suggests a high level of victim blaming towards the woman for choosing to begin a relationship with someone who “looked like trouble” and that a relationship that ends with a person being dead, and “in the cold hard ground” are something for young people to glorify in song. The fact the children singing this song will be aged between 7 and 11 horrifies and disturbs us in equal measure.

“Troublemaker” includes the lyrics “It’s like you’re always there in the corners of my mind, I see your silhouette every time I close my eyes, there must be poison in those fingertips of yours because I keep coming back for more” and “why does it feel so good but hurt so bad? My mind keeps saying ‘Run as fast as you can!’ I say I’m done but then you pull me back, I swear you’re giving me a heart attack.” These lyrics do not represent to 7-11 year old children what a healthy relationship looks like. As Natalie is a professional working to address domestic abuse with young people, this is a song she would use to encourage young people to think critically about the messages popular culture gives that suggest domestic abuse is acceptable.

Many who have experienced abuse would describe their partner “always being there”, it is a tactic of perpetrators to ensure their victim is continually compliant, by making their victim feel they are always watching them, or able to check up on them. This is also a tactic of child sex offenders.

That a partner would stop someone from ending a relationship is one which lays at the root of many perpetrator’s behaviours. The sentiment that a relationship can “feel so good, but hurt so bad” is one that prevents many people recognising that what they are experiencing is abuse, and not a healthy relationship. That this song is a compulsory part of the Young Voices concert for children of 7-11 years concerns us greatly.

“Live While We’re Young” has lyrics which include “”Hey girl, it’s now or never, don’t overthink just let go” and “if we get together, don’t let the pictures leave your phone” and “I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love, and never stop for anyone, tonight let’s get some and live while we’re young”. This song encourages young women to not overthink their choices in relationships, which is an idea that every perpetrator of domestic abuse would like to cultivate across society. Young women are constantly instructed by society to ignore their own instincts and this song perpetuates this message.

Alongside this, there is an inference of sexually explicit photographs being available on a mobile phone, a practice known as “sexting”. A 2012 NSPCC survey found that young people were most at risk from “sexting” within their peer group and not from “stranger danger”. The research also found that much sexting is coercive, with boys bullying girls into sending or receiving explicit messages. They found sexting amplifies sexual pressures and is affecting ever younger children. The report cites a 12-13 year old girl saying “If they want it [a blow job] they will ask [by text] every single day until you say yes." We’re sure you will agree that a song which seems to encourage the practice of sexting being sung by 7-11 year old children is hugely problematic, when organisations such as the NSPCC are working hard to ensure children and young people are protected from such practices.

The idea that within a relationship we should “pretend it’s love” and “never stop for anyone” are both unhealthy concepts. Many perpetrators of abuse isolate their partner from family and friends in order keep their victim compliant. A song which suggests someone should not stop the relationship regardless of their friends and/or families advice is deeply concerning and feeding into the mind-set of all perpetrators of domestic abuse. Although it may “only” be a song lyric, it is embedding in children of 7-11 year olds ideas that are at the root of abuse, and that do not feature in healthy relationships.

To have a song which encourages 7-11 year olds to sing “let’s get some” which clearly infers sexual activity is totally inappropriate. Though the children may not know what this lyric is suggesting, the majority of adults listening will. The NSPCC has found that around 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused, and the abuse perpetrated by celebrities such as Jimmy Saville and Stuart Hall means that issues of sexual abuse of children is at the forefront of public thought. The statistics and prevalence of sexual abuse suggest there will be perpetrators of child sexual abuse attending the concert and the idea of 7-11 year olds singing about engaging in sexual activity becomes more sinister and dangerous in light of this.

Currently by the age of 16 25% of girls and 16% of boys will have experienced physical violence in a relationship, 32% of girls will have experienced sexual abuse within a relationship and 72% of girls will have been emotionally abused within a relationship. It is clear that there are significant issues within our culture when this is the reality for young people.

Your website includes details of the charity work you do. It describes the aim of the Young Voices Foundation as “to inspire and motivate children and young people through music and singing”. The songs you have included within the Pop Medley do not inspire children and young people to have healthy, positive relationships. With so many songs available that have positive and encouraging messages about relationships, it is concerning that an organisation dedicated to inspiring and motivating young people through music would have chosen such pop songs to do this.

We would request, as parents, and in a professional capacity working to address violence against women, that you reconsider the use of these songs within the Young Voices concert. We would be happy to suggest songs that have a much healthier message about relationships that could inspire young people to believe in positive, non-abusive relationships. We will be encouraging others to write to you, through social media and blogging, in order to encourage you to take this request seriously. We will also sent a copy of this email to our daughter’s school.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email, we look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Natalie and Andrew Collins

Update from Young Voices received 31/10/13

From: Dan Timms - Young Voices <dan@youngvoices.co.uk>
Date: 31 October 2013 01:55:10 PM GMT
To: Natalie Collins
Cc: Gail Salter <gail@youngvoices.co.uk>
Subject: Song content - Young Voices
Dear Natalie and Andrew,

Many thanks for your email re: the lyrics for the songs within our pop medley.

It is very interesting to hear your views on the subject and we fully understand your concerns. We also appreciate your interpretation of the songs and how important this subject is to you, but also, we hope you will appreciate that they can be interpreted in many other ways.

However, please be assured that we take this issue very seriously and our policy is not only to do all the necessary internal due diligence but also to seek the advice of those people who we believe are best placed to give us a general idea of how lyrics may be perceived: our teachers. We have a very good network of teachers who we consult on this matter each year and it is with their help and with our own assessment that our songs are chosen. There have been no concerns raised by our teachers during the consultation period or to date.

Unfortunately it is too late to change the content of this year's concert repertoire and take our these songs as the process of arranging the music for our band, the choirs and the music pack as well as getting new copyright would take too long.

As a growing family business we are always looking at how we can improve our processes and make our decision making more effective and we can assure you that we take on board your concerns for future years.

Many thanks for taking the time to point this out and encourage us to look at this subject when choosing our songs,

Best wishes,

Dan Timms
Director of Operations
Young Voices
dan@youngvoices.co.uk
www.youngvoices.co.uk
+44 (0)7530 197609

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4 thoughts on “Dear Young Voices *updated*

  • Bev Murrill says:

    I totally agree with this letter. The song ‘I knew you were trouble’ is so seductive to young people, glorifying violence, using another person for your own gratification, the implied powerlessness of young girls and women by the lyrics to suggest that when in the grip of a relationship like this, there is no escape and nor do they want to escape.

    It’s a known fact that when people sing something, it influences how they think. The catchy tune and apparently sexy context seduces young girls and women into feeling that being imprisoned by someone else’s will is ok. IT’S NOT OK.

    C’mon YOUNG VOICES… remember who you’re working with. Just because it’s a catchy tune and a popular song doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s important to get a sense of responsibility about why you’re doing what you’re doing… these are impressionable kids. Give’m a chance to grow up with self respect and dignity… that’s the right of everyone on the planet. Don’t make what they sing imply that they will have to trade their dignity for love. That’s not love, it’s disempowerment.

  • EVE says:

    A very dismissive reply from Mr Timms that fails to take any of the raised points into consideration.
    I’d be extremely unhappy for my children to be singing the lyrics to those songs.
    They’re plainly inappropriate. Might I recommend the Spice Girls.

  • Sara says:

    Very disappointing response by Young Voices, but I have to say that it’s not surprising given that this is a big business who’s priority is squeezing as much money out of proud parents as possible.

  • Admin says:

    Natalie & Andrew Collins have responded to Young Voices. As soon as a reply from YV, we will update the post again. This is the latest correspondance from Natalie & Andrew:

    Hi Dan,

    We are extremely disappointed by your response. We would love to hear a few of the alternative interpretations of the songs that the Young Voices team can offer which are appropriate for 7-11 year olds. Please do take the time to view the official videos for the Taylor Swift song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNoKguSdy4Y) and the Olly Murs/Flo Rida song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQDOUbErNg). Our interpretation of these songs don’t seem too far from those of the official music videos.

    Unless the teachers you consult are teaching media literacy to children, we would suggest they are not best placed to make decisions about songs. The “perception” of the songs is less relevant than the actual content. As we made clear in our previous email, a child’s perception of the messages in a song matters little when it is likely there will be perpetrators of sexual abuse within the audience. If the teacher advisors you currently use have not raised concerns, perhaps you need to work with different advisors.

    Natalie works across the UK equipping professionals, including teachers, youth workers, social workers and others to have greater media literacy when it comes to messages of sexualisation, exploitation and abuse in popular culture. When she, as an expert in this field, comes to you with concerns, to be told that teachers are more qualified to make judgements on such issues is frankly insulting.

    We appreciate the practicalities of changing the songs at this stage. Perhaps the best way forward would be to remove these songs from the programme. These songs are 3 of 37 songs, and as they are only part of a medley, I’m sure it would be possible to remove them from the programme.

    The fact you recognise our concerns are valid and worth taking on board for future years suggests you are aware they are legitimate concerns. If you see them as legitimate concerns, we are confused as to why you would not be able to take them on board for 2014.

    If you cannot assure us that these songs will be removed from the programme, we will be taking action via national media and starting an online campaign to encourage others to stand with us against these songs being part of the programme.

    We appreciate the strong tone of this email may feel very confrontational to you, but the wider context of domestic and sexual violence across the UK, alongside the increasing levels of sexually explicit material that children and young people are being exposed to, has led us, and many others to an uncompromising stance on issues such as this.

    Kind regards,

    Natalie and Andrew Collins