Controversy & Conversation: PWR BTTM’s Rape Scandal – By Donea Gomez

Credits: Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Concerns discussing the emergence of the recent rape allegations directed at a Brooklyn-based queer punk band, PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins has been reported on by a slew of popular alternative culture correspondents, a few of the more prominent reports coming from NPR, Brooklyn Vegan, Jezebel, and Pitchfork.

Their contributions vary in the discussion of objectivity because of the basis these articles expand on. This has left readers in a sort of cloudy area searching for more information that can help them better cultivate an opinion of their own. The extreme one-sidedness of the discussion is due to the lack of available information. Many of the reports consist of accounts from individuals who claim witness of Hopkins’ history of sexual predation but also reported is the anonymous report from the victim of the instance of rape that is being discussed.

What can be identified as the most crucial aspect of the case of PWR BTTM, is that the gender non-binary duo has created the entire culture of their band under the guise that the LGBTQ community should be celebrated, embraced, and respected, and that they should find the utmost safety and support especially from those who identify themselves within such marginalized groups. Coming from the band that fought for gender-neutral bathrooms for the comfort of their trans and gender-nonconforming attendees, the hypocrisy presented by the surfaced allegations fuel the discussion as to why these accusations are imminently ruinous to the band’s integrity.

NPR’s May 15, report described the immediate effects the allegations have had on PWR BTTM’s operations citing their former label, Polyvinyl’s decisions to terminate their contract and refund customers who have purchased the band’s second album that was released just two days after Hopkins’ accusations began to circulate on social media. Along with the coverage of the domino effect of artists and management cutting ties, and shows one by one cancelling PWR BTTM’s appearances, NPR featured a screenshot of the initial Facebook post by user Kitty Cordero-Kolin that accuses Hopkins of committing multiple sexual misconducts.

One of the first publications to comprehensively discuss Hopkins’ rape allegations was Brooklyn Vegan as they list direct accounts of PWR BTTM’s touring members, Cameron West and Nicholas Cummins, in which they confirm acknowledgment of Hopkins’ inappropriate behavior while announcing their decisions to no longer work with the band.

While it seems the majority of their listeners accept and are abhorred by the accusations toward Hopkins, found in the comments section of the online publication, Gothamist’s report on the allegations, exists a perspective that should be considered and examined. Disqus user, “bedazzled”, raised the adverse speculation that false accusations are an enduring issue and that the momentum and accessibility of social media posts are what increases the potency of false claims. The user then recalls the late case of Conor Oberst’s false rape allegations. Oberst of Bright Eyes was successful in clearing his name after weeks of a legal pursuit of the accused victim who recanted her accusations in a legal statement publically notarized by Durham County, North Carolina.

There are some defining points to be considered here when examining each case of Hopkins and Oberst. First, by default, Hopkins is held to a higher standard by his followers because of the queer acceptance and tolerance that PWR BTTM preaches. This in itself is a point where one would assume that a band that capitalizes on its values of queer love and respect would be conscious in presenting themselves in ways they can be depicted as sexually hypocritical or insensitive. Yet, as provided by Gothamist, there are an increasing number of alleged witnesses of Hopkin’s frequent aggressive sexual behavior that have been surfaced.

A Flavorwire report from July 2014 details the aftermath of the Oberst scandal and reminds readers that rape accusations are cited as only 2-8% false and that all allegations should be treated seriously until the truth is reached. The Oberst example proves that there are no wholly nondestructive approaches when trying to defend your name in this situation. The journey through disproving allegations is as capricious as trying to balance a brick on the head of a nail, as the accused may appear overly defensive if their approaches are too aggressive but if not aggressive enough can be perceived as either apologist or suspicious but even more scary is to seem like the accused is trying to silence the victim.

Since the controversy currently appears inconclusive, some argue that the media has prematurely chosen sides and unofficially declared Hopkins a sexual predator. What should be recognized is that a large portion of these reports focuses on publishing the accounts of those allegedly affected and those who have chosen to publicly denounce their affiliation with the band. However, there are articles that do take a more forward approach in their reports as shown in Pitchfork’s editorial entitled, “Queer Kids Deserve Better Than PWR BTTM.” An article that expresses the calamitous profound hypocrisy that isolates PWR BTTM’s case “from other sexual assault allegations within the music industry.”

At this point in time, PWR BTTM’s return to the stage seems unlikely amidst the wreckage of their reputation regardless of whether Hopkins is found guilty of this allegation or not. Anticipation to see how the duo further handles their situation is high but for now, it seems like the queer community could utilize the down time to search for inspiration elsewhere.

Editor’s Note & Update

In the days of having this solid piece of journalism sent in by Donea Gomez, there have already been some updates concerning the matter. As of now, PWR BTTM has enlisted the help of senior music manager and label executive Lisa Barbaris in helping curtail the current political and legal setback of their band. Furthermore, Attorney Jeffrey Koenig of Serling Rooks Hunter McKoy & Worob LLP has also shown interest in defending the inherent allegations of rape that stand before Ben Hopkins. The press release states that the recent release of Pageant was “pulled from stores and streaming services last month when the band’s current and past record labels dropped them as a result of an anonymous allegation of sexual misconduct.” The intention here isn’t necessarily suing Polyvinyl / Fathers & Daughters, but to ensure that PWR BTTM receives back pay from a deal that was wrongly dropped and a record that may never see the light of day.

It is safe to say that there is a move to eradicate whatever notion of rape that has labeled Ben Hopkins and this oddly eccentric band. Now, is this because they have a solid case without any opposition or contestation? Is there something else that we don’t know? Or, do they know they can get away with it?

Again, this doesn’t mean we have to take sides of either party or develop an opinion without having a substantial amount of evidence and truth. More importantly, it does not mean that we shouldn’t treat a rape victim with the proper medical treatment and attention because of it simply being an allegation. Not everyone that goes through such a horrific event has the strength to physically and mentally walk through the doors of a hospital or loved one to drop their walls and ask for help. Especially when someone physically tore those walls we all dearly hold down. To walk into a courtroom and stare their oppressor down in the eyes of the public requires a feat of strength and courage that not many may have. Fuck, who’s to blame?

We are neither choosing sides or telling you how to think about this subject. All I could personally ask is that I hope you do not believe this person guilty based on a predetermined hatred that you may or may not have. Yes, there are most certainly murderers, thieves, and rapists out there causing our life and the lives of others harm. Still, we must be vigilant and determined to ensure that our judgments are both fair and informed before we slam our gavel of morality towards them. Should this be but an elaborate and tasteless attempt to dethrone a promising band? Then it will be handled as such and in a manner that is best suited. Should a court ruling determine a guilty verdict of Ben Hopkins for raping a young woman? Well, I’d recommend the rope as a cost efficient way in removing a cancerous cell from our society but that’s a personal sentiment.

Until then we will be keeping “eyes and ears” on the subject. Questions, comments, or concerns? Please, and in a professionally mature manner, send them to us here.

– Donea Gomez

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