When Jacob Hoggard began texting with a 15-year-old fan after a small-town Ontario concert in 2016, the girl was thrilled.
He was the lead singer of her favourite band, Hedley — a band she’d loved since she was 10 years old.
In their first text exchange, she said she sent him photos of her at earlier Hedley concerts at age 12 with her mom.
“Jeeeesus you’re a tadpole,” Hoggard texted the teen girl, according to screenshots of the messages she kept. “Don’t worry,” he followed up. “You’re not one anymore.”
Earlier this month, after a four-week trial, a jury found Hoggard, 37, guilty of sexual assault causing bodily harm to a young Ottawa woman who testified he raped her after she met him in a hotel room in Toronto in 2016. Hoggard was separately found not guilty of groping the teenage fan backstage after a concert and later raping her in a hotel room. He faces another pending charge of sexual assault causing bodily harm in relation to a third woman, and has denied the allegations.
In court, Hoggard said he did not recall texting the 15-year-old girl after a Toronto concert — “I want you in this bed so bad” — but agreed with the Crown he could have been “testing the waters.” He went on to describe weaving a web of romantic lies meant to persuade the girl to send him nude photos and have sex with him after she turned 16.
It’s behaviour that isn’t “pretty” but it’s legal, his lawyer would tell the jury in her closing address, blaming the “rock star lifestyle” Hoggard was immersed in as the B.C.-based pop-rock band began touring large and small towns across the country in the mid-2000s.
It’s an excuse for pursuing teenage fans that Stacey Forrester would like to never hear again.
“That stuff has been so normalized, bundled up in a rock-and-roll cliché lifestyle … that comes at the expense of teenage girls,” said Forrester, who is the education director at Good Night Out, a non-profit dedicated to sexual violence prevention in live music and nightlife.
Regardless of the criminal law about the age of consent being 16, as the male lead singer of a band with a fan base of teen girls and young women “you are inherently in a position of power,” she said. To begin sexually pursuing a fan who was 15 — to essentially groom a teen girl — is not an acceptable “lifestyle,” she said.
Forrester and others who track or study sexual abuse in the music industry say the testimony in the trial highlights problems that are all too familiar and need to change.
The key questions are who knew what was happening and what if anything was done to stop it, said U.K.-based investigative reporter and filmmaker Tamanna Rahman. It’s what she learned to focus on while making the BBC Three documentary “Music’s Dirty Secrets” and in her research for an upcoming documentary on the same subject.
“When you are in the music industry, particularly as a performer, you are suddenly hit with all these people telling you how amazing you are; your behaviour is often not checked by the people around you,” Rahman said women in the music industry told her while making the documentary. “If you are making a lot of money, it’s very easy to believe you are on top of the world and no one is going to hold you accountable for anything.”
Many of the people who could provide accountability are financially reliant on the star and their ability to keep making music and touring, she said. “How do you hold to account the person who controls your job?”
After training over 2,000 people and about 20 concert and music venues around sexual violence and creating safe spaces, progress has been slow, said Viktoria Dandelion, the founder and executive director of the Dandelion Initiative, an organization created in 2016 that provides gender-based violence prevention and response education.
Dandelion, who worked as a musician in Toronto for a decade, agrees that sexual violence within venue spaces is fuelled by a culture of silence, where employees do not speak up about incidents or they’re normalized under the umbrella of a “rock star” lifestyle, she said.
“There’s a false narrative that ‘I’m a musician, and I’m in this position of godliness,’ ” she said, adding: “It’s actually way more ‘punk rock’ to have morals and values.”
When someone does raise a concern, they may be labelled as a troublemaker in what can be a small, insular industry. Some of the women Rahman spoke to said “music has to be seen as a place that is fun” and if someone brings up something more serious, they’re ruining the fun, they’re stopping the party, and they aren’t seen as “good for a laugh” or one of the lads.
She said women who work in the industry who have challenged a performer’s actions directly have described being “frozen out.” They have experienced depression and sometimes left the industry.
Meanwhile, fans trying to come forward about abuse face not only the fear of not being believed and being pilloried as attention-seeking or money-grubbing by fans of the artist, but the prospect of defamation lawsuits and legal intimidation.
It’s why it can sometimes take several people sharing their accounts publicly before allegations are taken seriously.
Meanwhile, the perpetuation of the myth that all female fans are “groupies” leads them to be seen as sexual objects and helps create an environment where exploitation can happen and where victims will be dismissed or disbelieved.
“It puts all women in a position of vulnerability, where we are expected to want to have sex with a musician, and that doesn’t take into account what we might be there for,” said Rosemary Lucy Hill, a senior lecturer in Media and Popular Culture at the University of Huddersfield in England.
Hill’s research on sexual assaults in the audience of live music events has shown that fear of not being believed is part of why women don’t report being groped to security.
It is “phenomenally brave” of the complainants to come forward, Hill said. “People will say things like, ‘what about his career’ … all of that empathy kind of language, but we really have to stop to remember how brave and how incredible it is for these women to be able to feel like they can talk about what happened to them.”
There remain some Hedley fans who don’t believe the allegations against Hoggard are true, repeating many common rape myths on online fan pages. Why didn’t they come forward immediately? Why are they hiding behind anonymity? They knew what they were getting into.
Other former fans have said they’re horrified. Lizzie Renaud, a tattoo artist and owner of Speakeasy Tattoo in Toronto, told the Star she covered up 13 Hedley tattoos for former fans when the allegations surfaced. But most “weren’t keen” to speak publicly on it, due to fear of backlash from fans who have unrelenting support of Hoggard, she said.
For young women, accessing a concert space is one of the few places they can meet “like-minded people” without being under the direct supervision of parents or teachers, said Briony Hannell, a University Teacher in sociology at the University of Sheffield, also in the U.K.
And that’s important, as it creates a “real sense of excitement and independence that comes with this that can be an incredible, formative experience,” said Hannell, who specializes in feminist theory and fan studies.
“To access these spaces, as public events, and to feel safe while doing so is of fundamental importance. Girls and young women have every right to attend a gig and feel a sense of safety, belonging, and affinity towards the other concertgoers,” she said.
Engaging in a fandom is a crucial space for young women and people in the LGBTQ community to explore their independence, as well as their sexuality and gender identity, in a safe way, she said.
“To be fearful for one’s safety at these events is to limit the extent to which girls and young women feel they can access live music events as public events, as well as the extent to which they can engage in a key pillar of cultural life,” she said.
At Toronto’s Music Gallery, a concert venue in the Annex, staff have worked with the Dandelion Initiative to create a range of policies related to safety and preventing gender-based violence, said Sanjeet Takhar, the venue’s artistic director.
“Through that funnel, every single artist, partner, they are all bound to our code of conduct. Every single person that we work with has to read and accept our code of conduct … the behaviours we expect … how we deal with marginalized communities, sexism, homophobia, ableism” and more, she said.
“We talk about enforcement in that too,” she said, as they have policies on who to reach out to if there is an issue, and options outside of managers at the venue.
Forrester is already bracing for the next set of allegations to emerge against someone else — something that will continue to happen until the music industry changes, she said.
“A win would be a music industry that mentors men to be better and to really understand consent and power and to put checks and balances into their meet-and-greets and their interactions so that there is never any doubt about their conduct in those spaces,” Forrester said.
“I long for the day when we have a music industry that respects and protects and honours teenage girls and young women.”
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