Commentary: Former DePaul student, music publicist, accused of sexual misconduct

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Heathcliff Berru, once one of my role models, was founder of Life or Death, a PR company that represented many of my favorite bands. However, after recent sexual harassment allegations, Berru stepped down from his position and the company quickly disbanded. Berru, who attended DePaul without graduating, is allegedly among the many men who still take advantage over women in the music industry.   

When I first got in contact with Life or Death, setting up an interview with Berru seemed like it would be an easy feat, but it took longer than I thought it would. After two cancellations, being placed on hold several times, and having the interview cut short, I had a negative view on Berru. Especially in light after learning about the sexual misconduct accusations against Berru, I realized that this man was not one that should be a role model. The music industry is tough enough for women to participate in, and it’s even worse when people they should be able to trust are among the perpetrators restricting them.

Amber Coffman, vocalist for Dirty Projectors, was the first to speak up publicly against Berru. Coffman recalled a specific experience she had with Berru at a bar, in which he touched her inappropriately. Over Twitter, Coffman explained how “this was someone (she) barely knew and had just met.”  At first, she trusted Berru because of their mutual friends and his position within the music industry.

After revealing what Berru did to her, she also commented on how she knew many people that had similar experiences, tweeting “I’ve been told many women have had scary stories about him for years but are scared to speak up.”

In an interview with Billboard, Coffman described how she wasn’t necessarily afraid that Berru would tarnish her music career if she spoke up, but acknowledged and overall arch of sexism.

“There’s no real code in place to protect women from this kind of behavior,” she told Billboard on January 20th. “There’s a lot of tolerance for sexual harassment and a lot of complacency.”

Since then, numerous women have stepped forward with their own personal stories regarding Berru. Bethany Cosentino, singer of California-based band Best Coast, was among them.

On the Best Coast twitter account, Cosentino praised Coffman for telling her story.  Even though she didn’t go into detail about her experience with Berru, she agreed on his poor character, calling him a “scumbag” and agreeing that she had also caught wind of Berru antagonizing other women. Wavves, whose singer has been in a very public relationship with Cosentino, quickly fired Life or Death after learning about the allegations.

Beth Martinez, a music publicist for Danger Village, said in an interview with SPIN magazine that a friend responded with “that has happened to a lot of women,” after relaying how Berru assaulted her while giving her a ride home. In the email interview, she later on praised how women in the music industry were supporting those that were presenting their own experiences with Berru. “You do not need to be afraid for your career by giving in to men who try to hold power over you,” Martinez told SPIN.

Berru once said in an interview with the DePaulia that one of the goals of Life or Death was to “bring the music community together.” However, Berru has damaged the industry more than he has supported it. Berru is just one example of men using their power over women.