This was also my experience with a professor who started grooming me a few months after my arrival in Berlin. About a year later, began what I long classified as a secret and unhappy relationship in which most of my basic needs were consistently ignored, and I was systematically exploited. This relationship lasted over two years, from 2013 to 2015.
The worst was the isolation. Since COVID-19, the majority of the population has known the fatal consequences isolation has on physical and mental health. The abuser, a universally popular lecturer and musician, worked on my brain with feigned fear, cleverly disguised accusations of guilt, and various manipulation tactics to make sure I didn't tell anyone in the jazz scene and especially in Berlin about us.
As a queer person, it is especially important for me not to engage in kink-shaming. I know many people who date partners with a big age difference, for all kinds of reasons. And no one should be bothered by a number alone.
But with an age difference comes a power imbalance. The greater the age difference, the greater the responsibility of the older person to communicate proactively, honestly, and transparently.
This was not the case with this lecturer; on the contrary, the power imbalance between him and me was immense, and he refused to admit it.The person was well over twice my age and highly respected internationally in the industry. He had also been a professor at this university, at times even its artistic director, and enjoyed all the privileges of a white cis-hetero male.
Generally speaking, sexual contact between minors and persons with an educational mandate is punishable by law. Relations between lecturers and students are only legal in Germany from the age of 18, as long as that lecturer doesn’t grade the student. Under the criminal law, none of what happened was relevant. But whether or not something is relevant before the law (at that time it happened) does not make what happened wrong or right. Basing one's moral compass solely on criminal law is part of the structural and cultural violence that still protects abusers at all levels: in friends and family, in the work or university environment, in medicine, in the law, in the judiciary and law enforcement, and in our society. Violence starts where it is felt. And not just where it becomes visible to outsiders.
Unfortunately, speaking out publicly about this can be a criminal offence.
People affected by violence who speak out must always be prepared to be reported for defamation or slander and to be prosecuted as a result. This can quickly become an existential threat, especially for a freelance musician. So I can only report on things that I can prove.
It took me two attempts to free myself from this "relationship" that lasted more than two years, that’s how strong the emotional manipulation was. Although I kept telling the abuser how bad I was feeling with the isolation, he never gave us the option to change or end the relationship. I found that the violence had strong after-effects even after the separation. In my case, the trauma after emotional violence was not only a wounded soul and isolation from friends and colleagues, but also a distorted self-image. A dismantled sense of self. Impeded access to my creativity. And with it a creeping depression. All perceived through a brain that had been gradually rewired by the abuser, which had adapted to the abuse for self-protection and even changed its physical structure. Accordingly, it took me a long time to even get to the trauma.
I was determined that after my final exams, I would gradually let those around me in on it. But the university's equal opportunity commissioner advised me to keep everything to myself. Her reasoning was that others would not understand me, and my career would be damaged. I am sure she gave me this advice to the best of her knowledge. Nevertheless, it was incredibly bad advice from the only official contact point for such cases at the time. As a result, I was alone for many years with my experience of violence and thus disabled to act. I now know that a lack of expertise, little to no room for manoeuvre, and a lack of independence are the rule in the (often volunteer-staffed) equal opportunity commissioner of music colleges.
I moved away from Berlin for two years after my final exams, looking for distance from the jazz scene. Everyone else was already strengthening their musical network in their city during their studies, but especially in the time immediately afterward, in order to establish themselves in the scene. I gave up my musical network, for the most part. I couldn't do it any more. I couldn't go on working in an environment where everyone idolized the person who had treated me so badly, and where I couldn't tell anyone about it. I almost gave up music. Because when you are abused by music mentors or musicians, the music itself becomes a tool of abuse, and similar to sexual violence, psychological violence in the context of artistic development attacks you at your core. It took an incredible amount of time and effort to regain trust in the spaces of interpersonal encounter that we open up through music. Of all the violence, that was the one that paralysed me most permanently. Because when you're all alone, and even making music is no longer safe, what do you have left?
It is no coincidence that the institutions that have the greatest reputation are also often toxic places. Community building? No chance. But isolated young people, whose only coping strategy is music, practice more. Their music may take on more emotional depth. But many also cut off their emotions, partially or completely, and throw themselves into the craft. Many only regain access to themselves in their music at a distance from their university years and play themselves free again. But this privilege is only granted to those who can afford it. The others have to give a large part of their capacities to survival in an oppressive system. All this takes away from the time people have for practicing and composition. Just another injustice in music education.
It took a few years to sort out what had happened in terms of emotional abuse and psychological manipulation. I was at the JIB from 2011 to 2016. There was little information about emotional violence at that time. And even today, we are still far from recognizing psychological violence as serious violence.
It is still misunderstood as less serious compared to physical violence.
This lack of education leads to affected people experiencing all the more social and cultural violence in the form of victim-blaming and silencing. If you want to get an idea of how accepted sexualization of FLINTA+, sexism, and psychological violence are in our society, you should watch strg_F's documentary on Germany's Next Topmodel on YouTube.