Trigger warning for explicit descriptions of physical and sexual assault.
In October of 2015 Brooklyn Magazine published its annual 30 Under 30 list. One of the people on it was Winston Scarlett, a Queens native and member of Brooklyn’s thriving live music and DIY spaces scene. He was billed as the founder of Bed-Stuy curatorial platform Slackgaze, Chelsea DIY space NoLa Darling, and bassist in the psych-punk band Chimes; through his work, he aimed to elevate people of color in the DIY music scene; according to multiple sources, he identifies as a queer feminist ally. A week after the feature was published, we became aware of multiple allegations of sexual and physical assault made against him.
Scarlett was suggested for inclusion in the feature by a former associate editor at the magazine, and was then selected from a batch of suggestions by the magazine’s editorial staff. Due to the nature of print deadlines for an October issue, the 30 Under 30 feature was reported, filed, and sent off to printers in mid-September (approximately the 15th) of last year, and was published online on September 28. Shortly after it went live, we received comments via social media and on the post itself, calling Scarlett an “abuser,” among other things. The editorial staff made the decision to screen comments on the post that contained extremely serious allegations of assault, partially because they were unverified, and partially because the list contained 29 other people. These comments will remain unpublished.
“Every comment by a new commenter needs to be approved by one of the editors before it goes live,” the magazine’s executive editor Kristin Iversen said. “We do not set every comment live, and we use the editors’ discretion to sort through those that are offensive, threatening, or possibly posted with malicious intent. Further, we don’t feel comfortable having our commenting platform used to make accusations against people, whether they are the writers or, in this case, the subjects of our articles.”
Along with comments, several emails were sent to editorial director, Mike Conklin, and one of the magazine’s founders, Scott Stedman. The messages raised concerns about Scarlett’s inclusion. They arrived in the first week of October, a week after the post was published, and weeks after the issue had been sent to printer. Stedman replied Monday, October 5, to everyone who had reached out, explaining our editorial position on the situation, and making clear that we had previously been unaware of any allegations against Scarlett.
In November, Scarlett’s band Chimes issued a public Facebook post saying that they were disbanding due to the allegations against him. This post sparked a series of other responses, and Brooklyn Magazine began investigating the situation independently.
In the course of reporting on this story we reached out to several other journalists who ran stories on Scarlett earlier in 2015. None of them were aware of the allegations against him, even now. They described him as wonderful to work with. The interview with him that appeared in the 30 Under 30 feature was conducted over email, and the former staffer said that he was recommended by a friend who is a female musician and considered him an acquaintance.
“Nothing I learned about him and no one I spoke to suggested he was anything but a nice guy doing interesting work,” they said. “I was shocked and disturbed when allegations against him started coming to light after the 30 Under 30 feature was published, as was the woman who initially recommended him (she’s since cut off contact with him). Obviously, these are disturbing stories, and it’s important that the women who are now speaking up be heard.”
Over the course of our investigation, seven women with experiences of sexual, physical and verbal assault have come forward with statements. Another woman who collaborated with him on a professional level said she was robbed both of credit and funds in the venture, and voiced support for victims, as did other sources familiar with the situation. The women who have come forward say they are aware of others who have similar experiences but do not wish to speak out at this time. The majority of the survivors and other sources quoted in the article have requested to remain anonymous as protection against retaliation or further harassment.
For those who might not be familiar with the Bureau of Justice’s official definition of sexual assault it is below.
Sexual assault: A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. It also includes verbal threats.
A female musician who was in a personal relationship with Scarlett for over a year beginning in 2013 has come forward characterizing that relationship as abusive. She also says she was assaulted by him in a bar in Brooklyn last summer.
“In our personal relationship he was abusive enough to me that I found the idea of his claims to be a feminist ally offensive from a hypocritical standpoint,” she said. “There was also a side of him that was swept aside regarding his behavior toward women who he wasn’t involved with. He slapped his bandmate at one point and told me he ‘supposed’ that he should apologize. When we met, he was in the habit of calling everyone a ‘pussy’ and telling women to shut up. It was the kind of thing that was always pushed aside because he had fashioned himself as an impish, carefree, and harmless guy.”
She described her relationship with Scarlett as manipulative and controlling, as well as physically and verbally abusive. In one instance he was kicked out of a bar for pushing her. About a year after their relationship ended, and after several months of no contact, she says he accosted her publicly at a bar in the summer of 2015:
“He descended on me while I was in a booth with some friends–grabbing my breasts and legs and trying to kiss my neck and asking to go outside and talk. I shouldn’t have done it but I had enough experience to know it was easier to suck it up and try to talk him away. After about 15 minutes that was more of him touching me anywhere he could, I decided it was easier to just leave. I went to get a cab and I told him he could share it. When we stopped at my place he told me he was ‘just getting out here.’ I got out and he followed me to my door and pinned me up against it, grabbing at my crotch. It made me so sick I told him he had to go, I refused to open my door with him still there, and he tried a few more times before finally walking off. I later found out he went back to his girlfriend that night.”
This incident, coupled with the 30 Under 30 distinction prompted her to speak more publicly about her experiences. Initially, she spoke up only in a private Facebook group, but after hearing of other people with similar experiences, she went public.
“When I finally started talking about it more loudly was when the other women started contacting me,” she said. “I found out he was telling show-goers I’d never even heard of that I hated them and to stay away from me; usually they were other black women. It was always the same story of self-validation through sexual or physical domination, or both. His art involved an amplification of his own oppressed status while using the same systems he was ‘fighting’ to get access to the sex/bodies he felt entitled to. I can’t tell you how disturbing it is to hear more than once that someone wished they had been warned. Furthermore, he continues to blame the women themselves for his abusive behavior.”
A female musician who is involved in the same scenes as Winston through acquaintances met him when his former band began practicing in her basement in New Jersey from 2012 through 2013. During the year she met him, she was dealing with the recent death of her mother. She says he was extremely verbally abusive, followed by behavior that was physically inappropriate.
“When I first met him it was because my roommate at the time and I were letting Chimes, his former band, practice at our place in the basement,” she said. “Many occurrences were coupled with drinking (which I am not mentioning as an apologist, but to describe how it amplified the problem). I would walk into a room, and he would look at me, and say something along the lines of, ‘leave, bitch,’ ‘don’t talk, you’re stupid,’ ‘shut the fuck up, you bitch,’ etc. The first time it happened it was weird as fuck. It felt really threatening… I didn’t know this guy, but my friends liked him. Still, I couldn’t treat it like a joke. I couldn’t just brush it off. He would verbally abuse me every time I saw him at my own house, or a party, or a show. It really hurt. The insults would always happen outside of the sight of others at first, sometimes even under his breath, but definitely directed straight at me. Eventually it got so bad, and so abusive, that I wouldn’t even go to Chimes shows despite the other members of the bands being close friends of mine.”
At first, she didn’t mention the behavior to her friends, but eventually told a friend about the patterned verbal abuse. She says when news that she’d spoken up got back to Scarlett, he became physical with her.
“It wasn’t until I’d stated the abuse out loud and it got back to him that he became actively physically confrontational, and it came to a point where he actually forced himself on me at a party, completely in a non-consensual way, sticking his tongue down my throat as he went to hug me when he was saying goodbye to everyone one night. He was wasted, if he hadn’t been wasted, he wouldn’t have gone to hug me in the first place. This ended up being one of a few times he would do something similar that made me–call it what you will–physically uncomfortable. That occurrence, as well as two others I can vividly remember, were the final straws for me, and I no longer was quiet about his abuse and actively made steps to keep him out of spaces I was in, mostly for my own protection.”
About a year later, she went a trip out of town that he also attended. She said he apologized profusely and she forgave him, hoping to put the incidents in the past. But eventually, allegations from other women made this impossible for her.
“It was definitely nice to be in his good graces,” she said. “He was a powerful, charming ally that many others seemed to like and trust wholeheartedly. I had almost totally forgotten what he’d done to me, and definitely had forgiven him for it. It wasn’t until I’d heard from two other women who had been abused by him that I realized the falseness of his apology. It forced me to live that shitty year that I met him all over again.”
And while she is willing to recognize the way he’s contributed to the promotion of people of color in the DIY scene, she says those accomplishments have come at the cost of his treatment of women.
“These things came at a cost of taking advantage of and abusing the people he’s worked and had relationships with–specifically women,” she said. “Winston Scarlett is a habitual abuser of women. We can’t just defend a harmful, misogynistic abuser because they’re cool and we can benefit from knowing them. A court of law is different than a music scene, even if an abuser’s guilt relies on qualitative evidence and cannot be proven legally. It can be prevented in a community of people who can demand accountability and opt-out from having that person involved. I wish I could opt-out from having a self-identified “queer feminist” abuse me, (also a self-identified queer feminist). Above all, we need to listen to women. We need to believe women when they say someone did something abusive to them. We need to open our mouths and call abusers out. We need to listen to women, especially women of color, who have historically, systematically been oppressed and silenced, and, we need to believe them.”
A woman who has known Scarlett for several years spoke to his systematic pattern of unwanted sexual advances. These advances culminated in the summer of 2012 at a party she attended with another guy. He confronted her on a staircase about the situation, shouted at her, and finally pushed her down the stairs at the party.
“Winston has a history of making unwanted sexual advances toward me,” she said. “That all seemed to come to a head when we were at a venue and Winston confronted me about being there with another guy. He cornered me at the top of the stairs. It was just us. He was shouting and when I turned to leave he pushed me down the stairs. I left in a hurry and didn’t speak to anyone else that night. To my knowledge no one else saw.”
A female musician met Scarlett in December of 2013 when she was new to the music community in Brooklyn. She said he tried to use his position as a booker within the industry as leverage to sexual advances against her.
“He used his influence in the music/art community in New York to behave in a predatory way toward me by dangling false ‘opportunities’ in my face,” she said. “He sought to get what he wanted emotionally and sexually by any means necessary, including taking those very opportunities away. Abuse of power is his game. The night I met him he was completely drunk. He told me he was the only one I needed to stick with in order to play good shows in the area.”
Later that night she says he tried to force her to get into a cab with him.
“He tried to take me back to his place, even after I told him it was late and I’d rather go home. Instead, he took that as as a sign to be more forceful. He grabbed me by the hand and tried to get me into the cab he’d hailed for himself to go home. I felt pressured to get in but at the last minute decided I didn’t care if it upset him that I left.”
After this initial encounter, she maintained contact with him, largely due to his position within the tight-knit DIY music community in Brooklyn. This led to an encounter in the summer of 2014 where she says Scarlett assaulted her at a house show.
“I was happy to have a friend, and one who was charming,” she said. “But as time progressed, he began showing his true colors. He grew very sexually aggressive towards me. One night at a house show in Brooklyn he asked me to talk, led me into the bathroom of a stranger’s house, pressed me against the wall of the bathroom and put his entire body weight against mine and began to kiss me—all without saying anything. I stood paralyzed, confused about what was going on. One thing about Winston is he had the tendency to constantly put me in physical positions that left me with no room to move without getting past his entire body. He moved me over to the sink of the bathroom and unbuckled his pants. At this time I could hear my friends calling my name throughout the house. I was saved by those calls because I found the strength I did not have to tell him ‘no’ through hearing my friends call my name.”
Jasmin Ullah, who was a member of the DIY scene in Harrisonburg, Virginia at the time, described her experience with Scarlett saying he groped her at a show in 2013.
“Winston has acted creepily toward me and touched me without my consent,” Ullah said. “I don’t think it’s on the same level as what the other women have encountered, but I do consider it assault. We were at a show and he was sitting next to me and he slid his hand up my thigh without asking. It was gross.”
Ullah noted that she became aware of other women’s experiences with him through women coming forward in a private Facebook group after the 30 Under 30 article was published.
“The first woman who came forward was freaked out that her abuser was in a major magazine,” Ullah said. “Once she spoke out then others started to come forward. Personally, I know of at least five women that were assaulted by him, and they know of other women who were assaulted by him. It seems like most of the women that he’s abused have been black women. I’m South Asian, not black, but it’s really telling that he preys on black women, who are maybe the most vulnerable population in our country. This conversation about sexual assault is important, but I think that race does play into it.”
A former close friend and bandmate of Winston Scarlett said that her experience with him transformed from initially positive to hostile when she tried to confront him about his behavior toward women.
“When I met Winston, he was charismatic, welcoming and supportive,” she said. “We played music together and his presence was refreshing to me. But our relationship was tainted when I heard accounts of sexual and domestic abuse from women who were our mutual close friends. I didn’t want to believe that he was capable of such behavior, but I confronted him on the phone as a concerned friend. He told me he would take care of it, but he did not take active measures to rectify his mistakes. I am fiercely loyal but I wanted him to understand the severity of the situation and that he needed to do something to correct it. He shrugged me off and his last words to me on a public post on Facebook were ‘with all due respect, go fuck yourself.’”
She says that during the course of their friendship he put his hand up the back of her shirt at a bar in Brooklyn in 2015.
“He is a self-proclaimed feminist, and yet one night when he’d had multiple beers he slid his hand up the back of my shirt,” she said. “I tried to play it cool and act like it was his loving way to show affection for friends, but the lingering caress made my stomach lurch involuntarily. And it bothered me in the back of mind.”
Another woman who worked with Winston as a collaborator in his Slackgaze project from 2013-2014 said he refused to credit her work in the organization, and took funds they raised mutually to invest in his own venue.
“I was Winston’s collaborator in Slackgaze for maybe 8 months, and in that time we booked a lot of shows together,” she said. “Although we worked as a team, he never positioned me as a ‘partner’ once–even referring to me as his intern. The shows that I booked, promoted, and managed entirely on my own were billed as Slackgaze shows, but when anyone asked, Slackgaze was Winston Scarlett and Winston alone. Through fundraising shows that I ran, at my home, staffed by volunteers I coordinated, we raised over $8,000 to open a venue together. Shortly thereafter, he found a space in Chelsea that he liked and I didn’t. He told me that if I didn’t want to be part of the Chelsea venue, Slackgaze would move forward without me. He took the $8,000 and dumped it into NoLa, Darling and I never saw a cent. If you’ve ever wondered what it means for Winston to be a ‘self-proclaimed slacker,’ it’s taking credit for the sweat of the hardworking people–mostly women–around him.”
Though she only worked worked with Scarlett professionally, she said she fully supports the victims who have come forward and believes their stories completely.
“Now that his victims have found the words to speak out against him, I can say with some certainty that collaborating with him could’ve turned out worse for me,” she said. “I feel disgusted that I helped this predator create a space/event where people were told they should feel safe. I feel equally disgusted at the reactions of those who learn about his history of emotional, verbal, physical, and professional abuse. It’s one thing to be a terrible human in the world, it’s quite another to ingratiate yourself to women–especially black women–by claiming to be a queer, intersectional feminist, and then use that social capital to prey on the very people you purport to empower.”
One of the former members of Chimes sent a statement about her experiences with Scarlett after we inquired about their November 2015 Facebook post regarding the band’s dissolution. She said they were in Chimes together for three years and initially, band dynamics were good overall. But, there were moments of strain and physical aggression–including an incident where he slapped a mutual friend–and several people expressed the physical affection he engaged in at shows and parties made them uncomfortable.
In early 2014, some women in a private Facebook group began a conversation about accountability, which led to another member who had previously dated Scarlett to share her experience with him. Thinking it was an isolated incident, the Chimes band member was torn between considering it an issue brought up by an angry ex or a pattern.
“Last year news about his abusive behavior started to surface,” she said. “At first I thought it was an isolated incident, and that she just be an angry ex. I knew he could be an ass, but I had never experienced anything to the extent she had. It took everything in me to summon up the courage to confront him about it. To my surprise, he was not defensive and admitted his fault. He promised he would try to change and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt because he had been my bandmate for so long.”
Several months passed after she confronted him, and the situation seemed to be resolved. Then, more women who had dated Scarlett began to come forward about their own abusive experiences.
“After a few months, [his former girlfriend] found out from other women that he had been abusive towards them too,” she said. “After knowing that there were multiple accounts of his abuse I knew I needed to end it with him. I could not continue knowing that he had hurt so many people in the scene. The rest of the band was supportive with the decision to end. We made a statement as a way to warn the people in the scene about his behavior and reputation as a serial abuser of women. It really makes me sad that it had come to this. Despite times he made me uncomfortable, I did really care about him and I wanted him to change for the better. But he didn’t and he hasn’t apologized about it yet.”
Another former member of the band Chimes, Ashley Simon, says he physically assaulted her by slapping her on the face.
“The two of us as well as the rest of the band were attending a party together,” she said. “I was sitting at the kitchen table conversing with four or five others. Winston entered the kitchen, drunk per usual, and beelined towards me. He stopped right in front of me and proceeded to slap me across the face, then walked out of the kitchen. He did not say a single word during this encounter. I didn’t say anything to him at all, so it wasn’t a case of me antagonizing him. He came in quick, slapped me, and left immediately. Everyone in the room was shocked, and it was so embarrassing I started to cry and had to leave the room. Another member of Chimes confronted him about it and he blamed his drinking. He claimed to stop drinking after that but it only lasted a few months. Other than that incident I witnessed him catcall women multiple times when drunk and when sober.”
Last week we reached out to Scarlett for statement. He asked to meet in person for a conversation and was made aware of the assault described in the first four accusations. The next three came later in the weekend, and he denied the woman who claims he put his hand up her shirt, and did not comment on Ullah or Simon’s claims. He acknowledged the initial abusive relationship, but denied any knowledge of the other claims.
“To my knowledge I have never verbally, physically, or sexually assaulted anyone outside of that abusive relationship,” he said. “I’ve gotten into arguments before, but I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone or pushed someone down a stairwell. I don’t know where that is coming from. I’m 100 percent sure. I would know if I sexually assaulted someone, or forced myself on someone, or tried to force them into a cab. I would know if I pushed someone down the stairs.”
Scarlett said he had knowledge that the accusations were being made against him, but thinks they are stemming from his former abusive relationship.
“I think a lot of it has been propagated by my ex-girlfriend,” he said. “These discussions have been happening for about a year now. They were all in secret groups amongst anonymous women, of which my bandmates were a part of, and have consulted with me about. But I think a lot of the allegations that I have no idea where they’re coming from have come through influencers. I haven’t made a statement, it’s been very hard for me to make a statement against allegations I’m not aware of. I don’t know what the situation is or who the people are. I think the statements are lies. I don’t know these moments that they’re referring to or when they happened.”
He also claimed that the allegation of professional misconduct with a former business partner came as a shock. He was first aware of the claim via social media, and said he reached out to the person but did not receive a response.
“I had been working with that person on raising money to start a new space which became NoLa Darling,” he said. “In that process we had disagreed on where to start the space. I’d found an opportunity in Chelsea. After a conversation with them, they weren’t really interested in being in Chelsea. I in no way stole any funds from them. There was no ask for sharing funds. I definitely think that allegation is unfounded and the fact that that person even framed it as such, as theft, to me is quite shocking.”
Finally, he said he considers himself a feminist and is unsure how to proceed for the future.
“I want to be able to understand what the future is and how to move forward,” he said. “To me, these situations never happened. I have no idea who is making these allegations or who these people are. It feels very unresolved. There was a viral post of a statement my former bandmates made that people were sharing. I’ve tried reaching out to people to understand these allegations and I haven’t gotten any sort of acknowledgement or communication back. I feel very divided. I consider myself a person that supports feminist issues and feminist causes, and I definitely empathize with the need to reconcile violence, but I just don’t know where this story spiraled from. I don’t feel a sense of closure from it.”
The woman who says Scarlett pushed her down the stairwell responded to his denial.
“Ultimately, his claim that he would definitely remember all of these actions is bogus,” she said. “Plenty of people who have partied with him, myself included, have seen him blackout drunk and acting inappropriately. Getting so wasted that you don’t remember the terrible shit you’ve done is not a get out of jail free card. The fact that Winston would call women who are making themselves vulnerable by reporting serial abuse ‘influencers’ encapsulates the way I feel he sees people, especially women, in the community. It’s also a well-ingrained trope of rape culture that a woman must reveal her identity and her story on the accused abuser’s terms. It’s not a sentiment I would expect to hear from an activist for marginalized people.”
Scarlett is currently a member of the Brooklyn-based band Fruit & Flowers. They provided the following statement:
“When Winston started playing with Fruit and Flowers, some of us were aware of the allegations against him and others were not. Some of us have known him for a few years and other have more recently gotten to know him. We’re sensitive to the situation, and are engaging in ongoing conversation within the band, with Winston and with the community. We will continue a dialog with the concerned parties, and hope that doing so will foster a healthier community at large.”
Update 2/24: As of today Fruit & Flowers have parted ways with Scarlett. Previously we posted an updated statement but the band clarified that they wish that statement to remain private and do not want it published.
His former collaborator in NoLa Darling, Sonia Carrion, voiced shock and surprise that he faced allegations like these. She met him in 2013 and worked with him at the venue from 2014 to the summer of 2015 and said her experience with him was very positive.
“I knew him personally and worked with him for two years in a very close environment,” she said. “I know at some point during that time he was trying to abstain from drinking for a little bit and change his life. I don’t know what reasons he was doing it for, but I know he wasn’t drinking. He was a wonderful person and wonderful to everyone I saw. I was with him daytime, nighttime, up until 5 AM sometimes. If he’s different behind closed doors, that’s something I don’t know. But there was times when we were alone in the spaces for multiple hours late, late at night, and I never once experienced anything like this. He is a caring, soft spoken, and beautiful soul. I hope that if these allegations are proved to be false, the real truth comes to light eventually.”
One of the women brought up the missing stairs analogy coined by Cliff Pervocracy in 2012 as a way to understand the situation.
“There’s a phenomenon of the ‘missing stairs’ in communities that I highly suggest everyone read about,” she said. “It’s really hard for people who have put total trust in the queer guy booking the cool shows to believe that person is capable of doing awful things like calling women ‘bitches’ and treating their bodies like sexualized sacks of meat. We as a community need to remain watchful and vigilant. We need to take care of each other and hold people accountable for the things they’ve done.”
Another friend of a survivor reiterated that women don’t gain anything from speaking out about their abuse.
“We have to believe the women in our lives when they tell us this shit is happening,” the source said. “Women have literally nothing to gain from calling out a prominent figure in the DIY circuit, but they do it time and again. I want to be surprised that more people aren’t shunning him, but that’s the sad reality of 2016.”
One supporter of the women who came forward about their abuse made several public Facebook posts on their behalf to help signal boost the story. They emphasized that survivors need community support to feel safe speaking out.
“We can advocate on their behalf because, obviously, there will be backlash from people who don’t necessarily believe survivors,” they said. “I heard that a couple of years ago this became an issue, and people kind of brushed it off because he blamed it on alcohol problems he would deal with. Then it just kept on happening. What you’re doing when you’re drunk says a lot about you, that’s not separate from who you are. We can help by believing survivors because that’s so crucial. I hope that people in the DIY and indie music community can be there for each other. No one is perfect, we all are at fault for something; picking up after ourselves is the adult thing to do.”
Following the public Facebook posts about his behavior in 2015, Scarlett was asked to take a leave of absence from his position at the Clinton Hill venue C’mon Everybody. A person familiar with the situation provided messages confirming that he was let go as of Monday, November 23, 2015. The venue provided the following comment: “C’mon Everybody removed Winston from our employ because of allegations against him. Our mission is to create a safe space.”
Silent Barn, the venue that hosted Scarlett’s Slackfest last summer provided the following comment:
“We are aware of the allegations and take these things very seriously. Abuse and instances of people taking advantage of power imbalances is a serious issue not only in the music industry at large but also in DIY communities. Here is our safer spaces policy.”
In the wake of our investigation, Brooklyn Magazine has decided to rescind the 30 Under 30 distinction for Winston Scarlett. In place of his interview on the original list will be a link to this piece; this story will serve as an online resource about the situation.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence and need resources, visit Rainn.org or call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).