At the end of 2014, Jake McElfresh of the pop-punk band Front Porch Step faced multiple online sexual harassment accusations from many young girls, most of whom were not only underage but freshly teenage. The majority of those claims involved explicit text messages sent to and from McElfresh, as well as his solicitations of pornographic photos.
One girl, Angela, wrote a long Tumblr post about her relationship with McElfresh, complete with screenshots of their conversations and photos they took together. Her story allegedly began on the eve of her 16th birthday, when McElfresh responded to one of her tweets asking him to sing to her. When they met, he eventually asked how old she was, she answered honestly, and he stopped talking to her… for a while. According to Angela, he struck up conversation again a few months later, and it immediately became sexual. She pulled away as he continued to try to forge a relationship, and after a while he moved on to another underage girl.
Her story is mirrored eerily by those of other teenage girls who have come forward, and a Change.org petition was eventually launched in an attempt to bar Front Porch Step from playing this summer’s Vans Warped Tour, asking founder Kevin Lyman not to put his festival’s young female fans at risk. It received nearly 15,000 signatures, and Lyman agreed after vetting the allegations: Front Porch Step was asked to leave the bill. McElfresh was removed from his label, Pure Noise, and lost a tour with modern day pop-punk icon Allison Weiss.
Fast-forward a few months to two weeks ago, and McElfresh is somehow scheduled to perform at the Nashville date of Warped Tour, largely unannounced. A few kids on Tumblr started passing around the set times for Warped’s acoustic stage, featuring Front Porch Step. There was an outcry, even inspiring Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams to tweet, “I still believe in you, scene. Demand better bc you deserve better. No more excuses for boys just ‘being boys.’” After McElfresh performed — in front of a crowd so large it spewed out of the tent, with a few girls in the front row crying so much, he stopped mid-song to console them — Lyman eventually spoke out, saying the performance was part of some one-off rehabilitation program.
This kind of behavior is heightened in the pop-punk and emo scenes — a world that’s typically uninviting to female musicians. Men are on stage, and young women are off it, in this realm created by boys for girls — to impress or seduce them. When you have one of the scene’s most widely accessible institutions, Warped Tour, encouraging sympathy for men who take advantage of their young, emotional female fans, it speaks volumes about where the power lies. Because of the genre’s history of guys on stage/girls in the crowd, aspirations of groupiedom remain intact for these historically disrespected female fans. This is especially sad when you consider that these girls are the main reason the scene still thrives, despite being widely unrepresented on stage.
On last year’s Warped Tour schedule, only about one in six bands featured a female musician — a bleak statistic, particularly in light of the event’s majority-female crowd, as this crucial Wondering Sound story details. Of the few women on stage at Warped, some — like Sydeny Sierota of Echosmith and Taylor Jardine of We Are The In Crowd — told me that half the time people don’t think they’re even in the bands they front, instead using this fact as a cover to sneak on stage to meet boys in bands.
All this, however, is hardly a new development in the scene. There’s Escape the Fate’s Ronnie Radke, who landed himself in prison for his involvement with an altercation in the Las Vegas desert that left an 18-year-old boy dead. When Radke triumphantly returned on the Warped Tour scene, he dropped Escape the Fate and joined Falling In Reverse, his name largely untarnished. That is, until a woman accused him of rape after a show in Salt Lake City last month. He’s since sued her for defamation — the ultimate form of silencing a victim.
More recently, Another Pure Noise Records artist, Harry Corrigan of No Good News and Bellwether, was accused of sexual assault and expressed remorse for his actions. Back in the summer of 2012, a young woman supposedly joined the musician in the back of his van to watch a movie, and he forced her to play with his penis and tried to make her perform oral sex on him. A friend entered the van, and he stopped, but later attempted intercourse again. Corrigan’s intentions seemed genuine — he stepped away from No Good News and “as a sign of good faith in my commitment to personal change,” the band said they’d donate profits from an EP to a nonprofit for domestic and child abuse — but he maintained that he knew he was “not guilty of anything legally speaking.” Even when musicians in this scene apologize for their actions, they tend to be hesitant to take full responsibility.
As is often the case in matters of sexual assault — and particularly when teenaged girls are involved — certain allegations are impossible to substantiate, and some may in fact be spurious. But the skepticism with which so many victims’ stories are received leads to what can feel like never-ending second chances for people who don’t deserve them. By ignoring accusations like these, we’re effectively excusing this behavior. By excusing this behavior, the scene’s gatekeepers assume that girls aren’t smart enough to notice these patterns or speak out against them.
Well, it turns out that female fans aren’t so stupid. In fact, they have become more vocal about these issues than ever. That’s one way for women to have a voice when emo and pop-punk — and specifically Warped Tour — make it clear that giving them one on stage isn’t a priority.
Note: An earlier version of this piece was worded in a way that suggested Chiodos singer Craig Owens was implicated in allegations of sexual assault, allegations that he denies. We have removed the sentence in question, and we sincerely regret the error.