Mexican Journalists Debate How to Cover Gender-Based Violence in the Music Industry After Sexual Assault Case Sparks Controversy

On Tuesday, October 4, DJ and model Ximena Gama posted several graphic pictures on Facebook that soon set Mexico City’s indie music community ablaze. In them, Gama’s face and arms appear bruised and her nose is bandaged. In the post, Gama accuses ex-husband Sabú Avilés of assault. Avilés, a member of garage rock bands Los Explosivos and Los Infierno, took Facebook to deny the accusations, and soon a larger dialogue regarding gender violence and the responsibility of music journalists mushroomed in the Mexican indie community.

According to Gama, on September 3, Avilés hid the household’s phones and computers, locked her in her apartment, and proceeded to assault her for five hours. Her post has since been deleted and Facebook suspended her account for violating guidelines.

Ximena Gama details sexual assault accusations on Facebook (part 1).
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Ximena Gama details sexual assault accusations on Facebook (part 2).
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Avilés also made a statement on Facebook regarding the accusations. He confirms that “the bomb exploded” on September 3, but said it was “not as bad as they are making it seem.” He states that Gama sued him for child support, which he claims he has not neglected. He suggests Gama’s statements are “beyond exaggerated.” Avilés later deleted his Facebook account.

Sabu Avilés denies accusation on Facebook (part 1).
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Sabu Avilés denies sexual assault accusation on Facebook (part 2).
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Shortly after, Los Infierno shared a press release distancing themselves from Avilés and reiterating their commitment to fighting gender-based violence. In a separate post, they wrote that Avilés has parted ways with the band. Both Los Infierno and Los Explosivos’ Facebook pages have since been deleted. When Remezcla reached out to Avilés for comment, he declined to address his current involvement with Los Infierno.

Los Infierno press release.
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Los Infierno Facebook post.
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Avilés responded to Remezcla’s interview request with a statement that he posted on his reactivated Facebook account on Friday, October 7. In it, he denies Gama’s accusation that the attack qualified as sexual abuse in the second degree and denounces her for child neglect. “I bring this to attention due to the defamation expressed a few days ago on social media on behalf of Ximena Alejandra González Gama…who, with photographs that do not correspond to what happened on September 3, 2016…has falsely accused me and characterized me as a violent man, all of this without knowledge of the truth.” According to Avilés, each of the photos Gama posted on Facebook misrepresents her whereabouts and physical condition following the alleged assault.

Exploring the world in which the music is conceived and materialized is one of our most precious jobs.

Gama granted us a brief interview on Monday, October 10. According to her, Avilés “was caught in the act and taken to the Ministerio Público [similar to a district attorney’s office in Mexico]. I pressed charges and now he’s being sued for violence against a family member.” Of Avilés’ statement, Gama said, “I think it’s cowardice and showed a lack of respect. First [he’s] trying to defame me to justify his mental problems. It’s true; I go out because of my project Psych Out, but I have never neglected my daughters.”

Gama addressed some of his accusations in detail. “He also claims that the dates don’t add up because I had my surgery nine days after the events [and that is what is portrayed in the photos]…I looked for him [so we could] come to a settlement for child support, but he told me to ask one of my lovers for money instead…He was not set free; he posted a sort of bail which allows him to continue the legal process [while he isn’t in custody].”

Gama discussed the background of their relationship further. “It was not the first time it happened. I had been in therapy for a month, to empower myself to leave him once and for all…15 days before the events, I asked him to leave home because I had already noticed that he was relapsing into violence; I asked him for an amicable separation for the girls, but he refused to leave.”

Shortly after it emerged, Gama’s story sparked conversation among editors and writers from different Mexican publications, leaving many wondering if music journalists have a responsibility to cover stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence. For example, on October 5, Mexican website Tercera Vía posted an interview with Avilés’ former spouse Gema (who chose not to disclose her surname). In it, Gema alleges that Avilés also assaulted her during their time together, though Avilés did not comment on this case in our correspondence with him. Digger published an article stating that outlets have a responsibility to cover abuse allegations so that fans know what kind of artist they are supporting.

One of the journalists who spoke out is Marvin editor-in-chief Uili Damage, who initially stated that the magazine would not cover the case. Marvin eventually posted a news story about the case, so Remezcla reached out to Damage for comment. “It’s not that the media is afraid [of covering stories involving gender violence], [it’s that] they’re lazy. Anything concerning local musicians doesn’t give you the same cred as writing about Kanye; it’s simply not cool. We don’t have journalistic rigor because the people generating content are mere fans. People in media are amateurs and malinchistas.” As Damage explains, many Mexican media outlets approach music journalism from a lifestyle or fan perspective. Writers may not have the training to know how to responsibly cover reports of gender-based violence in the industry.

And although there are a diversity of outlets in the Mexican media landscape, not many differ in their approach to coverage. Damage spoke about how an editor could break the cycle and approach such a story in the appropriate way. “[News like this] verges on sensationalism. I’d rather leave that for the op-ed section. Speculation is not journalism, it’s gossip. We need journalists [who] put in the work and are truthful.” Later, Damage published an op-ed in which he elaborated on these ideas, and offered some data about violence against women.

Julián Woodside, a cultural critic and scholar specialized in music, has covered much of this conversation throughout the years. In 2015, he penned an op-ed arguing that alternative media outlets in Mexico are more concerned with justifying tastes than covering the actual music produced in the country. Most recently, he wrote an editorial for PICNIC Magazine arguing that music media should inform readers about music culture and social problems at large, rather than simply curating tastes.

“To take a step to denounce something like this implies strong self-criticism.”

Woodside argues that there’s a “lack of interest and initiative” in media. There’s this “idea that people don’t read and prefer photos or graphic content when this is the generation that reads the most in history…There’s also fear at an editorial level, because this subject is very ingrained culturally and it’s difficult to size as a problem within the workforce. It’s a male-dominated environment, so there’s fear that it will open a Pandora’s box. To take a step to denounce something like this implies strong self-criticism.”

About the lack of professionalism, Woodside somewhat disagrees, saying that there are professional journalists, but too many interests exist beyond journalism for those involved in it. “They serve a lot of functions at the same time; they’re musicians but also journalists, promoters, producers, managers, etc. There’s fear that if they write a bad review, then a lot of doors will shut for them in their other function as musicians. It’s easier not to stir the pot…that’s why I think many people condoned [the assault] by saying ‘it’s gossip’ and ‘it only concerns those involved.’ But no, [gender violence] is a public concern and this case involves a public figure. It’s [a] pertinent [case] in the local context.”

Ni Una Menos protest in Buenos Aires
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Gama’s story comes at a time when there is increased attention to the conversation on gender-based violence in Mexico. In 2014, the National Women’s Institute reported that 47 percent of Mexican women over the age of 15 have suffered physical, sexual, emotional, and/or economic violence. The National Citizens’ Observatory on Femicide reports that six women are assassinated every day in Mexico, with killings most likely to occur in Estádo de Mexico. On June 3, 2015, the Ni Una Menos movement, which battles violence against women, held its first march in Argentina. Since then, protests have spread to Peru, Brazil, and Mexico.

As these figures attest, it’s difficult to not be startled by the volume of gender-based violence in Mexico. Music doesn’t exist in a realm separate from our sociopolitical reality, and that violence has a longtime presence in the entertainment industry. Some of the finest music journalism and criticism occurs when we ask ourselves about that context as it pertains to a finished work of art – how it reflects or reacts to local circumstances, and how conscious or not the artists are of their surrounding context. Exploring the world in which the music is conceived and materialized is one of our most precious jobs, and that includes reporting on accusations of violence, even if they are not related to the production and consumption of music per se.

As a site that has a long history of covering activism, social justice, and gender-based violence in the music industry, Remezcla finds it paramount to report such cases of sexual assault. Music brings the promise of emotional release and escape, but it has also served as an instrument of change used to denounce and criticize societal ills and create a better world. As writers, we have a responsibility to highlight music’s potential for change, and ensure that music culture does not repeat the negative patterns we find in the world at large.

If you are a victim of violence or know someone who is, seek help from organizations like Cuidarte and Mestizas.

Additional reporting by Rodrigo R. Herrera and Emanuel Rivera. Special thanks to Pablo Dodero.