Red Light Radio accused of failing to uphold community values

Red Light Radio has been accused of responding with “hostility, gaslighting and silencing in response to criticism offered in good faith” by Dance With Pride co-founder Axmed Maxamed and Jo Kali, who held a residency on Red Light Radio called The Tape Escape until September 2019.

Red Light Radio co-founder Hugo Van Heijningen has also been accused of harassing Jo and Axmed at the station’s studio in Amsterdam.

Last month on January 19, Jo wrote on Twitter about her experience, saying that after her final The Tape Escape show Hugo asked to speak, and she requested to talk another time due to feeling anxious and needing to return to work. In response, she said Hugo cornered her three times and wouldn’t allow her to leave until the conversation took place.

Jo says the conversation that followed was Hugo telling Jo he is cancelling The Tape Escape residency and banning Jo from the Red Light Radio studio, citing a public criticism Jo made of Red Light Radio in July about artwork that is disrespectful towards sex workers.

On Twitter, Jo wrote that she believes Hugo being unhappy with public criticism is a “classic response of wanting critique to always be behind closed doors” and that “this needs to change along with people policing HOW people critique instead of responding to the critique”.

She added: “been thinking about how/why people react badly/defensively: a) a lot of criticism comes from anger/disappointment b) lots of people self-critique + their practice is based on constant learning + making themselves uncomfortable c) some people have never had to be uncomfortable” and “they’ve created spaces for themselves where their “safety” or feelings are priority (despite this being the exact type of person society already prioritises!)”.

Axmed, who has been involved with two Dance With Pride takeovers at Red Light Radio including on Pride Day in 2019, says he had also raised issues with Red Light Radio, asking them to take a more supportive stance in backing the Sexworkers community, especially due to the studio’s location within Amsterdam’s Red Light District and its merchandise which profits off the imagery of the area. Axmed said that Hugo responded by saying supporting hashtags such as #sexworkiswork, #sexworkersrightsarehumanrights and #supportsexworkers were too “shouty” for Red Light Radio which is a proudly apolitical station.

Moira Mona, a Netherlands-based professional Dominatrix, posted criticism towards Red Light Radio online on January 19, writing that the artwork Jo criticised is a “stigmatizing crappy excuse for artwork.”

The day after Jo shared her experience at the Red Light Radio station with Hugo, Axmed shared an experience on January 20 in which he alleges Hugo harassed him at the station while Axmed was visiting Authentically Plastic on Friday, January 17.

Axmed said that while at the station, Hugo came down and started screaming at him in Dutch that he wanted Axmed to immediately leave the station, telling him “I really hate you”. Axmed says that he gathered up his belongings and left the station, and while standing outside San Proper took a photo of him without permission.

Jo and Axmed have made a statement to Mixmag, detailing that they take issue with Red Light Radio meeting their public criticism with a hostile response, and that a station defining itself by a sense of “community” should be more receptive to being held accountable in order to ensure it is not closed off to any of the community it claims to represent.

Axmed and Jo say: “First of all, we want to be clear that this situation isn’t personal or unique. We’ve both seen this play out time and time again. If we truly care about progress and creating safer spaces for those who really need them, then it’s crucial that we address the way we respond to criticism. All too often the focus is on how critique is given, especially when the critique is made public. It’s important for institutions to be held accountable in these situations and for critique (as well as its responses) to take place through public discourse, because this is the only way we can collectively learn and move forward.

“In our encounters with Red Light Radio, an institution and self-defined “community” radio station, we have experienced hostility, gaslighting and silencing in response to criticism offered in good faith. [Gaslighting being the systematic pattern of abuse by which the abuser manipulates factual information to give the victim the impression that their own trust senses cannot be trusted.] When these techniques come from an institution, they are an abuse of power and they create a toxic environment where open dialogue is no longer possible. Since RLR shut the door on us, the door is seen as shut to others who, in the future, will want to engage in critical discussions. This practice needs to change.

“We are not proposing a single model for how institutions should respond to criticism, but being hostile, gaslighting others’ experiences and silencing people are clearly not the way to go. Such reactions only serve to escalate tensions, exacerbate harm, and turn complaint into conflict. To criticise an institution is always to take a risk, and we’ve learned that the hard way. We spoke out because we care about the community and believe criticism is a valuable means of avoiding the continual reproduction of a culture that works to uphold a white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative society.”

Axmed additionally said: “For years I have done shows with RLR & I initiated and curated the Dance with Pride takeovers during Pride for the past 2 years. Yet, after my critique, no one from RLR reached out to me, it was only when I was there (months later) that I was met with this hostility which I described in my video and tweets. People reached out to them after seeing my post, RLR’s response was not only to lie about the verbal abuse and public humiliation I experienced, but also to claim I have a personal vendetta against the station. It is really heartbreaking to hear that they believe that, after all the effort I’ve put into RLR and the scene as a whole. As much as people think it is rewarding to be the one speaking out against injustices in our scene and society as a whole, it is actually quite draining, especially as someone who experiences many of these injustices firsthand. As independent feminist scholar Sara Ahmed says: “You have to speak out because others do not; and because you speak out, others can justify their own silence. They hear you, so it becomes about you”

Jo additionally said: “This situation is a mess. It’s become another ‘he said, she said’ tale of events, I had to email the Red Light Radio team again recently after seeing their claim that they acted “kindly” towards me and Axmed, and after becoming aware that many other untruths are being shared by them and I want to clarify: my narrative has never changed, nor did I ever apologise.”

Axmed’s statement includes reference to screenshots he has obtained of an email signed by “Team RLR” addressing the incident. Mixmag has asked Red Light Radio to verify this statement and confirm whether it represents the station’s position as indicated, and are awaiting clarification.

Hugo from Red Light Radio has denied the accusations of behaving aggressively and says RLR has worked with the Prostitution Information Centre in order to address accusations of being disrespectful to Sexworkers. He also noted Red Light Radio hosted a show to celebrate PIC’s 25th anniversary.

Hugo said: “I and the team here at Red Light radio have been made aware of some online slander after an incident at Red Light Radio. For years we’ve facilitated and hosted Jo Kali’s radio show and worked alongside Ahmed Mahamed [sic] & Dance With Pride. Myself and the team here at RLR are and have always been available to everyone we work alongside, we are open to direct dialogue, communication and debate to be better informed on any topic.

“5 months ago RLR commissioned designer Steele Bonus to create a t-shirt that represents both Red Light Radio & RLR AMS SHOP and the surrounding neighborhood. He delivered a print with many images from our neighbourhood. 22 iconic images, including signs of the old church, a map, a Chinese restaurant, a street light, a gambling house, night clubs and street signs that relate to sex workers. Our own RLR logo was part of the collage too, as we are a proud part of this unique neighbourhood for 9 years now.

“Ahmed and Jo made an assumption on behalf of the sex workers in the neighborhood that we were selling these shirts on the back of them and called us out online. We took these critical accusations seriously and had an immediate direct conversation about the shirt with sex workers and the Prostitution Information Centre (PIC). We had a very constructive dialogue and together, PIC and RLR agreed the shirt was not in any way offensive or disrespectful to them, their work or the neighborhood, they are as proud to be here as are we normalizing and helping gain acceptance for the oldest profession.

“Jo & Ahmed then took the assumption that we at RLR did too little for our neighborhood. We do not agree that this is the case, there have been multiple projects with our neighbours, including the neighborhoods sex workers. PIC took a stance the same as ours which is, they have been misinformed and misrepresented by Ahmed. PIC doesn’t work with Ahmed or Dance With Pride again. We on the other hand have since further collaborated and hosted a radio show to celebrate 25 years of PIC at Red Light Radio.

“Ahmed & Jo continue their negative assumptions online and are now attempting to change the narrative. Over our years of working together Ahmed & Jo have my personal contact info and know I am 100% available to them, I am open to direct communication and criticism to always better myself and the company as a whole. They can merely use the same approach they have always done. I don’t understand why a first response is to call myself and RLR out online and cause conflict rather than come to me direct to come together and discuss and implement further suggestions and solutions if they felt more was needed. I welcome input and strive to be further informed on any subject, especially where disharmony or the need to do better may be required.

“After Jo’s most recent show I kindly asked that we take a moment to chat about the incident of the t-shirt. She said she did not have one minute for me. At that point I told her that with a loss of trust and public slander with no desire to try to move things forward to a point of mutual understanding this would essentially be her last show. In this conversation she apologized about her online slander towards me & RLR. Now encouraged by Ahmed the narrative is being changed and they are on a new and further campaign to hurt myself, the extended team that makes up RLR, 4 months later.

“Most recently Ahmed was visiting a friend in the studio. My staff and I took the decision that while he is trying to create a conflict between our loyal friends, DJs, fans worldwide, the RLR team & sex workers, he is not welcome at the station or store. I had always thought we had a good mutually supportive relationship. I informed Ahmed personally he is not welcome at RLR and asked him to leave the studio. He immediately took an embattled stance asking ‘why do I have to leave’ I expressed to him why. At no point did I ‘scream at him’, I was and am genuinely hurt and saddened as are the entire team here.

“The past days Ahmed is framing myself & RLR in a context of aggression, unsafety and racism. This is untrue. RLR is and will remain a safe space. RLR is an inclusive & friendly community platform and the people behind the station are music lovers insistent on continuing to collectively create a positive place for open minded people of any creed orientation and gender. Aggression or racism is simply not tolerated here.”

(All referrals to Axmed Maxamed as ‘Ahmed Mahamed’ through this statement are as quoted in the statement sent to Mixmag)

Helena Naeff, who DJs as Hellie Berry, hosts shows at Red Light Radio and was present when Hugo asked Axmed to leave the studio, also made a statement, telling Mixmag: “I was there when Hugo came down to say that Axmed is no longer welcome at RLR. The way in which this was done left no room for discussion. At no point did Axmed show any hostility, not even after Hugo told him he hated him in a raised voice when asked why.

“After the incident, Hugo and I spoke in which I expressed that his reaction was strong and out of line. He agreed that he was emotional and Axmed triggered physical aggression in him. Hugo was angry and in my opinion a person has every right to feel that way. Which is why I am surprised to read that he claims the opposite and I think that is a pity.

“This brings me to the following; As a member of a community that has been contributing to Red Light Radio for many years, I am concerned because I believe that an organization / platform like theirs thrives in an environment where people feel safe to explore and push boundaries. This includes expressing criticism. This is what makes a platform like RLR interesting. An atmosphere now seems to arise in which that appears to be in danger. One may not agree on the way in which criticism is expressed, but it cannot be ruled out that it will be done.”

Mixmag also reached out to the PIC for comment and to verify comments made in Hugo’s statement, and received the following statement: “The Prostitution Information Center (PIC) is a small non-profit organization that promotes respect for sex workers. The PIC was set up in 1994 by a former sex worker in the Red Light District who appreciated the work, but got tired of the related stigma and wanted to do something about that. At the PIC, we educate people about the Red Light District, sex work, and the importance of human rights for sex workers.

“Unfortunately, Red Light Radio did not contact us before apparently sharing a statement with media in which there are some mistakes related specifically to PIC. While we would prefer to talk in person about such matters, it seems relevant to at least make some corrections.

“As PIC we filled one wonderful hour of Red Light Radio last year as part of our 25th anniversary. Other than that, we have not had any direct collaboration with Red Light Radio.

“We are not aware of any other initiatives Red Light Radio has undertaken with or for sex workers in the neighborhood.

“As PIC, we have not made any claim as to whether we find their t-shirts offensive and disrespectful or not, but several team members did share their concerns about the t-shirts and had a conversation with Red Light Radio about it. And that was that.

“We do not “feel misinformed or misrepresented” by Axmed and Jo or Dance With Pride. They have actually shown to be our allies when it comes to promoting respect for sex workers in Amsterdam, including during our regular demonstrations in front of the Amsterdam Museum against their anti-sex work exposition.

“Red Light Radio is in a unique position, physically and in terms of being able to access an audience, to play a positive role as a neighbour in the Red Light District and support the promotion of respect for sex workers. Whether they want to do more to ‘give back’ to the neighborhood that has given them their unique name and imagery, is ultimately their decision.”

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag’s Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter

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