London, 1 June 2021

The Trustees of Sistema England are seriously concerned to learn about the allegations of sexual abuse and a culture enabling sexual assault and harassment within El Sistema Venezuela that were outlined on 28 May 2021 in a Washington Post article. That events involving such abuses could have taken place is appalling, and all our thoughts and sympathies go to each and every victim. Sistema England stands in solidarity with all survivors of abuse, of whatever nature, and supports those who in acts of courage have shared their reports.

We await El Sistema Venezuela’s formal response to show accountability and public solidarity with the survivors, communicating how these failures to protect children and young people were possible, what steps are being taken to support victims, and to detail what mechanisms have been or will be put in place to ensure they are never repeated.

Sistema England activities have always aimed for the very highest standards of safeguarding, including helping young people understand their rights and safeguarding protocols. The Charity has led on safeguarding policies and training for international projects where policies, practices, laws and social and cultural norms differ. We are familiar with some of the real-world complexities of issuing standardised safeguarding protocols across different cultures, but now more than ever is the time for collaborative international approaches to this widespread problem.

As the Washington Post article notes, this is not just a ‘Venezuelan issue’. Sexual and gender violence and other abuses of power are global problems, and the music, music education and music for social action fields need urgent collaborative action to address them as a highest priority. Sistema England’s inspiration continues to come from El Sistema’s methodology for the transformative power of music and its ability to bring communities together, but none of us can speak about empowering young people through music education if their rights and safety are abused by the very people entrusted with the role of protecting them.

Therefore, we call on the international music and music education community to support those who are trying hard to solve all issues arising from abuse. Let’s work together with urgency to help shift policy to practice, including prioritising effective systems, better training in vetting and training staff from the outset, education on gender equity and youth rights, training for children and young people specifically, clear support and trusted protocols for ‘whistle-blowing’ to support people to speak out, and a much wider shared culture of accountability. We are ready to support all such efforts.