The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault has fuelled public discussions about unwanted sexual behaviour.
Music festivals in particular have made numerous headlines on this social issue. In response to accusations of sexual misconduct by festival attendees, there is mounting pressure for music events to improve safety and introduce a profound cultural change.
Previously anecdotal evidence is being replaced by empirical studies on the matter. A recent BBC inquiry in the UK found that about one third of women had experienced sexual harassment at a music festival in the past 12 months, and 8% had been sexually assaulted.
A separate study commissioned by the Press Association in the US yielded similar results, with 22% reporting some form of unwanted sexual behaviour. This rose to 30% for women, who in 2016 made up an estimated 60% of festivalgoers.
The incidents reported included experiences of verbal harassment, groping, sexual gestures, stalking, being yelled at, and being photographed or filmed without permission.
This broad social issue is not only limited to music events, which may, in fact, be safer than other public spaces. The BBC study found that nine out of 10 people “usually” or “always” felt safe at festivals. Regardless, the reported incidents in these findings are troubling, and they have had a real impact on both victims and event producers.
What Is Being Done
There have been reports of sexual misconduct incidents at most large music festivals. But after a spate of sexual assaults was reported at the 2016 edition of Bravella, Sweden’s largest music festival, organizers took action. “Don’t grope” was printed on the 2017 event bracelets, and FKP Scorpio, the firm behind the festival, shut it down for a year, then decided to scrap the event.
In response, a Swedish collective launched the Statement Festival, a music festival for women, non-binary and transgender people only. Though there was only modest interest in its first edition, the collective is now planning a four-city Swedish tour this coming fall.
Countering Sexual Harassment
A growing number of groups are being created to raise awareness about the issue of sexual harassment and help event organizers come up with initiatives to make events safer for attendees. Safe Gigs For Women, for example, are working with the industry to create a safe-venue standard, and Girls Against launched a campaign to raise awareness about the problem of groping at concerts. Both of these groups are based in the UK. For its part, OurMusicOurBody, a Chicago-based initiative in its third year, is working with Lollapalooza, as well as smaller events and music venues, to come up with guidelines and procedures to help events address issues of harassment and assault, including better coordination between teams on site.
Artists Are Getting Involved
Bands like Mumford and Sons are raising their voices to promote women’s safety during their performances. And other acts, such as Slaves, Wolf Alice and Peace, have partnered with the organizations mentioned above to help fight sexual harassment at music events.
The main issues around sexual harassment are security (presence, training), lack of policing, drug consumption, and the site layout.
Most major festivals, and smaller events as well, are taking steps to address this issue through education, on-site resources, and the creation of safe zones on the festival grounds.
Prior to its 2019 edition, Coachella reacted with an initiative named Every One, which will include consent guidelines, as well as trained counsellors and safety ambassadors on site.
In the UK, 25 music festivals that are all part of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) shut down their websites for a day as part of a zero-tolerance campaign to highlight sexual assaults. The group says it wants festivalgoers to be aware of on-site support services available to help victims. The AIF also signed a zero tolerance for sexual assault pledge.
More academic research is currently underway to address the gap in statistics related to sexual violence during music festivals and other public events.
Event organizers and brands must take this issue—and the security concerns that it raises—seriously if they want to avoid negatively impacting both festivalgoers and their own brand image.