Sexual assault and music festivals

By Ashleigh Goodall

On 19th August 2017, the Brighton-based metalcore band Architects hit newspaper headlines all over the UK. Why? Because they paused their show mid-set to speak out about an issue which is largely underplayed by festivals and gig venues across the UK: after witnessing a member of the audience attempt to inappropriately touch a female crowd-surfer, lead vocalist Sam Carter stopped and shouted “It is not your fucking body, and you do not fucking grab at someone. Not at my fucking show.” Carter’s actions made national news – and rightly so – but we should not be surprised that this happened. This is the issue of sexual assault and harassment at live music shows: an issue for which there is no exact statistical figure, but nevertheless, an issue which happens much more often than most people think.

In 2013, a male nurse was convicted of raping two unconscious women in the medical tent at Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire. Between 2014 and 2016, eight sexual offences were reported at Reading festival. In 2015, three people were raped at Glastonbury; up from two the year before. To some people that might not sound like a lot, but let’s put it into perspective: Glastonbury festival has a capacity of 175,000 – that’s slightly smaller than the population of Kingston-upon-Thames. If three people were raped within the space of four days in Kingston-upon-Thames, that would be pretty big news.

And the scary part is, statistics show that 85% of sex-related offences go unreported.

An important thing to note about the term “sexual assault” is that it doesn’t just mean rape – it is an umbrella term for any form of sexual violence. This might include attempted rape, forcing a victim to perform a sexual act, or unwanted sexual touching – or “groping.” It doesn’t just happen to women, and it doesn’t just happen to members of the crowd: when chatting to a New York radio station in 2014, rapper Iggy Azalea admitted that she had to stop crowd-surfing at her shows due to fans trying to forcefully insert their fingers into her vagina. Importantly, she said that it wasn’t just male fans who were the perpetrators – women were doing it too.

But how can we expect anything less, when the very nature of some of the lyrics artists sing at shows for the crowd to shout back at them normalise rape culture? One of the most well-known examples is Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ – “I know you want it / I hate these blurred lines.” But what about ‘Stay Wide Awake’ by Eminem? – “Heard of me before see whore you’re the kind of girl that I’d, assault and rape then figure why not try to make your pussy wider.” Or a shockingly blatant example of date-rape from ‘U.O.E.N.O’ by Rocko, Rick Ross & Future – “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”.

Whilst some areas of the live music industry continue to demonstrate ignorance towards this problem – and arguably are even contributing to it – other areas can be seen to be proactively tackling this disgusting issue. In the past couple of years, several organisations such as Safe Gigs For Women and Girls Against have been set up, and are starting to draw attention to this problem. They’re doing this by challenging venues to take reports of sexual harassment more seriously and work harder to create a safe space for everyone to enjoy music freely without fear of being assaulted – a basic human right which is still being denied, even in the 21st century. Several music artists have rallied to support these organisations: examples include Slaves, Frank Carter, Circa Waves, and others.

I’ve also been delighted to witness bands standing up for this issue in their own ways: as I stood amongst the crowd at 2000 Trees festival in July, I listened as the post-hardcore group Petrol Girls played recordings of women talking about their own harrowing experiences of sexual assault which had occurred at the very festival where I was standing, before the band launched into ‘Touch Me Again’ – a song about sexual assault, which features the lyrics “touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you.” More recently, I cheered from the crowd as the lead singer of American punk band Anti-Flag gave a short speech about how sexism and sexual violence was not welcome at their show, and neither were the people who think it’s acceptable to commit sexually abusive acts.

Whilst it is encouraging to see influential members of the music industry speak out about this issue, we still have a long way to go before the threat of sexual violence is eliminated from gigs and festivals: to have any chance of doing this, we need to stop condoning sexist, misogynistic lyrics that normalise sexual assault and rape culture. And we need to raise awareness of assaults that are happening at gigs and festivals – it is never okay, and we need to make sure that everyone knows that. For many people, music is a blissful escape from the stresses of everyday life; it is a perfect opportunity for people of all ages, cultures, and walks of life to join together over a shared passion: to meet people, to make friends, and to have a good time. It should never, ever be seen as an opportunity to grope, threaten, harass, assault, or rape any person – man or woman. “It is not your fucking body, and you do not fucking grab at someone” – and this is so, so important.

Illustration: Katie Butler

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