News – Safer Spaces launches to tackle sexual violence, harassment and abuse at festivals

Following its pilot last year, community interest organisation Safer Spaces has been officially launched to tackle sexual violence, harassment and abuse at festivals and live events.

Two sisters, Anna MacGregor and Madeleine North, based in Cornwall and London respectively, set up the volunteer-led organisation in 2021 as a result of their own personal and professional experiences and due to the “tolerant and systemic culture” of assault and abuse of women at events that they feel exists.

Safer Spaces was piloted at Boardmasters festival (cap. 50,000) last year with some 60 trained volunteers in operation. It then worked at Isle Of Wight festival (50,000), and SoundStorm in Saudi Arabia. This year it will be in place at Vision Nine’s 50,000-capacity Boardmasters and NASS festival (30,000), Team Love’s Love Saves The Day (25,000) and Forwards (60,000), and independently-run BoomTown (76,999).

The organisation said its aim is to provide women and girls access to specialist support, reporting and ongoing localised referral pathways. Its trained volunteer outreach teams are sent to festivals to offer on site, face-to-face support, while educating festival goers, staff and vendors with zero tolerance and “don’t be a bystander” messaging.

Festivalgoers can access the Safer Spaces tents to report incidents via private disclosure cabins and get professional support.

YouGov has reported that one in five festivalgoers had experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival, with 40% of young women saying they had been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour at festivals. The same report detailed that ​​more than a third of these young women who were faced with unwanted sexual behaviour, assault, abuse or harassment, did not tell anyone at all about their experience.

Safer Spaces co-founder Anna MacGregor said, “As a country we are creating better services, structures and legislation to respond to VAWG [violence against women and girls] but it is not enough. VAWG is a systemic and longstanding issue, embedded culturally and socially.

“We need to engage with people directly, creating safe spaces for women and girls and educating and challenging male violence. Festivals, events and artists are uniquely positioned to really emphasise a zero tolerance approach and show women and girls that they are valued and that male violence is condemned.”

Other festivals to take action include S&C Productions’ Strawberries & Creem festival (cap. 10,000) which launched its Safe Spaces Now initiative last year with UN Women UK. Led by S&C Productions head of partnerships Chris Jammer and UN Women UK executive director Claire Barnett, the initiative claims that more than  40% of women under 40 have experienced sexual harassment at a live music event.

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