Report – Women discuss the importance of tackling sexual harassment at music festivals in 2022

According to Safe Spaces Now, 40% of women under 40 have experienced sexual harassment at a live music event  and tackling this issue has become the focus as festival season returns.

Content note: this article contains an account of sexual harassment that readers may find upsetting.

One of the most exciting things about this summer is the full return of the festival season.

After two years of cancellations, delays and challenges for the events sector, 2022 is seeing festivals of all kinds return with a bang, causing much excitement among frequent festival-goers looking to spend their summer bouncing from one event to another across the UK.

But while the return of the festival season should be a sociable, fun and safe experience, it can be marred by a serious underlying issue.

In 2018, YouGov reported that one in five festival-goers had experienced sexual assault or harassment at a UK festival, while Safe Spaces Now, a music industry initiative, reported that more than 40% of women under 40 have experienced sexual harassment at a live music event.

This ongoing issue has been further pushed into the spotlight after the Association of Independent Festivals launched a Safer Spaces campaign that has seen over 100 festivals commit to tackling sexual harassment at festivals

While the campaign launched in 2017, festivals have committed to an updated charter of best practice that states “all allegations of sexual harassment, assault and violence will be taken seriously”.

“This is something which is needed at festivals, but I still feel many women are at risk and don’t have the support we really need,” says *Simone, a 25-year-old festival-goer from London.

“I’m an active festival goer and I’ve experienced being groped, verbally and physically assaulted in certain spaces; I’ve received minimal support and it’s something that has massively affected me.”

Simone has spent many years going to music festivals across the UK and describes attending them as something she “really enjoys”.

“The first festival I went to was Wireless in London at the age of 16. It was an amazing experience and I developed my passion for live music and going to festivals there. But as the years went on, my experience at different festivals was spoiled by being talked to or touched inappropriately.”

Simone says she previously ignored people’s advances as she didn’t want “other people’s actions to ruin a good time”.

However, an interaction at a festival last year left her shaken.

“There have been incidences with my friends where someone has prayed upon them and attempted to spike a drink and luckily someone stepped in but it’s such a scary experience to witness”

“I was groped by a guy who was visibly drunk, and as per usual, I would just ignore it and walk off with friends,” she says. “But as I went to walk off he pulled me back and proceeded to grab onto me and put his hand up my skirt. He then forcefully kissed me and was holding onto me until my friends helped to pull him away and a couple of guys intervened,” she recalls.

“When I was free of him I just saw red and started yelling and screaming and then crying. I was angry at the fact that this guy had ruined my day, but on a deeper level, I was scared and hurt because I was powerless at that moment.

“I couldn’t wriggle free or walk off and I felt trapped. It just reminded me that many of the interactions I have at festivals now could result in something like that or worse,” she says.

“The idea of going to festivals now is a source of real anxiety for me because I don’t know if there are measures in place to support victims of sexual harassment and assault in the aftermath or if there is enough being done to ensure people who do this at festivals will face serious consequences that will deter them.”

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Simone’s anxiety around attending festivals is not isolated. A UK-wide Durham University study found more than two-thirds of women (68%) attending music festivals are “very concerned” about the possibility of sexual harassment

“There have been incidences with my friends where someone has preyed upon them and attempted to spike a drink and luckily someone stepped in, but it’s such a scary experience to witness,” says Emma Kay, founder of women’s safety app WalkSafe.

“I’ve been to a few festivals over the years and I’ve always loved the atmosphere and the vibe of it all. But there are definitely some things that need to be worked on and tackling sexual harassment is one of them.”

Kay launched WalkSafe, an app that pins stabbings, muggings and burglaries on a map, after reflecting on the things she and many women experience and are expected to normalise and “just kind of get on board with”. 

“I have experienced so many of these things before, from being catcalled, being groped and all that horrible ugly stuff,” she says. “It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I really thought I just don’t want this for her and want to help make a change.”

Since the launch of the app, which saw a surge in downloads following the murder of Sarah Everard, WalkSafe has highlighted the importance for women to feel safe in various spaces and feels this move for festivals to commit to this is “long overdue”.

“I think a lot of festivals need a radical overhaul and need to look at their safety plans,” she says. “I think staffing and making sure everyone is adequately trained is really important so they know how to help deal with victims of assault.”

And these concerns and measures aren’t limited to just festival-goers; female artists performing at these festivals also face similar issues.

“Whilst there are positive conversations taking place, we need to think bigger and I would welcome any measure or initiative that does more to protect women”

“I’ve worked with female artists and bands who have experienced sexual harassment at music festivals,” says Rachel Jepson, a singer, counsellor and founder of the Centre for Mental Health in the Music Industry.

Jepson says she has clients who’ve been harassed when they aren’t on stage by male fans who “approach these artists and want to pose with them from kissing them on the cheek or holding onto them inappropriately”.

“It is sadly still a very common experience and just speaks to the need to protect women across all industries with music included.

“I have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination in the music industry throughout my career, and there is simply not enough being done to protect female musicians,” says Jepson.

The issue of sexual harassment at festivals and live music events is one that can affect performers and guests alike, and while conversations and pledges are essential, it will be key to watch closely and actively engage with these organisations to ensure there are better measures in place both on and off the stage.

“While there are positive conversations taking place, we need to think bigger and I would welcome any measure or initiative that does more to protect women.”

In a statement, Phoebe Rodwell,  membership and operations coordinator for the Association of Independent Festivals told Stylist: “The Safer Spaces campaign is a reaffirmation of the original launched in 2017. We have updated the Charter of Best Practice to reflect the changes in language and processes that have happened since then, as well as further information on being an active bystander. We have also included a new and specific definition of consent.

“Festivals take this issue incredibly seriously when planning and delivering their events, with public safety being a key licensing condition.

“The festivals are encouraged to promote consent of sexual activity onsite. Many are educating their audiences through social media assets, online campaigns and onsite communications.

“The Charter of Best Practice helps ensure that festivals will have robust policies and procedures in place for dealing with any incidents that may occur, and taking a survivor-led approach, as well as ensuring relevant health guidance and connections to local services. We also encourage festivals to undertake appropriate training for their staff.” 

https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/sexual-harassment-at-music-festivals-women/677463

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