Music festivals are meant to be spaces for people to relax, make new friends and enjoy music. The harsh reality is that many people attend with the expectation that they will not be safe in these environments.
The issue is worldwide. According to a study in the UK, 30% of women said they had been sexually harassed and 10% had been sexually assaulted.
Articles regarding sexual assault at music festivals have become a part of an annual news cycle, with the problems reaching beyond the acts of assault. Surrounding issues involve the lack of security, protocol and support in venues that entertain hundreds of thousands of people over a span of several days.
But are the festivals responsible for monitoring criminal behavior?
As the debate about rape culture continues, festival goers should remain vigilant and aware.
Sexual Assault Shuts Down Bravalla Festival
The Bravalla Music Festival was the largest annual music event in Sweden with over 50,000 people in attendance for the 4-day event. However, organizers canceled the festival permanently in 2017 for dozens of reports of nonconsensual sexual contact over the years. Swedish police received four rape and 23 sexual assault reports at the 2017 festival alone. In 2016, there were five reports of rapes and at least 12 claims of sexual molestation.
The problem was so extensive that attendees at Sweden’s Bravalla Festival in 2016 were given bracelets with the reminder: “Don’t grope.”
Kajsa Apelqvist, who represents the Bravalla Music Festival, said in response to the reports of sexual conduct, “We have always claimed that it is not a festival problem but a social problem. How we ensure our visitors’ safety is something we are constantly developing, and that’s something we’ll never finish.”
Sexual Assault at Coachella
Coachella is the highest-grossing music festival in the world. In 2017, it grossed a record-setting $114,593,000. With its immense popularity comes the likelihood for mass inappropriate conduct by festival-goers.
One writer for Teen Vogue stated that in the ten hours reporting on a story of sexual assault at music festivals, she was groped an alarming 22 times. Fifty-four women who attended Coachella were interviewed by the reporter—all of whom shared a story of sexual assault.
19-year-old Ana said, “Of course sexual harassment happens here. It happens to us at all concerts. At Coachella, it is so many people that men will get away with touching you, and they think we don’t notice. It happened to me many times.”
Another concert-goer, 16-year-old Regan stated, “Just the way people touch me when you’re walking through a crowd. Why are you touching me there? We’re trying to have fun and fit in here.” She continued, “It’s scary, and you can’t trust the random people around you to help you. And with those bigger men, it’s just harder, and it’s scarier to say something to them because they might get angry and violent. Like if you’re not nice, they might hurt you.”
Coachella does not currently provide advice regarding sexual assault to those attending. Zero search results appear for “sexual assault” on the Coachella website. Ticket buyers receive special boxes that include passes for entry along with a welcome guide. The guide contains no information about how to get help if you are sexually assaulted at the event.
Rape Culture: A Social Problem
In 2015, a photo of a man wearing a vile “Eat, Sleep, Rape, Repeat” shirt at Coachella went viral. This display epitomizes rape culture. Marshall University describes rape culture as “an environment where rape is prevalent and sexual violence against women is normalized and excused.”
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is one where there is a common use of misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies, and glamorization of sexual violence. The behavior encourages or allows a society to disregard women’s rights and safety.
The following are examples of rape culture:
- Blaming the victim (“She asked for it”)
- Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys”)
- Sexually explicit jokes
- Tolerance of sexual harassment
- Inflating false rape report statistics
- Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
- Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
- Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
- Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
- Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
- Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
- Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
- Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
As the details outlined above demonstrate, rape culture affects all women. Statistically, most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not.
Preventing Sexual Assault at Music Festivals
Several groups have stepped forward to help combat the music festival sexual assault crisis:
- The UK’s AIF Safer Spaces campaign encourages concertgoers to intervene if they witness harassment.
- In Chicago, a sexual assault awareness campaign called OurMusicOurBody arose as a collaboration between local nonprofit organizations.
- In 2017, Lollapalooza launched a “safety” page addressing its policy on sexual harassment at the festival.
- Do Lab, a Coachella collaborator, provided training on sexual assault to concertgoers, staff and medical professionals who specialize in sexual assault at the Lightning in a Bottle
These groups have begun the conversation, though concert-goers and organizers are encouraged to push for public safety. Sexual assault victims and the general public must continue to speak out and stand up for what is right to truly address the issue.
How You Can Protect Yourself from Sexual Assault at Music Festivals
If you are headed to a festival in the near future, protecting yourself from harm begins with prevention. An honest understanding of the problem could help you identify a plan of action.
RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network has offered invaluable safety advice for concert-goers:
To keep yourself and your friends safe:
- Stay aware of your surroundings. If possible, stay with other people you trust.
- Make a plan with people you go out with, and don’t leave anyone behind if plans change.
- Protect your drink so nothing can be added to it and keep an eye on others’ drinks.
- Know your limits when it comes to alcohol consumption.
- It’s OK to lie to get out of a scary situation.
If you see someone else at risk:
- Create a distraction to interrupt the situation.
- Talk directly to a person who might be in trouble.
- Refer to an authority like a security guard.
- Don’t hesitate to call 911.
If a sexual assault occurs:
- Get to a safe, well-lit place.
- As much as possible, avoid destroying any evidence, such as clothing.
- Reach out for support from someone you trust.
- To report an assault to the police, call 911.
- After you remove yourself from the situation, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to speak with a trained staff member. Staff members can direct you to an appropriate health facility and walk you through the process of getting help.
- To speak with someone anonymously, visit rainn.org
- Seek legal counsel to determine if a lawsuit is right for you.
When to Contact a Sexual Assault Attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered sexual assault at a music event, you are not alone. Jessica Pride has dedicated the last ten years to helping sexual assault survivors reclaim their power. What has happened to you is not your fault, and Jessica is ready to hear your story.
Our team offers free, confidential case evaluations and the opportunity to speak with a woman about your experience. We will answer your questions and help you determine if filing a claim is right for you. Call Jessica Pride today at (619) 516-8166 and take the first step towards your healing.