Currently listening to: Evaporate – Shit Present
Image: Shit Present
Festival line ups are coming in thick and fast, which can only mean one thing. Winter is finally on its way out and summer is approaching. It may still seem a long while off, but its finally getting light again when I leave work and that’s worth celebrating.
Festivals are a time to get a away from the norm and become the person you wish you could be every day of the year. Festivals can get silly, we’ve all done something stupid at one time, whether its drinking too much and missing a load of bands because you’re too hungover to leave your tent (its just happened once) or you’ve gone for a quick swim in the mud. However, there’s a line. And one that some feel its appropriate to cross. I’m talking about sexual harassment and assault. I’m talking about rape. It kills me every year to see reports of horrendous attacks on women when all they’re trying to do is have a good time. It happens at festivals and music venues across the country. Ask any woman that’s been to a live music event, many will most likely have a story to tell (don’t actually ask them though, they don’t owe you one).
The issue comes up every summer, but what’s actually being done to help tackle it? One response comes from Sweden in the form of Statement Festival, a women only event which aims to create a safe space for festival goers, totally free of men.
“Together, we now make a clear statement against sexual abuse by creating a free zone for us women, non-binary and transgender who want to go to the festival and at the same time feel secure. We do not think we are too much to ask!” – Statement Festival
They’re right, its not too much to ask. Someone recently asked me on Twitter “Sexual assault is illegal in the UK, what more to you want?” I’d like a hell of a lot more, quite frankly. Statement Festival are making a bold move and a pretty strong, well, statement. Whether or not you agree with the idea of a women only festival is another matter, but surely no-one can disagree with the idea that a festival should be safe?
This isn’t a new thing. I’m pretty late to the party writing this because its all been said before. But I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what’s being done here in the UK to tackle the issue. I recently signed up to be a volunteer with Safe Gigs for Women, an organisation set up to tackle the rise in sexual assaults at music events. The idea came from regular gig goers who have one very simple aim – to make gigs safe. That’s for everyone. They’ve been building a network over the last couple of years of music fans, bands and venues who all want to do just that. They want to educate gig goers, telling them its not ok to assault someone, but also to encourage everyone to look out for each and call out those that are committing horrendous acts. As a women, I’m very aware of the chances of being assaulted at a gig or festival, its happened before on multiple occasions and I know that it may well happen again. I’m very lucky to have men in my life that know what’s right and wrong, and they’ve been quick to call it out or cut ties with someone because of their behaviour. When I was assaulted at a festival a few years ago, the male friends I was with were appalled when I told them that someone had just groped me, and they spent the rest of the day trying to find the guy that had done it. They knew that what had just happened wasn’t ok. If I’m surrounded by people who I can trust and I know will work to keep those around them safe, then I can enjoy myself. It shouldn’t have to be a thing, but it is. SGFW want to encourage more gig and festival goers to take a stand against assault and harassment, and the more that do, the more we can stamp it out. They also want to encourage victims to speak out. Its tough, believe me. Whilst I told my friends that I had been assaulted, I didn’t tell the venue or the police. What could they do? Chances are I wouldn’t be believed, or I’d be told that “it happens”. If more victims speak out then venues and festivals have to take it more seriously. And that’s the next thing, SGFW also want to work in venues to make sure reports are taken seriously. I’ve heard of women telling security that they’ve been groped, and security telling them they have other things to be dealing with. That’s not ok. What’s even better about their work with venues, is that they want to create a standard in the industry where venues are safe. Anything from making sure security are trained in handling sexual harassment and assault, that there’s a clear process for reporting incidents and that managers will give as much care and attention to these reports as they would with anything else. And finally (and I think probably the best bit) they want to work with bands and encourage them to recognise the standards set by SGFW, be advocates for their work and get audiences to do the same. Probably the most prominent person to have worked with the organisation so far is Frank Turner. If you’ve seen him recently, you may remember him talking about SGFW and the work they do. In 2016, he was very open about fans contacting him to say they’d be assaulted or harassed at his shows. Now he promotes SGFW at gigs and they’ve been to his shows to talk to gig goers about their work. I think that’s pretty awesome. He’s not the only one, other musicians like Frank Carter, The Levellers, Enter Shikari and Sean McGowan are all supporters (edit: literally as I published this, SGFW announced they’ll be representing at the Architects show at Alexandra Palace this week. That’s huge). Musicians are the whole reason people go to gigs, so if they’re on board, then its a huge step forward.
So whilst you’re out enjoying live music this weekend (I’ll be at The Menzingers tomorrow) or planning your summer festivals, remember to keep an eye out for each other. Music brings people together, lets just enjoy it.