CW: This post discusses sexual assault
Going to see live music has always been a great passion of mine. I’ve been going to gigs and music festivals since I was a teenager. I’ve danced on shoulders, moshed to my favourite bands and shared unforgettable experiences with a sea of strangers. I’ve also watched my friends having to be dragged out of an uncontrollable crowd by security guards so they didn’t get trampled. I’ve felt men deliberately get uncomfortably close to me with no way of escape. I’ve helped friends and women I don’t know move away from ‘that creepy guy in the crowd’. And I’ve had to fight off persistent unwanted advances from a drunk festival goer. Music festivals are supposed to be a holiday, an anticipated event on our calendars, a temporary escape from reality. But for women and gender-diverse people, that’s often not the case, as it is in these spaces that the realities of sexism and our lack of safety are clearer than ever.
The rise of the recent #MeToo campaign has shown just how rampant and pervasive sexual assault and harassment are within the entertainment industry and society worldwide. In Australia, women aged 18-34 are the most likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with 38% of 18-24-year-olds and 25% of 25-34-year-olds have experienced sexual harassment in the past year. Gender and sexually diverse people face even higher high rates of harassment and assault. It is no surprise then that music festivals—which are generally attended by young people and often involve high alcohol and drug use—commonly have issues of sexual harassment and assault.
There have been a number of groups and organisations dedicated to changing this culture in Australian music. Melbourne punk trio Camp Cope created the “It Takes One” campaign in 2016 to tackle sexual assault at live music venues. The all-female band made headlines again this year after calling out festival organisers for booking only a small number of female performers on the lineup at the Byron Bay Falls Festival. Band leader Georgia Maq altered two lines in their new single ‘The Opener’ during the Byron concert, singing “It’s another man saying we can’t fill up a tent/it’s another f*cking festival booking only nine women”. When there’s a hyper-masculine culture presented in the lineup, and the headline bands are either mostly or exclusively made up of men, this is undoubtedly going to be reflected in the crowd behaviour. Addressing the “bro-culture” in Australian music festivals is a vital step in creating safer spaces for women, girls and non-binary people. Maq believes they had every right to call out the festival, stating “if you book, to play your festival, an outspoken feminist band, you’re going to get an outspoken feminist band”. Touché!
Camp Cope continued their campaign for safer and more inclusive festival spaces at the Fremantle Falls Festival, days after their appearance at Byron. They created a run of T-shirts with the message “THE PERSON WEARING THIS SHIRT STANDS AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT AND DEMANDS A CHANGE” and through a post on the group’s Instagram, they asked fellow artists to wear them while playing at the Falls event in Fremantle. Several artists wore the shirt on stage, including Total Giovanni, Stella Donnelly, Dune Rats, Winston Surfshirt, Thundamentals, DZ Deathrays, Alex Lahey, Ecca Vandal, Luca Brasi and Bad Dreems.
There have been similar campaigns running within the music industry recently including #meNOmore: An Open Letter to the Australian Music Industry, created in December last year. The letter reads “We all have our own stories, or know someone who does. We are not whingers or vibe-killers. We are passionate people dedicating our lives to music. In the face of uncountable discrimination, harassment, violence, and the general menace of sexist jargon, we have gritted our teeth and gotten on with the job. But today we say, no more.” It now has over 1000 signatures.
There was also an initiative created last year called Your Choice – a music industry supported campaign addressing the growing cultural issues around behavior and lack of personal accountability within Australian venues and event spaces. Their website includes an array of resources to create safer spaces for everyone in the music scene. These resources include guidelines for running a live music venue including security and safety, a list of organisations providing training programs, and a list of educational resources and support networks for victims of assault. Venues can also download a poster from the site with a list of “House Rules”, including “You don’t have the right to touch someone without their permission, respect their personal space.”, “No means no.” and “Rhianna attitude with Drake feelings; think before you act.”.
Speaking of Drake—in November last year Drake stopped his show mid-song to call out a man in the audience for inappropriately touching girls around him. After noticing the disturbance in the crowd he warned “You need to stop putting your hands on girls or I’m gonna come out there and f***” you up.” I’m not saying that violence is the answer, but I think it’s about time that more men stepped up to call out unacceptable behaviour when they see it. Women around the world are demanding an end to sexual harassment and assault, and we need more men to join this conversation.
This year there were reports of three incidents of sexual assault at the Falls Festival at Tasmania’s Marion Bay, mirroring similar incidents at last year’s event. There has also been disturbing footage of a man groping a woman at the Rhythm and Vines Festival in New Zealand on New Year’s Eve that quickly went viral. And a popular music festival in Sweden has been cancelled for 2018 due to the reporting of 27 sexual assaults at the previous festival. This kind of thing is regularly reported in the media and we hear about it anecdotally as well. It’s fair to say that there is an clear culture of gendered harassment and discrimination at music festivals and live gigs but at the moment there is no research into sexual violence at music festivals in Australia—until now.
Criminology lecturers Dr Bianca Fileborn and Dr Phillip Wadds, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), have commenced research into the experiences of sexual harassment or sexual assault at Australian music festivals. Although sexual assault and harassment can and does happen anywhere, Dr Fileborn says music festivals create a unique environment that warrants its own study. She suggests that “when you have tens of thousands of people packed into a really tight space, it can make it easier for people to grope someone and get away with doing that.” High levels of drug and alcohol use can also mean that perpetrators are more likely to prey on intoxicated people, or use intoxication as an excuse for abusive behaviour. Dr Bianca Fileborn also works on the Victorian Sexual Assault Taskforce, a state government campaign to stamp out assault and harassment at live music venues.
In order to further their research, UNSW are seeking volunteers to share their experiences of sexual harassment or sexual assault at Australian music festivals. According to their study sexual harassment and assault includes, but is not limited to, “a range of behaviours that are unwanted or not consented to, for example: verbal comments, persistent sexual advances, persistent staring, following, unwanted touching, and unwanted oral, anal or vaginal penetration.” The researchers encourage people of all genders and sexual orientations (over the age of 18) who have “a self-defined experience of sexual harassment or sexual assault” to participate in the study. The more participants, the more inclusive and effective this study will be.
Music festivals have become a staple in Australian culture, but they are yet to become an equal place for all genders. With the help of campaigns like It Takes One, #meNomore and Your Choice, we are slowly moving towards creating safer spaces for women, girls and non-binary people everywhere, but we need research like this to hasten the pace.
If you would like more information or are interested in participating in this valuable research project visit their Facebook page or contact:
Dr Bianca Fileborn
Phone: (02) 9385 2365
Dr Phillip Wadds
Phone: (02) 9385 2312
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault here is a list of support services across Australia.
Maddy has been working at the Victorian Women’s Trust, primarily on Rosie.org.au since July 2015. She regularly writes for the Rosie blog, edits Write Like a Girl submissions, manages Rosie social media and is involved in the overall strategic planning of the project. Maddy is passionate about music, history, art, writing, and advocating for women and girls.