Are There Solutions for Sexual Harassment at Concerts?

OurMusicMyBody addresses sexual harassment education at concerts and music festivals. Groups work with event management teams on policies and interventions.
Image: Instagram

Coordination of policy and safety specialists deploy interventions that could reduce sexual harassment and assault incidents at concerts in public spaces.

Groups worldwide are finding that sexual harassment at concerts is running rampant. But actions like specialist training and policy have been shown to reduce incidents of assault at park festivals.

A Chicago-based campaign formed to raise awareness about sexual harassment at concerts suggests the #MeToo movement is making inroads into the festival scene in that city. A survey by OurMusicMyBody, according to a recent MarieClaire magazine feature, found 92 percent of female concertgoers queried reported harassment at festivals and in music spaces. A recent poll conducted in the United Kingdom also found high rates of festivalgoers that have experienced unwanted sexual behavior.

OurMusicMyBody said incidents discussed through its survey “included experiences of spoken harassment, groping, sexual gestures, stalking, being yelled at and being photographed or videoed without permission,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Further, 31 percent of male fans experienced both physical and nonphysical harassment while 60 percent of transgender attendees reported physical homophobic or transphobic violence.

“We do this work because we believe everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe when they go to a concert or festival,” according to OurMusicMyBody. “(We work) with festival and venue staff, musicians and music fans alike to create fun and consensual music experiences for all.”

Chicago Collaboration

Three proactive Chicago music festivals — Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest – last year implemented anti-harassment policies and guidelines for concertgoers, in partnership with OurMusicMyBody, which formed as collaborative campaign led by Between Friends and Rape Victim Advocates.

Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest all take place on property managed by the Chicago Park District, the largest municipal park manager in the nation.

Pitchfork, which will take place July 20-22 in Union Park, has also teamed up with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States, according to Music Connection.

“Our objective is to shine a spotlight on RAINN as a first-responder resource for the Pitchfork community, at the festival, in Chicago, and more broadly for our readership,” said Adam Krefman, senior director of festivals at Pitchfork. “It’s crucial that we continue to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence in the music industry and beyond, and we believe that our alignment with RAINN will make a positive impact.”

California Concert Harassment

Sexual harassment at concerts is certainly not limited to the Midwest, as evidenced by a recent story by Vera Papisova in Teen Vogue.

Papisova attended Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in May to report on sexual harassment and found that all of the 54 women queried during the weekend-long event had a story of sexual assault or harassment from this year’s Coachella.

According to Papisova, she was a victim, too: “During the 10 hours I was reporting on this story I was groped 22 times,” she wrote.

Coachalla takes place annually at the Empire Polo Club, a privately owned 330-acre polo club in Indio, Calif.

Unwanted Sexual Behavior at Europe’s Music Festivals

Sexual assault at concerts and festivals is also an issue in Europe, according to the Guardian.

A survey by YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, found that 22 percent of all UK festivalgoers, 30 percent of females of all ages and 43 percent of those under 40 said they had faced some kind of unwanted sexual behavior, the most common being “unwelcome and forceful dancing.”

Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said festivals “have a duty to make their events as safe and secure and enjoyable” as possible, and encouraged festivalgoers to report incidents if they witnessed them.

If people don’t intervene, then this behavior becomes normalized,” he said, noting, “People shouldn’t feel that they need to tolerate [at festivals] the type of behavior that they wouldn’t tolerate in the street.”

The Guardian also reported that allegations of rape and sexual assault at several music festivals in recent years have sparked outrage in Sweden, leading to the cancellation this year of that country’s largest music festival, Bråvalla, after four rapes and 23 sexual assault reports during the four-day event that took place in Norrkoping, about 100 miles southwest of Stockholm.

Another festival in Sweden had even more trouble last year, according to the New York Times, as 32 sexual assaults were reported at Putte i Parken, a concert in Karlstad, about 190 miles west of Stockholm.

Overseas Solutions for Sexual Harassment

The Good Night Out Campaign is an initiative dedicated to helping the nighttime economy deal with, tackle and prevent harassment, and it works with festivals to create a safe environment for attendees through by helping licensed premises adopt best practice policies through a poster campaign and the provision of specialist training.

Good Night Out has recently branched out to work with festivals and “partnered with major Australian festival Laneway to strengthen their commitment to a safe, inclusive space at every one of their seven sites” in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.

In 2018, Good Night Out got on board to:

  • Create a suite of bystander intervention messaging for Laneway.
  • Audit existing policy across all sites, suggest and support the roll out of any necessary changes to their existing procedure.
  • Provide specialist training for more than 50 members of Laneway’s Event Management team on responding to disclosures, based on knowledge of perpetrator tactics, the impacts of sexual harassment and barriers to reporting.
  • Support Laneway’s Event Management team by effectively training their own on-site staff, stall holders and volunteers.

David Huggins, the domestic abuse coordinator with the Isle of Wight Council, told NPR in 2016 how the community was able to reduce sexual assaults at England’s Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. Personal engagement and hands-on creativity reinforces messaging.

“We’ll have the static unit in a tent, where we have information we can give to festivalgoers,” he said in the interview. “But we want to make it a bit of fun as well, so we make bracelets which have messages — things like, ‘Love doesn’t hurt,’ ‘No means no.’ So it’s an engagement process where you get festivalgoers to come along, ask what we’re doing. They sit down, they start making some beads or bracelets, we start talking and you raise awareness through that medium.”

Access and request OurMusicMyBody’s Festival Toolkit on the organization’s Tumblr.

Learn more about the prevalence of sexual assault, according to research by Centers for Disease Control published last year:

Sexual Assault Statistics Reveal Why It’s A Community Problem

About the author

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Columnist Larry Claflin, Jr., is a freelance writer based in New England and co-founder and former executive director of the non-profit Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. He is fascinated with the mechanics of city government and cultural development in cities.