The #MeToo movement has revealed the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment across industries, and the music scene is no exception. Teen Vogue recently produced a vivid portrait of rampant and routine sexual harassment and assault of female attendees at Coachella—including the reporter, Vera Papisova, who writes that she was groped 22 times over 10 hours of reporting.
Offenders have long taken advantage of situations where they can “camouflage,” or blend in among crowds and flashy scenery—and unless musicians and music venues actively call out sexual violence and work to prevent it, they continue to do so. In a 2017 survey of Chicago-area concertgoers by OurMusicMyBody, a campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the area’s live music scene, 92 percent of female respondents reported experiencing harassment ranging from unsolicited body comments to being stalked, drugged, or sexually assaulted. Nearly the same percentage of LGBT people reported having experienced homophobic or transphobic violence and harassment. The nearly 1,300 total reported incidents also included racially based harassment and assault.
As the #MeToo movement continues to amplify survivors’ voices and bring accountability to perpetrators and the systems that enable them, the music industry is increasing efforts to ensure patron safety, showing that it’s possible to change the culture. And if you’re looking for examples of local musicians who call out and seek to end sexual violence, you won’t have to look far. The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center is fortunate to have the support of several local bands, including Animal Flag—who recently donated proceeds from their album release show to our work with survivors of sexual violence and cut ties with a label associated with a reported offender—and Cerce and I Kill Giants, who held a benefit show for BARCC with support from Dump Him and Pink Navel.
On the national level, Pitchfork Music Festival recently announced a partnership with the anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), through which a portion of this year’s festival proceeds will be donated to the organization. The late-July event will also include a Resource and Response Center where trained counselors and security staff will be available to assist attendees who see or experience assaultive or harassing behavior.
Likewise, the Bonnaroo Festival held earlier this month collaborated with RAINN on a sexual assault prevention infographic. Additionally, the Boston-based organization Calling All Crows on Here for the Music, a national awareness campaign against sexual violence in the music scene, had a presence at the festival. (Disclosure: BARCC has collaborated with Here for the Music to train staff at local music venues on preventing and responding to sexual harassment and violence.)
Festival organizers committed to preventing and responding to sexual violence must be proactive and treat sexual assault prevention as an essential part of their responsibility for holding an event that is not only fun, but safe for guests and staff alike.
So how do they do that, exactly?
Concert organizers should get support to evaluate risk factors for sexual violence—things like rigid gender or other stereotypes, tolerance for harassment and violence, misuse of substances, or lack of oversight in high-risk areas like bathrooms, parking lots, or camping areas. It also includes protective measures such as clear and visible safety officers and a clearly communicated zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and violence.
A festival should convey to all employees that it is serious about working to prevent sexual harassment and abuse. This means broaching the topic during the hiring process, implementing a robust sexual harassment policy, and engaging expert trainers to educate employees on how to respond to disclosures and take action as a bystander. An organization can also convey a message of support and respect for attendees by ensuring they have onsite access to professional support services if they are sexually assaulted.
While proactive policies and practices will go a long way toward changing the culture of sexual assault and harassment on festival grounds, everyone has a role to play in ending sexual violence—including fans. That means being aware of your surroundings and open to helping other festivalgoers in a way that is safe and appropriate. Bystander strategies should seek to give agency and power back to the person being targeted, rather than dictating their choices for them.
BARCC teaches the “Four Ds of Intervention,” which gives bystanders different options depending on the situation and their comfort level. Bystanders can:
- Be direct: intervene directly to stop harassment as they witness it.
- Distract: distract the offender or survivor to stop the abuse.
- Delegate: seek help from others, including festival security.
- Delay: circle back with a survivor after witnessing an incident to check in and offer assistance.
Assuming the role of active bystander means being creative and resourceful to ensure the safety and comfort of people around you. Because ultimately, it’s all about the music. And we all should be able to enjoy it on our own terms.
Gina Scaramella is the executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.