Safer Spaces at Festivals Campaign Working To Prevent Sexual Assault At Music Events

By Danielle Vincent

With over a two-year hiatus due to covid, the festival season returns this summer in full force.  

We have all felt that we have lost a period of time with the constrictions covid put in place, and an emphasis on having a good time is now prevalent. 1000’s of people will attend some of the most popular music festivals and events this summer in the UK. For some this will be there first of such event, having missed key events such as big birthdays, graduations, proms etc.

The festival season can be a fantastic time, but sadly we see a dark side to this. Often festivals can go on as long as 3 days, with long periods of drinking and partying into the night. It is common fold, for your phone to die, to be lost in a crowd, separated from friends, or lose your tent at the end of the night. 

Often alcohol consumption is high with the days long, starting early and drug use can be common. There can be pressure to keep up with others drinking in a group. We have all seen someone stumbling around lost alone and intoxicated at such events.

Drink and drug spiking have already hit the headlines this year with a surge of victims and no doubt, all festival attendees must be hyper-vigilant to this increased risk. Drink covers should be taken, and caution aired when accepting drinks from others. As with many spiking drugs, these can be out of your system with no trace within 12 hours and can take effect within as little as one hour. If you believe you have been spiked do not delay in seeking assistance from a member of staff at a bar or security.

Each year we see headlines of accidental overdoses leading to deaths. John Michie’s daughter died at Bestival in 2017 after being supplied drugs by her then boyfriend, who failed to raise the alarm which sadly ended in a terrible tragedy no family should suffer.

It is easy to say, stick with groups and don’t go off alone, but we have all been in a crowd when you turn round separated from a friend. Festivals are a sea of people moving in every direction. Harassment at any event is not acceptable but not unusual in this such environment, and this should be reported to security or staff of an event if an individual feels unsafe or threatened in anyway. 

Sadly also, sexual and physical assaults against individuals at festivals are not uncommon. Consent is an ongoing essential, and this must be prevalent with any engagement with another during sexual activity. An individual must have capacity to consent, consent can be verbal or nonverbal. 

Confusion, upset and shame are all emotions sadly some assault survivors can suffer which prevent disclosure and reporting and much awareness needs to be raised about this, that there is no blame to the assault survivor.  It is completely wrong to think if you were intoxicated or perhaps wearing certain clothing, that their allegations will not be believed. This thought process must be squashed. There are no grounds or justifications that allow another to assault you. 

Sexual assault goes largely unreported, which also does not assist in change for safety for future events with polices and staff training or supporting others coming forward with similar experiences.

I would encourage anyone who has concerns they have been sexually assaulted, physically assaulted or spiked to seek assistance without delay. All festivals will have designated medical centers pinpointed on a map, along with security points, or failing which staff at the bar points who will be able to radio for assistance.

The quicker an assault is reported, the better it is for potential forensic analysis or police investigation. It is also important to consider that an individual who gets away with an assault may and often will reoffend. Furthermore, any bystanders should report concerns to security or staff.

Organizations need appropriate safeguarding measures in place, such as adequate security staff to the number of festival users. We sadly saw at Astroworld festival in America the devastating impact of overcrowding leading to multiple deaths.

Security staff need to be adequately trained in regard to drug searches especially with the ongoing spiking pandemic. Staff should be vigilant to harassment or distress of festival goers and report concerns without delay to security. Sexual assault training should be given to all staff or designated safeguarding officers on site during the festival. 

Now there is a coalition organization looking to take things even further in terms of protecting people at festivals and events. Safer Spaces at Festivals is a campaign originally launched in 2017 to tackle sexual violence, harassment and assault at festivals. It was relaunched in May 2022 by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) in partnership with Rape Crisis England and Wales, Good Night Out, Safe Gigs for Women, Girls Against and UN Women.

The purpose of the campaign is to raise greater awareness about sexual violence at festivals, which can be experienced by anyone from audiences to artists to staff and volunteers; commit to taking a survivor-led approach to tackling sexual violence, underpinned by policies, procedures and training; and spread key messages about consent and bystander intervention.

According to data shared by the campaign, festivals are ultimately microcosms of wider society and sexual violence is a problem that persists in our society. In the summer of 2018, YouGov reported that 1 in 5 festival-goers had experienced sexual assault or harassment at a UK festival. This is a lifetime statistic, not connected to any particular event or year. 

Festivals and events participating in the campaign will be asked to adhere to a set of guidelines and best practices, as outlined by AIF, and given resources that they can share with patrons and attendees. This is a positive step forward and as the festival season kicks off this summer, here’s hoping we will start to see more safety and protection in place for everyone.

Danielle Vincent is a Senior Associate at Hugh James Solicitors in the UK.

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