Sexual harassment, upskirting and assault at live events and why it must stop

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Big Moon have been recipients on onstage harrassment (photo credit: Christopher Flack)

Big Moon have been recipients of onstage harrassment

An ongoing crisis is affecting music-lovers and musicians, and Getintothis’ Lauren Wise has the full report.

Sexual misconduct is beginning to define gigs and festivals.

There were incessant reports of incidents where gig-goers were victims of sexual harassment and assault throughout the 2017 festival season. Last year Swedish four-day festival Bravalla made headlines when four rapes and 23 sexual assaults on the festival’s site were reported, culminating in its cancellation for 2018 and the subsequent announcement of a festival without men.

Closer to home at last year’s London one-day festival Lovebox, an attendee accused a security guard at the event of sexual assault.

Already 2018’s festival season has begun in a similar fashion with two New Year’s Eve festivals, Rhythm and Vines in New Zealand and Falls Festival in Tasmania, seeing incidents of women having their breasts grabbed at the events. Looking further back, it’s clear safety at festivals has been a long-standing issue, with UK festivals demonstrating a worrying trend.

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In 2016 police reported that two women had been raped at Reading Festival.

In the same year a security guard at T in the Park admitted to sexually assaulting a 17-year-old during the festival. In 2015 a woman alleged she was raped at Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party. In 2014 a 19-year-old woman was raped at Reading Festival. In 2011 a 15-year-old girl alleged she was raped at Bestival’s main stage.

The list goes on, in addition to the number of incidents that go unreported.

As well as the number of serious sexual assaults that have occurred, there are offences less recognised by law and that as a result are often side-lined.

Gina Martin (Photo from Girls Against Faebookpage)

Gina Martin (Photo from Girls Against Facebook page)

A woman who encountered one such incident was festival goer Gina Martin. While watching The Killers at a festival with her sister, she noticed two men exchanging Whatsapps of a photo only to realise that it was an upskirt image of her crotch. In the busy crowds of a large festival it can be simple enough for someone determined to take advantage of their surroundings and sexually offend. Similar situations occur in the bustling environment of smaller venues, too, with the grassroots spaces that litter cities and support new music also bearing witness to sexual harassment and assault.

This is something that happened to Alice Porter, Liverpool representative of the national campaign Girls Against, when she went to see one of her favourite bands, Alt-J.

She said: “It was on the last song and this guy, this really drunk guy, came up to me and started grinding all over me and I was really uncomfortable because it wasn’t even that packed of a gig. I tried to move away and I couldn’t and I left a bit early because it really creeped me out.”

Porter cites this as her reason for joining the Girls Against campaign; a movement founded by a group of girls who wanted to create a safe space to talk about their experiences.

“I felt like I couldn’t wear a short skirt and I’d have to check my surroundings in a gig. It’s difficult to just have a good time so I just wanted to try and stop that for other people and try and create a nicer environment.”

Girls Against works with venues, bands and management to help create a safer space within the music community. One of the driving factors for Girls Against is the support they receive from bands and musicians, helping them raise awareness and spread the word.

She explained how this is important not just for the victims of harassment, but for those who may consider such an action.

“I don’t think a band should have to announce it at every single gig but I think if someone liked a band and they said that, whether it’s on a video or in real life, they’re not going to go out of their way to do it.”

Since the formation of Girls Against in 2015, there are many bands that have pledged their support, with a number of them taking to social media to vent their disappointment and show solidarity.

But it’s not just their fans musicians speak out for. Gig-goers and musicians alike are victims of sexism and sexual harassment within what can appear to an onlooker to be an ever-comfortable music clique. Mercury Prize nominated The Big Moon experienced sexism first hand at their own gig when someone shouted “get your tits out” while the four-piece played.

Speaking about the incident, Celia Archer, the band’s bassist, admitted to feeling lucky that it had only occurred the one time.

“It’s happened a lot less than I would have expected. We have an amazing team around us, we can say something without fear or worry that someone’s not going to believe us.”

We also recently spoke to Witch Fever about their experiences at their headline gig throughout which they were leered at and manhandled.

They said: “Before we started the set a man told us we weren’t capable of playing punk, and tried to quiz us on equipment. A man also joked about his friend wanking in the audience. We were made to feel like objects.”

Following this they tweeted again about a separate incident when they had been assumed to be the bands girlfriends or groupies, rather than musicians themselves.

While some may argue that these are minor sexual harassment cases that could be shrugged off and put down to a 70s mind-set, they allude to a much deeper and more sinister movement within the music industry. Part of the wider picture is a consequence of the continuing sexualisation of women in the industry, and the accompanying gender discrimination that can affect their career progression.

Bristol singer/songwriter Stevie Parker has often spoken out about gender’s role in the music industry.

“I think generally being a girl puts you at a disadvantage in so many ways in music as it is. I’ve experienced gender discrimination a bit and feeling at a disadvantage,” she told us.

“As a female there’s a pressure to sexualise yourself or make something out of the ordinary to find a niche, you can’t just be a normal person – well you can but you struggle. It can affect the rate at which you achieve things which is sad. It affects me mentally a bit.”

There’s clearly room for improvement and much to be changed both within the music industry and within the sweaty, energetic venues many of us consider home.

In the meantime, The Big Moon’s Celia provided some wise words to take home: “Women should trust their gut. It shouldn’t be that you have to wait for something bad to happen before you report it.”

“That’s really important. It should be prevented.”

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