T/W: Sexual violence


New research commissioned by Durham University has found that one third of women have been sexually harassed at a music festival. Its findings demonstrate that 34% have been raped, groomed, rubbed up against, catcalled or leered.

This summer saw the return of many music festivals across the UK unable to take place during the pandemic. Last year, Latitude, Download and Reading and Leeds were amongst the lucky few to be granted the go-ahead as part of the UK Government’s pilot scheme, analysing how COVID-19 operates in a festival setting. This year, some of the UK’s best-loved festivals returned for another year of fun. That joy should’ve been universal, but for many women, it wasn’t.

Before the beginning of the 2022 festival season, over 100 music festivals signed the Safer Space at Festivals pledge committing to tackling sexual violence at their events. However, many women have continued to report feeling unsafe, particularly in camping areas where security tends to be sparser than in the main arena. Festival line-ups continue to be male-dominated, with BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat finding that only 13% of UK festival headliners are women despite a myriad of events promising to achieve gender balance across their line-ups by 2022. This pledge was made in 2018.

The study, carried out by Dr Hannah Bows from the Durham Law School, surveyed 450 festival goers. In 2018, one YouGov poll found that 40% of women under 40 reported being sexually harassed or assaulted, and sadly, these latest findings conclude a similarly concerning fate. Similarly, UN Women found that 86% of 18 to 24-year-old women and 71% of all women had been harassed in a public space, with more than half of the younger cohort experiencing harassment or assault in a bar, club or other nightlife venue.

Notably, sexual violence specialist services including Rape Crisis, Safe Gigs For Women and Good Night Out have supported numerous UK festivals in creating safe spaces. This year, Boomtown Fair, based in Winchester, implemented a Safer Spaces initiative at this year’s festival and used the Ask for Angela initiative throughout.

On these new findings, Dr Hannah Bows remarks: “Women described being shocked and upset and told us that the experience often ruined the festival for them. Some had stopped going to festivals. Others changed their behaviour to reduce the risk of sexual violence in other ways. In other words, women engaged in what is known as “safety work” – such as reducing their alcohol consumption, avoiding certain places and not going to places alone.

“More needs to be done. It requires commitment from all festivals at all levels, working together with specialist agencies and women who have experienced sexual violence, to create a coordinated strategy to improve women’s safety at festivals, alongside better data collection and sharing to ensure swift responses to issues on site and wider prevention through safety planning. More broadly, festivals need to address line-ups and other areas of gender inequality to set a wider cultural change in motion.”

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