New research reveals shocking levels of sexual abuse at UK music festivals
One in five British festival goers have experienced sexual assault or harassment at an event, according to new research.
Campaigners said the figures, believed to be the first of their kind, should be a wake-up call for the industry to start treating sexual violence as seriously as other crimes at festivals.
The poll showed 22% of all Britons who have been to a festival faced some kind of unwanted sexual behaviour, rising to almost one in three of women (30%) and almost half (43%) of women under 40.
The most common forms of unwanted sexual behaviour experienced by respondents were unwelcome and forceful dancing and sexualised verbal harassment.
Eleven per cent of women had experienced sexual assault while they were conscious, compared to three per cent of men, and four per cent of women said they were sexually assaulted while unconscious or asleep, compared to two per cent of men.
Only two per cent of festival goers who were assaulted or harassed reported the incident to the police, according to the figures, suggesting the issue is significantly under-reported. Separate data released in the Crime Survey for England and Wales in February showed more than 80% of victims of sexual assault did not report it to police.
The poll, in which YouGov surveyed 1,188 festival goers for the Press Association, also revealed:
- Seventy per cent of those who experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival said the perpetrator was a stranger.
- Only 1% of women reported sexual assault or harassment to a member of festival staff, either before or after the event, although 19% of men reported their experience to staff.
- When people were asked how satisfied they were with how festivals they attended handled the issue, 45% said they did not know and 24% said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, suggesting a lack of awareness around festival policies and safeguards. A total of 22% said they were satisfied and 8% said they were dissatisfied.
Tracey Wise, founder of campaign group Safe Gigs For Women, said: “We have struggled to find anyone with any definite statistics on this before now.
“It gives us something to show to festival organisers so we can say ‘you need to take this on board’.”
Jen Calleja, a co-director of the Good Night Out Campaign, called the research “shocking but not surprising”, saying it “helps prove what we already know through anecdotal evidence”.
“We know that the vast amount of harassment and sexual assault is not reported and we know this comes down to stigma, fear of not being believed and a minimisation of what harassment is,” she said.
Beth Granter, a 35-year-old campaign manager with social network Care2, said she was flashed by a man at Reading Festival when she was 17.
“He said something like ‘give us a shag'” so she said she told him to go away and tried to laugh it off, she said.
“Laughing was a defensive strategy to de-escalate the situation,” she added.
She said she did not report what happened but felt vulnerable for the rest of the festival.
“I think this kind of thing happens more at festivals than in the street during the day, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it happens more at festivals than in nightclubs. I have lost count of the times I’ve been sexually assaulted in a nightclub,” Ms Granter added.
February’s Crime Survey statistics found one in five women had experienced some form of sexual assault since they turned 16.
Paul Reed, 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, but that some responsibility also lies with festival goers to report problems.
“People shouldn’t feel that they need to tolerate the type of behaviour [at festivals] that they wouldn’t tolerate in the street,” he said, adding that raising awareness around the importance of consent and bystander intervention was paramount.
“If people don’t intervene, then this behaviour becomes normalised,” he said.
“The idea we want to put forward is that harassment is everybody’s problem, it’s not just the person who is being assaulted,” added Ms Calleja.
Hundreds of thousands of people flock to UK festivals every year but organisers of some of the UK’s biggest festivals – including Glastonbury, Creamfields and the Reading and Leeds festivals – declined to comment on the new figures.
Somerset Police recorded two incidents of sexual assault, two incidents of rape and one incident of indecent exposure at last year’s Glastonbury Festival and some social media users reported instances of sexual assault at Manchester’s Parklife festival this year, on June 9 and 10. Parklife also declined to comment.
Ms Wise said: “[The figures] will be massively helpful, because at the moment I don’t think festival organisers do enough.
“It would be good to get to the end of festival season and see festivals have taken this on.”
All figures in this report, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 3,436 adults, of which 1,188 had attended a music festival.
The survey was carried out online between June 4 and 6 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults.
Anyone affected by sexual assault or harassment, at any time, can speak to someone available through organisations like The Survivor’s Trust, Rape Crisis or Survivors UK.
SURVIVORS OF SEX ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT AT FESTIVALS DESCRIBE THEIR EXPERIENCES
Three women have described their experience of sexual assault and harassment in light of new research into the issue at UK music festivals.
Beth Granter, 35, a campaign manager in London: “I was sat at the entrance to my tent with my best friend – also a girl – at Reading festival when we were about 17. People were drinking and partying, and one guy thought it would be funny to lift his dress and wave his penis at us.
“He said something like ‘give us a shag!’ and I think I told him to fuck off, but whilst also trying to laugh about it. Laughing was a defensive strategy to de-escalate the situation.
“I didn’t tell anybody about it because it didn’t seem unusual at the time. I was unfortunately used to men getting drunk and waving their penises around at parties, so one doing it at a festival was no different.
“What did feel different was my vulnerability. I was particularly afraid sleeping in my tent that night, because there was no lock on my tent door, and anybody could have got in.
“I think festivals could do more with security, to ensure men who are so drunk they are behaving aggressively are removed, and to put up posters clearly telling men to keep their hands to themselves, to not get their penis out without consent from anyone who might see it and not to harass women.
“I think this kind of thing happens more at festivals than in the street during the day, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it happens more at festivals than in nightclubs – I have lost count of the times I’ve been sexually assaulted in a nightclub.
“Festivals are kind of like giant open-air nightclubs, with lots of inebriated young people squashed up against each other.
“All too often, men take the opportunity to assault women. In a crowd it’s hard to tell who has grabbed your bum, so men get away with it. The same goes for public transport – another confined space where men know they can get away with assaulting women, so they do.
“The problem is cultural, it’s the cultural acceptance of rape culture, which ranges from dismissal of casual sexist remarks through to people not believing rape victims.
“Also, being harassed or assaulted at a festival is normalised because it is so common in that environment – that’s why people are less likely to report it than assaults elsewhere. If someone grabbed my bum in the supermarket it would be unusual so I would be more likely to report it. In a nightclub or festival, it happens all the time, and you just feel like you don’t want make a fuss, you just want to have a good night and forget about it. Especially when you know that reporting it won’t do anything.
“When I was younger I didn’t even realise someone flashing at me or grabbing my bum was a crime I could report to the police. It was just something that happened. It’s quite possible the young people at festivals now also don’t know what counts as a crime. I think sex and relationships education has a role to play here in teaching all young people what behaviour is not only inappropriate, but illegal.”
Anonymous, 30: “I was at a festival abroad with friends and my boyfriend at the time. We were back at our tents to get some food and my boyfriend, who had had a lot to drink, wanted to have sex in our tent. I didn’t want to because our friends were sitting right outside and I was embarrassed. I said no and he wrestled me down on my back and held me there.
“He was laughing as if it was just a game but it frightened me because I realised that even though he wasn’t a big guy I wasn’t strong enough to push him off me. He pulled down my underwear and rammed his fingers into me repeatedly. It was really painful but I managed to hit out at him and he stopped.
“I confronted him about it after the festival and he apologised but he didn’t actually remember doing it. Even though there had been a scuffle and I was upset, none of our friends said or did anything. I think people are particularly disinclined to intervene in something they see as a ‘domestic’ row. It was only years later, after we broke up, that I told anyone else about it. I never told festival staff or the police.
“I’ve never been to a festival where I felt it was clear who I could talk to about sexual violence or harassment. Maybe I’d try the medical tent if I was desperate. I went to one festival where there was a tent for the Samaritans but I guess I don’t associate that group with those kinds of issues. Specially-designated reps at a festival who are marked out as having responsibility for ensuring that people feel safe and supported would be helpful.
“I think in an environment where people are drinking and maybe taking drugs the risk of reckless or inappropriate behaviour is definitely higher. I think the ‘party’ atmosphere also makes people feel they can let loose and do things they wouldn’t do in other spaces. The sheer volume of people probably also makes it easier to get lost in a crowd and therefore feel you could get away with something more easily than in other environments.
“I think the idea that ‘everyone is just having a bit of fun’ puts pressure on you to just accept things and not spoil the atmosphere or seem uptight. I think if people have been drinking there is also a culture of blame that suggests a victim is at fault for putting themselves in a vulnerable position.
“You also can’t just walk away in the same way you might on a night out. If you’re at a festival for a few days, what happens if you report someone and they don’t get removed from the event? What if they find you and are aggressive about it? Raising an issue with a partner is perhaps even more difficult, especially abroad if you are travelling together. “
Hannah, 31: “I was at Secret Garden Party two years ago with a couple of friends, just hanging out in the daytime. One of my friends, who was topless, said to me: ‘I think someone just took a non consensual photo of me and it made me feel weird’.
“I got her to point him out to me so I hop on my unicycle – well, it was a festival – and go and track him down.
“I approached him, politely, and said: ‘I saw you taking a photo of my friend without permission, I’d like you to delete it now.’
“He starts getting flustered, my creepy vibes are tingling. So I said: ‘I want to see you delete the photos.’
“He does, but as he deletes the last photo of my friend, another comes up of a close, zoomed-in photo up a girls’ skirt, obviously unconsensual.
“I’m very concerned at this point, I tell him that I know what he’s up to, it’s not OK and to give me his memory card so he can’t take any more pictures. Throughout the conversation I am polite, but he is getting more and more flustered for getting caught out. He does give me the memory card.
“I’m really unsure what to do now, whether to take him to the security or what. In my mind at the time, I want him to leave the festival.
“So I start following him, asking him to leave and letting him understand how it feels to be non-consensually followed. Also, I don’t want him to leave my sight in case I see security. This carried on for about 10 minutes. We went past my friends, I gave them the memory card, then kept following.
“A few minutes later my friends found me and showed me what was on the card on their camera. It was not OK! Lots of non consensual photos of young-looking women, zoomed in up skirts. And, most wrong of all, a few pictures of a hotel room with full camera set up.
“At this point we decide we do have to find security. My friends go to look while I keep an eye on the man.
“Unfortunately I lost him. And the security were absolutely useless and not sympathetic at all. They took the memory card off us and refused to take our details when we asked ‘what happens if you find him’. Basically just brushed it under the carpet.
“This is just my personal experience. But I think assault at festivals is more common for several reasons.
“Drugs and partying blur boundaries and people under the influence – particularly of ‘love-y’ drugs are a lot easier to prey on.
“The security at festivals does not deal with it well. Brushing it under the carpet seems to be the top method of dealing with it. Festivals do not want to be known as ‘the rape-y festival’ so they are not keen to actually face the problem.
“Free love and expression is the attitude of most festivals. It’s so much easier for lines to be blurred in those environments.
“Predatory people know this about festivals, particularly the larger ones and are inclined to be attracted to the easy prey there.
“This situation with the photographer chap is a perfect example of this, he knew there would be a lot of scantily clad and vulnerable women there and he could be fairly anonymous in the large crowds.”
FESTIVAL ORGANISERS RESPOND TO NEW FIGURES ON SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT
The Press Association contacted 21 of the UK’s biggest festivals to discuss the new research on sexual assault and harassment at UK music festivals and ask about provisions and policy at their events.
The organisers of Glastonbury Festival, Creamfields, Download Festival, Reading and Leeds Festival, Latitude Festival, Parklife, End of the Road Festival, RiZE Festival (previously V Festival), Wireless Festival, Wilderness Festival, Sundown Festival, Womad, Beautiful Days Festival, We Are FSTVL, Festival No 6, and Love Supreme Festival all declined to comment.
Five festival organisers commented on the issue of sexual assault and harassment or described what measures they take to address the issue.
“We take the welfare of all our customers very seriously and our number one priority is to ensure all Sundown festival goers can enjoy the event in a safe, friendly and fun environment. All our policies are under review for our festival in September as we seek to constantly improve our customer experience.”
“We work closely with Dorset Police to ensure Bestival is a safe environment. Security and stewarding teams are briefed to be vigilant for lone / vulnerable people and to offer assistance in escorting them to be reunited with friends or to our welfare facilities if necessary. Our CCTV teams are similarly briefed. We have a Harm Reduction protocol with Dorset Police and other agencies that is designed to address issues such as this.”
Green Man Festival
“The well-being and safety of everyone at all our events is paramount. Sexual harassment is illegal and we seriously investigate any reports, and report this to the police. Everyone is treated to the same proactive level of response.
“We always use qualified and experienced security which include a mix of women, men, younger and older people, who are vigilant in monitoring festival attendees.
“Stewards are positioned throughout the festival and are trained to report any harassment, or violence, to security to be investigated. Crew and service staff are also trained or advised on ways to report minor harassment, or violent behaviour or violence.
“Security are positioned in all areas of the festival and are primarily there to monitor and manage crowd safety, crowd behaviour and crowd movement which includes physical violence or harassment.
“They are trained to have a proactive approach to all forms of harassment, such as inappropriate language, bullying or issues with personal boundaries which could be causing discomfort or upset. They are briefed to respond to offenders who may not realise they are guilty of minor harassment by speaking to them directly. In the eyes of the law, this behaviour is not deemed illegal, but if they do not desist they are expelled from the festival.
“All people involved in the public-facing roles at Green Man are briefed on the importance of being polite, friendly and approachable. By creating a proactive and supportive environment – run by approachable and professional security and event organisers – attendees have steward and/or security in view at all times, and an awareness that any report or complaint would be taken seriously and investigated, whilst any medical issues are managed by fully qualified medical professionals.”
“Sexual assault and harassment of any kind is entirely unacceptable and treated as criminal activity at Boardmasters festival. Boardmasters is a signatory of the AIF’s ‘Safer Spaces Charter of Best Practice’.
“We encourage our Boardmasters festival-goers to look after each other, familiarise themselves with the site, campsite and the locations of first aid and welfare tents. Ahead of the festival and during the event, we will be communicating with our audience to help them stay safe and have a great time on site – including promoting Safer Spaces messaging, as well as the steps to take and support in place for anyone affected by sexual assault or harassment during this year’s Boardmasters.
“Across the entire Boardmasters site, there are staff at first aid and welfare tents, specially trained to deal with emergencies including sexual assault and harassment. Welfare tents will be open 24/7. There will also be Festival Angels in the main arena and campsite, available for help, support and advice. They will be clearly identifiable in red branded t-shirts.
“Festival-goers are strongly advised to report suspicious behaviour to any member of festival staff. They are there to help at all times. Additionally, there will be a dedicated phone number and email address for reporting sexual assault and harassment during and after the festival.
“The safety of our festival-goers is paramount and, as such, Boardmasters festival organisers work tirelessly with local police and the security services to ensure the best possible help is on hand for our attendees, and that we have comprehensive measures and practices in place for emergencies of any nature. Our undercover security are deployed across the festival site focusing on crime prevention. Police are also on site throughout the festival.
“This year, Boardmasters has teamed up with Young People Cornwall who will be running free workshops on sexuality, consent and sexual health in our dedicated well-being space. Brook sexual health and well-being charity will also have a presence on site.”
“For the past few years we have been engaging with Safe Gigs for Women and other similar organisations to make Boomtown an event where victims feel they can report such offences.
“Our strategy also includes strong messaging to those likely to commit these offences and the friends they are often in company with who can help make sure these offences do not happen.
“The festival’s strategy is focused on three key areas:
- Awareness (highlighting the issue and educating our staff and audience on what behaviour is not appropriate and on the consequences of such behaviour),
- Prevention (identifying ways the festival can reduce the chances of an offence taking place)
- Response (ensuring we have detailed procedures in place for dealing with disclosures and that all staff are aware of and follow these procedures).
“Boomtown have attended a number of training sessions focused on addressing the issue of sexual assault at festivals, including a training day run by PARCS (Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service) and a session run by Rape Crisis South London.
“We consult regularly with professional organisations and experts, including Safe Gigs for Women, PARCS, Chill Welfare (the festival’s welfare provider) and Rape Crisis South London (amongst others) to review the policies, procedures and on-site services the Festival has in place and take advice on how these could be improved.”
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.