Festivals must pull together to tackle sexual assault, so says Renae Brown, membership and events coordinator at the AIF

 

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. According to Rape Crisis England and Wales more than half a million adults are sexually assaulted each year but only 15 per cent of these victims choose to report it to the police. Due to this underreporting, there’s no evidence to suggest that this happens more or less at festivals compared to anywhere else. However, there has been some highly publicised incidents over the past few years so festival organisers felt it was time to reiterate their zero tolerance stance towards any kind of sexual violence, so at AIF we launched the “Safer Spaces” campaign.

At the start of May, 30 festivals blacked out their websites to raise awareness around sexual assault at festivals and 71 festivals signed up to our new Charter of Best Practice. The key messages from the campaign were “hands off unless consent, don’t be a bystander and zero tolerance to sexual assault”. A couple of key points from the Charter of Best Practice include staff training and taking a victim led approach to any incidents.

Social media engagement, a charter and a website blackout is all well and good but now we’re focusing on the next steps, which means having the campaign translate onto festival sites, identifying any training needs and supporting a research project looking at sexual violence at festivals statistics.

During any festival, clear communication and expectations surrounding onsite processes between event management and security staff is key. Event organisers should have a dialogue with support services like Rape Crisis England and Wales about staff training and how to support victims. We’d also like to see more festivals continue to engage with the issue by highlighting what support or welfare services they have onsite prior to the festival starting and continuing to re-iterate their zero tolerance stance to any kind of sexual assault in messaging on their websites, social media and around the festival site.

This is such a serious issue that can affect anyone at any time; so all festivals should be addressing it in some way. Festivals are stronger together and the message is more powerful and impactful when promoted by many different festivals regardless of type or size.