12:56, May 05 421 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-05 12:56:02
UK music festivals to hold web blackout to raise awareness of sexual violence

Dozens of the UK’s biggest music festivals will hold a website blackout on Monday to increase awareness of sexual violence at their events, and have signed a charter pledging zero tolerance.

The Safer Spaces campaign, launched by the Association of Independent Festivals, has been backed by 28 events across the country, including Bestival, End of the Road, Secret Garden Party and Parklife.

In order to promote the message, festivals will take part in a 24-hour web blackout and anyone visiting their website will be greeted simply with the hashtag #saferspacesatfestivals.

Lauren Down, managing director of End of the Road, said they wanted to use their public platform as a festival to speak openly about the issues of sexual assault, particularly that of consent.

“Sexual violence can happen to anyone, anywhere,’ said Down. “There is an idea that festivals are an ambiguous area – big crowds, lots of alcohol, etc – but no matter the situation, it is never OK without consent.

“It’s important to just bring the conversation out into the open. We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about the issues, because we’re stronger together. We have a responsibility to spread the message as far and wide as possible.”

Down said that on the issue of sexually motivated incidents: “The festival community hasn’t always been as open as it’s needed to be, which is why we’re bringing this conversation out of closed meeting rooms into the public sphere.”

The festivals have also signed a charter of best practice, to commit to their support of the campaign translating to action. The pledges include a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assaults at their events, promotion of consent and offering better training to staff to understand how to sensitively deal with incidents and those who report them.

The issue of sexual assault at festivals has only recently been tackled head on by organisers, despite dozens of incidents every year.

There were three sexual offences reported at Glastonbury 2015 and two in 2014. At Reading festival, two men were arrested for raping a woman and there was also a rape at the festival in 2009. At Wilderness festival in 2013, a man was arrested and subsequently convicted for assaulting two unconscious women in the medical tent, and in 2010 at Latitude festival, a woman reported being attacked and raped by a group of men while walking through the campsite.

Rob da Bank, who founded Bestival – which draws in over 55,000 festivalgoers every year – as well as the smaller Camp Bestival, said: “It’s really important that as promoters of these big events where people come to have fun, we all tackle this head on and make sure our crowds are really safe.

“It’s not in vast numbers, but it is going on, so we are trying to flag this up before it becomes a problem, rather than being told after the event that we haven’t done enough.”

Mel Kelly, of the organisation Safer Gigs for Women, said they had been approached over the years by several women who had been raped at festivals. They have thrown their weight behind AIF’s campaign and said that while there was no evidence that more assaults happened at festivals than in other walks of life, there was still an attitude that needed changing.

“We’re working to change the culture to make groping and assault as unacceptable as smoking indoors as gigs is,” said Kelly. “There’s a culture that this is just what goes on at festivals, especially for women, so if you don’t want to get cat-called or touched up then don’t go. And that victim blaming is also very common in the festival environment – if you hadn’t been drinking, if you hadn’t been wearing that short skirt or bikini, it might not have happened.”