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Promoters respond to increased reporting on sexual assaults at music events

By | Published on Wednesday 13 July 2016


The high number of sexual assaults reported at two recent Swedish music festivals garnered quite a few headlines, though some campaigners reckon that it is the fact these incidents were reported in the media that is unusual, rather than the incidents themselves.

A number of journalists and bloggers have written about the problem of sexual harassment and assault at music events, including festivals, in the last couple of years, though there is a sense that it is an issue that is now finally getting wider attention. And this month’s Cosmopolitan has a major piece on the issue, in which the journalist and others accuse the festival sector of being unwilling to discuss the problem. The Cosmo piece is headlined “The Great Festival Hush-Up”.

Though some in the independent festival community, while accepting that there is indeed a problem to tackle here, say that the portrayal of a festival sector in denial, or unwilling to engage on this issue, is unfair. Paul Reed of the Association Of Independent Festivals told reporters earlier this week that “we wish to respond and provide some clarity regarding recent articles in the media addressing sexual assaults at festivals in the UK”.

He goes on: “It is extremely disappointing that some sections of the media are engaging in scaremongering on what is obviously a very serious subject, not helped by the fact that recent articles have been poorly researched and in some instances entirely inaccurate”.

One of many festivals cited in the Cosmopolitan piece is The Secret Garden Party, partly because there was a pretty high profile police investigation on site at the event last year after a rape was reported.

But organisers of that event reject claims by journalists and campaigners that they have been unwilling to discuss the issue. “The care of our attendees is always our first priority” the organisers insist in a statement. “Festivals are generally a safe and friendly environment and there needs to be some sense of proportion based on facts, so here is some clarification from our perspective”.

They go on: “Some of these writers did not contact our office or representatives as they claim. We have never refused to engage with anyone or respond to any enquiry on this important subject. We have consistently shown a willingness to engage on this subject and added the issue to the agenda of independent festival body AIF in April this year”.

Adding that some campaigners which have criticised the event haven’t reached out or responded to the festival’s promoters, they say “we would have been grateful for their advice and input. We have engaged in correspondence with individuals who have concerns on this issue, offering an open and transparent forum for debate. We have regular meetings with the police, our security teams and other relevant organisations to ensure we have robust and responsive procedures in place for the provision of a safe party”.

The fact the police investigation into the reported rape at last year’s Secret Garden Party was so high profile is, organisers imply, proof of that. They quote a spokesman for their local police force who confirms that as soon as the rape was reported at last year’s event, they worked with the festival’s management to “[quickly] investigate the matter with a view to bringing an offender to justice, and moreover, to safeguard other event attendees”.

By implying that many festivals just don’t care about sexual assaults at their events, the SGP statement continues, journalists and campaigners with good motives might actually do more harm than good. “Some of this reporting is, in our opinion, reckless in regards to the very safety they are concerned with. Such articles risk actively endangering our audience by convincing them we don’t care, that there is no point approaching us with their concerns and by portraying festivals as a place where people can expect to get away with this kind of behaviour. This helps no one but the sales of the publications and we are disappointed to have so little support from people who claim to care about this issue”.

That said, and despite the criticism, the statements from AIF and SGP are keen to stress that the issue of sexual assault at music festivals is very much on their agenda, and that there is an interest in working with those campaigning in this domain in a bid to find solutions, including new security measures, and better communication and education.

Reed adds: “This is an issue that is taken very seriously by AIF festival organisers. Providing a safe and enjoyable environment for audiences is paramount and is reflected in the planning, policies and practices of all AIF members, including the provision of welfare services, 24 hour security on campsites and arenas and close working relationships with police and other relevant agencies”.

He concludes: “AIF are planning a public facing awareness campaign addressing this issue, working with appropriate partner organisations to get clear safety messages out to audiences alongside producing a shared charter of best practice and vulnerability policies for members and the wider industry”.