How to keep each other safe at large concerts and festivals

Sexual violence can happen to anyone, but marginalized people are the least likely to get help when they need it

It feels like everyone’s waiting for summer – the time of cottage parties, music festivals and big events every weekend. 

Seeing live music is a great way to enjoy the season, but unfortunately there are people ruining events by committing sexual violence. Girls and women have been speaking out for years about rape culture at shows, and research supports what many already know: concertgoers are often targeted for violence and no one does anything to stop it. Young women are at particular risk for sexual assault.

With so many people around, you’d think a crowded show would be a place where people would look out for each other. But sometimes people in big groups think someone else will take care of a problem, or we aren’t sure what to do, so even when we see something sketchy, we do nothing. Most of us want to help, but we don’t always know the right thing to do. It would be ideal if no one tried to commit assault, but until that day comes, we need to step up if someone is in trouble.

What to look for

Be aware of the risk for women and girls who are heavily intoxicated, especially if it looks like someone is following them or trying to get them away from their friends. It doesn’t matter if they were slipped a drug or got drunk on their own – if they are unable to look out for themselves, they are vulnerable. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.

What to do

If you see a bad situation but aren’t sure what to do, keep an eye on it until you have more information. Ask questions – you can approach someone to ask if they’re okay or if they need help. Or you can start a conversation about the music just to get them talking and get a better idea of how they are doing. You might learn that they’re fine or you might discover that they need some help. Either way, you will probably be glad you checked.

Who to talk to

If you are concerned that someone is being targeted for violence, warn them. If you witness someone’s drink being spiked or someone being cornered, you have options – tell their friends, tell a bartender, tell security. Ask for help from staff or your friends. You don’t have to solve the problem alone, but you shouldn’t ignore it. You can help a person get home safe or get to a paramedic if needed.

If a guy is bothering the women around him or trying to coerce someone into drinking more than they want, call him out on it. If you don’t want to address it directly, just stay with him or distract him by asking him to walk away with your group. Make up a story or ask for help with a problem. Choose a response that is safe for you and everyone involved. You don’t need to start a fight or get physical to be a helpful bystander. The best way to handle this kind of situation is to not escalate it.

What to think about

People who choose to commit assault in a crowd do so thinking no one will bother to stop them, but you can make a difference and interrupt the violence. If you set an example, you make it easier for others to also step up. 

We know that sexual violence can happen to anyone, and marginalized people are the least likely to get help when they need it. Be there for those around you, regardless of race or gender expression. Make the decision to support women and girls of colour at shows and festivals. Ask your favourite venue or event what their plan is for preventing and responding to sexual violence. Consider supporting spaces with comprehensive anti-oppression policies. Enjoy the festival knowing you are empowered to help someone if they need you. 

Kira-Lynn Ferderber is a rapper and educator who teaches anti-racist approaches to bystander intervention. | @Cupcakes_n_Rap

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