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Eleven ways to help prevent sexual violence at festivals

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Sexual assault was already top of mind last Friday morning as the first day of workshops got underway at the Folk Music Ontario conference.  Shortly after our session, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee was set to vote on whether or not to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate – despite several accusations of sexual assault leveled against the judge.

Festival leaders, meanwhile, were reckoning with the question of how to prevent sexual violence on festival sites.

Presenter Elsa Mirzaei of Project Soundcheck, an Ottawa initiative devoted to the cause, began the session by sharing stories of festival-experiences gone wrong – among them, the widely-reported story of Melanie Doucet, who said she was slipped a date-rape drug at the Oceaga music festival and was brushed off when she later tried to report the experience to security.

“… maybe I should have paid more attention to my drink,” is what she said they told her.

From there, Mirzaei offered several ideas for improving festival-goers’ experiences and reducing opportunities for sexual violence to occur. Here are some of her suggestions:

  1. Arrange for a local sexual assault centre to provide bystander training for everyone interacting with festival-goers.
  2. Have a Safer Spaces tent that is well-lit and easily accessible and make sure there is adequate signage or other tools to direct people both to that tent and the First Aid area.
  3. Make sure there is signage to let people know what to do if they have a concern.
  4. Set community standards by creating and enforcing a code of conduct that bans activities such as hateful language.
  5. Consider creating a safety crew and/or having an anti-harassment officer.
  6. Set your porta-potties up in a straight line rather than, say, a horseshoe formation. People have been assaulted in porta-potties.  Straight lines ensure better sight lines.
  7. Scan your site for wooded areas and other “entrapments” people could get pulled into. Make sure these are monitored.
  8. Ensure the whole site is well-lit.
  9. Ensure that your security team is diverse so that members of marginalized communities can find someone they feel safe reporting a concern to.
  10. Make sure your site is accessible for people with disabilities so that nobody becomes a target while struggling to make their way around.
  11. Don’t forget about performer safety. Artists have reported being assaulted by members of festival crews.  Ensure you have a process for addressing concerns about team-members.
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