Music festivals are synonymous with summer. Long days spent on a grassy field, watching the sunset, dancing freely, and singing out our favorite lyrics. It’s a rite of passage — jamming to music while wearing tank tops with band names scrawled on them, sitting on blankets on the lawn (the smell of weed wafting around us), and braving the crowds in hopes of scoring a better view.
As we entered our twenties, music festivals became a kind of escape from ordinary life. An environment rich with community and brimming with an unspoken (but very tangible) sense of freedom. Large or small, these fests offer a reprieve from reality — where people make connections that would hardly feel possible outside of the festival setting.
But the scene isn’t without its flaws. Women are often groped and hit on aggressively. Grinding, hands brushing hips, fingertips on the small of the back — it’s never cool when uninvited. The level of non-consensual touching at festivals amounts to a serious problem.
In April of 2018, Vera Papisova, an editor at Teen Vogue, interviewed women at Coachella about sexual assault and harassment at music festivals. All 54 women she interviewed had experienced some sort of sexual harassment at the festival — including Papisova herself.
“During the 10 hours I was reporting on this story, I was groped 22 times,” she wrote.
A study this summer in the UK found that 43 percent of women under 40 experienced unwanted sexual behavior at a music festival. Of those who had experienced the harassment or assault, only seven percent reported it to festival staff, and two percent to the police. Those numbers beg two questions: Why is this happening? What can be done about it?
Maggie Arthur, Prevention Educator for Resilience, a rape victim advocacy organization, and co-leader of the campaign, OurMusicMyBody (a joint effort between her organization and Chicago domestic violence agency Between Friends) thinks in some ways, the specific culture created by these festivals is contributing.
“We’ve found that something the people who organize music festivals and those who attend the festivals have in common is an aim to create an almost sanctuary,” she explains. “Or a sort of insulated environment, safe from all the worlds’ troubles for a weekend.”
While organizers often hope the insular nature of their events will lead to the festivals being a haven of art and genuine connection, it also can create a troublesome-yet-cloistered atmosphere.
“The CDC outlines several risk and protective factors for sexual violence in any community,” Arthur says. “Some of the big ones are narrow definitions of masculinity, limited roles for women, privacy and silence, and structures of power and control. All four of these elements are rampant within music communities.”