Halifax Pop Explosion taking steps to halt sexual assaults, improve accessibility

In the wake of sexual assaults at several high-profile music festivals in Ontario, Quebec and Sweden, a Halifax music festival is taking steps to ensure all those attending this year's events are safe.

Volunteers will be onsite to answer questions, intervene when necessary

The Accessibility Safety Krew will be on site at Pop Explosion events to answer questions about accessibility and assist security in preventing sexual assaults. (Shutterstock/Africa Studio)

In the wake of sexual assaults at several high-profile music festivals in Ontario, Quebec and Sweden, a Halifax music festival is taking steps to ensure all those attending this year's events are safe.

Halifax Pop Explosion is partnering with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in a bid to prevent sexual assaults by training teams of volunteers to answer questions and intervene in problematic situations.

"Everyone should be able to come enjoy entertainment. It's a shame that this is 2017 and we haven't figured this out yet," Kelsey Butt, operations manager at the Halifax Pop Explosion, told CBC's Information Morning. 

"We, as a festival, want to try to make this a very inclusive space."

Building confidence to intervene

While there have been no formal complaints about sexual assaults at Pop Explosion events, Butt said, preventing future incidents is a priority for the festival.

The initiative follows the lead of an Ottawa-based program called Project Soundcheck, which was started to combat sexual assaults at music festivals by offering training focused on bystander intervention.

In 2016, a woman was sexually assaulted at WayHome Music & Arts in Oro-Medonte, north of Toronto. That same year, a woman said that her drink was spiked at Montreal's Osheaga festival and security staff failed to help. Earlier this summer, four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported at Sweden's Bravalla festival, prompting its cancellation for 2018. 

Osheaga draws thousands of music fans to Montreal's Jean-Drapeau Park each year. This year, the promoter behind the festival brought in a trained safety team specifically aimed at preventing sexual assault. (Radio-Canada)

Dee Dooley, regional capacity co-ordinator with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, received the Project Soundcheck training and will be passing it on to volunteers on the Accessibility Safety Krew at Pop Explosion.

"The objective of this training is to really prepare people … and build their confidence in being able to intervene," Dooley said. "So what do problematic situations look like? And what are some specific tools and skills that can be used to address those situations?"

Dooley said the training identifies five ways that volunteers can step in to prevent a sexual assault using the five Ds:

  • Distracting the perpetrator.
  • Delaying the incident by intervening.
  • Delegating someone else to help, like a member of the security staff.
  • Directing the people involved somewhere else.
  • Discovering what is happening by asking other bystanders about what they're witnessing. 

Most assaults involve drugs

Statistics show sexual assaults at festivals typically follow a different pattern than other situations, Dooley said, which means a different approach is necessary.

"We know based on statistics that sexualized violence typically happens with individuals who know each other — and at music festivals and other large events, it's actually the opposite," she said. "Only one-third of the people who have experienced sexualized violence know the person, and so that means that you know it's a different pattern, and we need to address it in a different way."

And the fact that 60 per cent of sexual assaults at festivals involve drugs is also a dynamic that is addressed in the training, Dooley said.

She said she hopes other local festivals will follow Halifax Pop Explosion's lead, and take steps to prevent sexual assaults before they happen.

"It's become increasingly apparent that we have to do more, and take more concrete steps to address the problem."

With files from CBC's Information Morning