Ottawa

Project Soundcheck tunes into artists to combat sexual violence at shows

An initiative aimed at preventing sexual violence at live music events and outdoor festivals is plugging into the people on stage in an effort to make the people down in the crowd feel safer.

Project began three years ago to help create safer spaces for concert, festivalgoers

Project Soundcheck started three years ago with the goal of preventing sexual violence at music events and outdoor festivals. (CBC)

An initiative aimed at preventing sexual violence at live music events and outdoor festivals is plugging into the people on stage in an effort to make the people down in the crowd feel safer.

Project Soundcheck began three years ago to target sexual assaults at concerts and advocate for safer venues for fans. It held a gathering for musicians in Ottawa on Saturday to share experiences and discuss strategies.

"Artists were the missing piece for us, so we really wanted to make it a priority," said project manager Stefanie Lomatski on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"We actually had a whole bunch of responses from artists. One was that they were really in support having of venues or festivals out statements to artists," she said. 

"So if they say anything that contributes to normalizing or trivializing sexual violence, then they would be asked to leave the stage, and their pay would be deducted."

Live shows often 'very uncomfortable atmosphere'

Ottawa musician Allie O'Manique, who performs as Trails, attended the event to talk about what she's seen and experienced as a young female musician and fan at live shows.

"I've had to deal with audience members being inappropriate, interrupting my set, commenting and sort of yelling things that weren't appropriate. And also just having to deal with venues that have overall customers that create a very uncomfortable atmosphere," said O'Manique.

Ottawa's Allie O'Manique performs as Trails. (Sandra Abma/CBC News)
She believes a different approach to security at venues would help make her fans and people like her feel more secure and comfortable in big, tightly packed crowds.

"I think a lot of the time what would make events feel safer and better is if security guards were more approachable and more visible," she said. 

"And I think it's important to train security to handle situations involving sexual violence in a non-escalatory way, because often if I'm at an event and I'm starting to feel uncomfortable, the first person I wouldn't go to is security, just because they're often quite intimidating large men who aren't very approachable."

'I want them to feel inspired and safe'

Another idea they discussed is putting a "pit parent" in place at shows — someone who can keep an eye on the crowd, and be a resource to go to if fans experience inappropriate behaviour or violence.

Some of the attendees at Project Soundcheck's weekend gathering will share what they learned at an Ottawa Music Industry Coalition event Monday evening at 6 p.m. at Bar Robo in Chinatown.

"If everyone has the same message, the same skills, then they're able to prevent sexual violence," said Lomatski.

"I obviously want young musicians — especially female musicians — to be able to feel comfortable coming into the music industry," said O'Manique. 

"I want them to feel inspired and safe. So if I'm able to create a better music scene and a safer music scene for them, then I think I'll be happy with what I've been able to do."