'Patrons are asking for this:' U.K. music fests band together to tackle sexual assault

A handful of U.K. music festivals have banded together to take a stand against sexual assault at their events.

'It’s not something festival organizers need to be nervous about,' says campaign organizer

Music festivals worldwide have been plagued with sexual assaults. A handful of U.K. festivals are bringing the issue to the forefront with a new campaign called Safer Spaces at Festivals. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Samsung)

A handful of U.K. music festivals have banded together to take a stand against sexual assault at their events.

If you visit the websites for Bestival, Parklife or more than 20 other U.K. festivals on Monday, you'll be met with a GIF about sexual assault and a message about creating "safer spaces" at festivals. It's part of a campaign by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

The group, which represents more than 60 different U.K. festivals, coordinated the website "blackout" for its Safer Spaces at Festivals initiative to raise awareness of and show "zero tolerance" for assault. The GIF includes a link to more information and will stay on the websites' home pages for 24 hours.

All of the festivals taking part have also agreed to train staff and volunteers in preventing and reporting sexual violence as well as supporting victims.

"When you raise awareness around an issue like this, it's a fact that more people start talking about it and reporting it," Renae Brown, the AIF's campaign manager, said in an email.

The association's members have been talking about the issue for a while now, she said, and they felt it was the time to go even more public with a campaign.

"Music festival organizers have a duty of care and responsibility to make their events as safe, secure and enjoyable as possible for everyone ...  it's not something festival organizers need to be nervous about."

'They can't avoid this issue'

The issue has plagued festivals around the world, including in Canada. 

There are no exact numbers on how many sexual assaults have happened at festivals in Canada, as many instances go unreported. But a paper released in 2015 suggested more than a quarter of sexual assault patients at Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus had attended a mass event, according to figures from 2013.

Ottawa educator Kira-Lynn Ferderber, who helped lead a program aimed at curbing sexual assault following the release of that research, thinks the AIF's campaign is effective because it brings the issue to the forefront.

"Too many festivals are running without a sexual violence prevention plan," said Ferderber, who has trained festivals on how to deal with the issue.

"Patrons are asking for this. So it's not just something led by a fringe group of activists."

Kira-Lynn Ferderber is an Ottawa educator and rapper. She has trained festivals on how to deal with sexual violence at their event. (CBC)

Some festivals shy away from talking about sexual assault for fear of scaring festival-goers or damaging the event's reputation, Ferderber noted. But she said that's a risky approach, particularly when anyone can post their stories of sexual assaults at festivals to social media, which can be shared widely.

"I don't think it's damaging for a festival's reputation to talk about safety."

The topic has become a lot less taboo, she added, pointing to the national conversation that happened in April following Russell Peters' "off-script remarks" about women while hosting the Junos.

With the U.K. campaign, Ferderber said the festivals are in it together, so "no one is [worried about] risking their reputation."

"I think it's probably going to be a win-win," she said. "Festivals are realizing that they can't avoid this issue."


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