Reports of rape and other attacks are on the rise but, from grassroots groups to industry efforts, measures are being undertaken to keep attendees safe
Festival season is a time of joy, sunburn and sloshing about in muddy fields. However, this booming industry which attracts millions of attendees each year and contributed to the 4bn revenues generated by the UKs live music industry in 2016 has a dark side. From family-oriented Latitude to the largely tweenage V festival, few British festivals seem to be immune from allegations of rape and sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2016, eight sexual assaults were reported at Reading festival, a post-GCSE venue for many teens. In 2013, a male nurse was convicted of attacking two women in the medical tent at Wilderness. Just last week, police announced that inquiries continue regarding a sexual assault on a bridge close to Glastonburys Silver Hayes dance field, and an alleged assault by a security guard at London one-dayer Lovebox has also been well publicised.
While many attacks happen out of the way of the main arenas of such events, others occur in the thick of the festival; in 2011, a 15-year-old alleged that she had been raped close to the main stage of Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was also at the festival that year, and while thankfully I had a safe trip, I was flashed as I exited a toilet, again close to the main stage. Along with more serious cases, the incident compounded my fear that maybe festivals werent the safe, escapist realms I had hoped they were.
It is not an issue exclusive to Britain, either; earlier this month, news outlets around the world reported on a spate of sexual violence at Swedens largest festival, Brvalla, which has been cancelled for next year after allegations of four rapes and 23 related attacks. In response, the comedian Emma Knyckare announced her intention to hold a man-free rock festival. Answering her critics, who claimed that this amounted to anti-male discrimination, Knyckare told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that since it seems to be OK to discriminate against women all the time, maybe its OK to shut out men for three days?
But is banning men from festivals really the way to deal with things? This is a question I put to Fiona Stewart, the managing director and owner of the Brecon Beacons-based Green Man festival. As the countrys only female festival-owner, Stewart has had to find her place within a male-dominated industry over the years, first heading up the Big Chill. Womens safety is a subject she feels strongly about. Im not really into any kind of exclusive situation anywhere, Stewart says of Knyckares plan, before adding that she does understand how that specific case may have necessitated a more hardline approach. I would be sympathetic to the people whove created that [rule], because they must feel under tremendous pressure.