Illustration by Ashley Luka via @ashlukadraws on Instagram
Edited by Jenna Vengle and Alycia Grace of https://thisisperfectharmony.com/
TW: Contains descriptions and discussion of sexual violence and physical assault.
Existing as a womxn has never been safe. This extends to every aspect of the human experience, including live music. Individuals reserve the right to autonomy over their own body, but it has become apparent that female identifying folks are combated with challenges to this. When the COVID-19 pandemic is under control and music festivals inevitably return to the forefront of our social calendar, they must be different.
Popular music festivals lull attendees into a false sense of security. Brands that boast “good vibes only,” and festival marketing catered to positivity do not take into account that abusive people will still buy tickets to their events and sport their apparel. The community encourages freedom within ones skin. Roaming topless does not grant another person access to that skin.
This is a sentiment that should be obvious, but at the Rhythm and Vines festival in New Zealand in 2018, we see that the childlike instinct to touch what is not yours still exists in many. Madeline Anello-Kitzmiller walked through a large crowd on the afternoon of January 2, and was shocked to feel an unfamiliar hand on her breast. The assailant ran back, giggling like a toddler, to sit with his friends. Madeline reacted quickly, running back to the man and delivering a punch to the face. This event is not an isolated one, but is one that happened to be caught on video.
Onlookers were quick to react, some citing her response as reactionary and some blaming the exposure of her breasts for the incident. Personally, I know from experience that choice of clothing was not a catalyst for the attack. I have been groped more than once at events similar to this, wearing long black jeans and a polo with a production companys’ name embossed on the back.
Madeline’s disturbing experience comes less than 24 hours after a womxn at Falls Festival in Tasmania in 2018 was groped within a mosh pit. The womxn identified her attacker, dragged him to authorities, and performed a citizen’s arrest. The man was charged with the assault. For one womxn, justice was served. This is a victory considering the typical response to harassment is disbelief and victim blaming. This was not the case at Sweden’s Bravalla Festival in 2016, where over forty accounts of rape and sexual molestation surfaced after the weekend. These atrocities led to the cancelation of the event.
These events took place abroad, but it’s not an indication that womxn in the United States are free from abuse. At Outside Lands in 2015, three womxn reported being drugged. These accounts were unrelated, with each victim identifying her assailant differently. One womxn’s account in 2013 was another reported instance. Her experience at the San Francisco festival started uneventfully and ended with her missing hours of her life and waking up horrified on a plane home. She inferred that she had been a victim of drugging.
Another girl, only 17 years old, was trapped and violated in a bathroom by three men at Stagecoach Music Festival in California in 2012. At Electric Zoo festival in 2013 on Randall’s Island, a 16 year old woke up under a van with her pants unbuttoned and lacerations covering her legs. We read the harrowing tales of two womxn, who were lured into the homes of rapists after the Made in America Festival in 2013 in Philadelphia. At the conclusion of the same event, a 24-year-old womxn was robbed and sexually violated after entering a car she believed to be a taxi.
A poll taken by The Guardian in 2016 found that 85% of womxn surveyed reported feeling unsafe at music festivals. Teen Vogue interviewed 54 womxn at Coachella in 2018, 100% of them said they had been sexually harassed. The journalist conducting the interviews reported being groped and harassed as well during her time at Coachella.
The plethora of womxn who are violated in events similar to this usually go unreported, or without justice. Statistics by RAINN show that out of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, with only 310 of every 1000 reported to the police. 2 out of 3 assaults go unreported. To change the culture of events like this we must set a precedent of justice.
The current precedent bears a burden, which unfairly lies on the victims instead of the criminals. Simply living life as a womxn is a fight. Music festivals should be a place where those womxn can recharge and simply exist.
We can start by changing the guidelines and policies of festivals to criminalize and punish abusive festival goers. This is following the ranks of Newport Folk Festival who amended their general policy to demand socially acceptable behavior, or the likes of Don Giovanni’s New Alternative Music Festival, who created an explicit manifesto to ban discriminatory behavior for their event.
We can support organizations like the Chicago-based “Our Music, My Body,” - which works tirelessly to abolish rape culture at events - or sign petitions like this one by Care2, calling on Outside Lands Festival and Governors Ball Festival to firmly state that sexual assault will not be tolerated at their events. We can also boycott events that refuse to explicitly condem violent behavior.
Some festivals are late to demand change, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay home. Womxn deserve to feel safe. When live music returns in the future, we must demand change.
If this piece was triggering or disturbing for you, here are some resources you may find helpful.