Activists Say Sexual Harassment Is Rampant At Music Festivals. What’s Made In America Doing About It?

By Anna Orso
The Philadelphia Inquirer

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Kim Warnick, director of the advocacy organization “Calling All Crows”, says the nonprofit encourages festival directors to see sexual harassment the way they would any other safety issue.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

There’s something about music festivals — the booze-soaked fans, the close quarters, the crowd-surfing, the hot weather — that makes them a breeding ground for sexual harassment.

Which is why women’s rights advocates and sexual violence prevention experts have called on organizers of large-scale events like this weekend’s Made in America festival to develop and publicize sexual harassment policies, train staff members, and partner with organizations that support victims.

As of Tuesday, Made in America didn’t appear to have a sexual harassment policy on its website or app, though there was a short entry related to security.

A representative of Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment company that manages the Made in America festival with promoter Live Nation, said attendees are made aware of the rules in an email before the festival but declined to say whether there were specific procedures for reporting harassment.

“We want fans to have the best possible experience at the Made in America festival, and harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment, is not tolerated,” spokesperson Jana Fleishman said in a statement.

There’s little national research about the prevalence of sexual harassment during live shows, save for a 500-person survey conducted late last year by Our Music, My Body, a Chicago campaign that partners with music venues and festivals to address sexual violence. Nine in 10 women who responded said they’d experienced harassment at a music event, and more than four in 10 said they’d been groped.

Anecdotally, though, it’s happening at alarming rates, said Maggie Arthur, a coordinator of the three-year-old campaign. “Venues and festivals have to start talking about how they’re going to support people.”

This year, a Teen Vogue writer who went to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival reported that she’d spoken to 54 women, all of whom said they’d been sexually harassed at the festival. In the 10 hours she spent there, she said she was also groped — 22 times.

Police in California this year have fielded several reports of sexual misconduct at Coachella. The Bravalla Festival, Sweden’s largest music festival, was canceled after last year’s event yielded two dozen reports of sexual assault. In November, a video emerged showing rapper Drake stopping a show in Australia to call out someone touching women in the audience.

In 2013, Philadelphia police fielded reports from two Made in America attendees who said they were sexually assaulted, and in 2016, a teenager reported to police that a man sexually assaulted her while she was at one of the shows.

Arthur said having a public statement isn’t going to solve harassment or violence problems at festivals, but it gets organizers thinking about how they should respond if an incident is reported, and it’s helpful to cite a policy if a perpetrator is identified and removed.

“Not only does it inform everyone who is attending that this is something you’re paying attention to,” said Arthur, a prevention educator with Resilience, a rape crisis center in Chicago, “but when there is an incident when someone is harassed or sexually assaulted, presumably the staff then knows how to respond and how to support that person.”

Lollapalooza, a music festival held this month in Chicago’s Grant Park, has a page on its website dedicated to safety that prominently features an anti-harassment policy, which was developed last year in conjunction with Our Music, My Body. Similarly, Riot Fest, another Chicago festival, has a harassment policy and a list of dos and don’ts posted online.

Matt Walsh, a prevention education specialist with Between Friends, an agency that works to combat domestic violence, said he and Arthur attended the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., in June at the request of festival organizers. They set up a booth and talked to thousands of concertgoers, distributed literature about consent, and fielded a handful of disclosures about sexual harassment and assault experiences.

“They’re supposed to be places of utopia,” Walsh said of live shows, adding that fans “ought to realize societal expectations don’t disappear when we arrive at a festival.”

Sexual harassment is among a litany of safety issues that music festival organizers face, not the least of which is drug and alcohol abuse.

Made in America, now in its seventh year on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, typically employs private security guards and works closely with the Philadelphia Police Department (which didn’t respond to an interview request).

Kim Warnick, director of the advocacy organization Calling All Crows, said the nonprofit encourages festival directors to see sexual harassment the way they would any other safety issue and to allocate resources to prevent it.

Last year, after the #MeToo movement spread across the nation, the Boston organization launched Here for the Music, a campaign addressing sexual misconduct during music events.

Warnick said the organization has since provided active bystander training to more than 600 people, some of whom were staffers and attendees at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., one of the most popular festivals in the country.

Warnick added that to tamp down harmful behavior at music events, concertgoers have to ditch the perception that being inappropriately touched is just part of the experience — something the campaign name, Here for the Music, addresses.

“The name was a response to people saying ‘Oh, that just happens, what do you expect?’ ” she said. “Like, no, I don’t expect to be groped when I go to a show.”

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