The Girls Against Sexual Harassment at Gigs

Girls Against is a group of 5 teenagers dedicated to raising awareness of sexual assault and harassment at concerts and gigs. Formed in 2015, the  campaign has gained traction quickly, with over 10,000 followers on their Twitter. The group decided to start the campaign after one of their members, Hannah, experienced sexual harassment at a Peace gig in Glasgow. After tweeting about her experience, her account was shared by members of the band and the general public. Many people identified and sympathised with her experience, sharing the various forms of sexual harassment that they, too, had been through. Girls Against was born out of this, “to give other victims a safe space to speak out and aid their recovery”.

If you’re a woman, you will know that sexual harassment at gigs, concerts, and festivals is nothing new. From the age of 15-18, I went to gigs almost religiously, and it wasn’t surprising to come out at the end with some kind of lurid story about groping or verbal harassment. You’ll also know that it’s fairly common for these claims to be dismissed or underestimated. The members of Girls Against state that it is within their ambitions to host gigs in which they “get security on board to help us stop the attackers from entering the gig in the first place”. But currently, they raise awareness of the subject through their Twitter and blog, and talking to fans in the queues at venues about their experiences and the campaign.

Sexual harassment and assault has been normalised to the point where it is almost an expected phenomenon. The harassment that I experienced as a teenager was always laughed off. At one gig, a friend of mine had to endure the whole thing with the boner of the guy behind her sticking into her back. We laughed about it at the point, but looking back it feels incredibly sordid and disgusting. I grew up with a feminist mother who would have been outraged at the idea of this happening, but for some reason me and my friends never felt it necessary to inform an adult or figure of authority.

When I reached out on my blog and social media for other people’s accounts of sexual harassment at gigs, concerts, and festivals, I received an alarming amount of examples. One that particularly stood out to me was the one that follows, from somebody who wishes to stay anonymous.

I was sexually assaulted at Latitude festival. I’d been drinking and lost all my friends to the crowds after seeing a band, but luckily (or so I thought) I bumped into someone else I knew. We went to see the next performance together. The crowd was very tightly packed into a small tent with him stood behind me. He had his arms around me “so he wouldn’t lose me” but he kept on kissing my neck. I told him to stop it but I don’t know if he ignored me or just didn’t hear.

By the second or third song I could feel him unbuttoning my shorts and sliding his hands into my underwear. I kept telling him to stop and I was trying to pull his hands away but there was no room to move and no room to get away and a guy near us started having a go at me for elbowing him. I was so embarrassed and I couldn’t just say “he’s fingering me and I don’t want him to” so I just cried and let it happen. When the musician finished, I lost him in the crowd as soon as I could and ran back to my tent. He had left a mark on my tent and my friends teased me about it for the rest of the festival.

If that story makes you feel sick then good: that means you’re a decent person. But sexual assault like this isn’t rare at all: in fact, there were three sexual offences reported at Glastonbury in 2015. Three men were arrested for raping a woman at Reading Festival in 2014. At Latitude, the festival in which the anonymous source above was assaulted, had two reported rapes in 2010. Festivals are microcosms of society, and as such will contain just the same amount of abusers as the outside world. And gigs are no different: people don’t just become respectful human beings when they walk into the venue. They remain as dangerous as they were outside.

A 2013 UK study found 85 percent of all serious sexual offences aren’t reported to the police. This is undoubtedly even more so at gigs and concerts when you take into consideration the normalisation of this behaviour. Being “in the pit” is practically an invitation for men to grab at you, under the guise of moshing. One person I spoke to stated: “guys always use the mosh pit as an excuse to “grab” onto you when you’re falling which is fine but then suddenly their hand is up your shirt and it’s clearly not accidental anymore. But when you call it out to other guys they just blow it off and don’t care”.

And that is part of the problem. If the guys don’t care, and the other girls think it’s normal, then how is this problem going to be tackled? The Girls Against team have made an amazing difference in the conversation about sexual harassment at gigs, even getting bands involved in the debate. The band Slaves got involved in November when they received reports of assault and harassment at one of their concerts. They spoke out, with a statement on their Facebook page that read:

And the Girls Against team are hoping that in the near future they will have flyers and information available to hand out to girls in the queues, and posters that can be stuck up in the venues themselves.

Have you ever experienced sexual harassment or assault at a concert, gig, or festival? Share your experiences with the Girls Against team on their twitter, @GirlsAgainst, or send us a message with your account. Let’s get the conversation going, and let it be known that sexual harassment is never OK.

Words by Sophie Elliott
Sources all linked in article.