Words: Dr. Rosemary Lucy Hill, University of Huddersfield.
Recently there has been increasing attention paid to sexual harassment, groping and assault at gigs, with groups like White Ribbon and Safe Gigs for Women running campaigns to highlight the issue. At the Universities of Huddersfield and Leeds we have seen the problem, and what can be done to prevent and respond to it. We have found that sexual harassment, groping and assault is being committed at gigs across a range of music genres, mostly by men. It causes grave harm to victim-survivors, mostly women, and puts them in immediate danger. It results in feelings of shock, fear, humiliation, violation, anger and powerlessness which can last for many years. It significantly reduces pleasure in the music, and can result in a withdrawal from music participation altogether.
Groping, harassment and assault must not be considered hazards of live music participation. Something can be done. It is everyone’s responsibility to take action.
Venues and promoters play a vital role in creating safer, healthier gigs. We recommend five things that venue managers and promoters can do to help prevent sexual harassment, groping and assault, and respond well to incidents when they do occur:
5 things venue managers and promoters can do
Acknowledge there is a problem. Groping, sexual harassment and assault is not often reported, but it is happening at gigs and it needs to be taken seriously. Groping is sexual assault and it is illegal.
Get specialist staff training. Most people are not experts in dealing with sexual violence. Specialist training is available from Good Night Out and this can increase staff awareness of the myths around sexual violence. It can also help to generate women’s trust in venues and promoters.
Devise and implement clear policies. A well-publicised policy devoted to preventing and responding to sexual harassment, groping and assault should state what is expected of everyone coming to the venue and what will happen if they deviate from expectations.
Set up clear procedures. Accessible written procedures for what to do when an incident occurs should be victim-led. Poor responses to sexual violence compound feelings of humiliation and violation. Clear procedures empower staff to know what to do in a crisis and to support victim/survivors well.
Work towards culture change. Avoid working with other organisations that are unwilling to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. Book bands who are known for speaking out against sexual violence, and avoid bands with histories of sexual violence or misogynistic lyrics. Aim for mixed gender bills and actively support of women and LGBTQ musicians.
Support is available to help venues and promoters take positive steps:
White Ribbon UK Safer Music and Venues works with festivals, events and music venues to raise awareness of the need for safeguarding in this sector, and encourages organisations through a comprehensive action plan, to develop policies and practices that prevent violence against women and girls.
Good Night Out is a community interest company that delivers training to licensed premises on how to tackle and prevent harassment of women and LGBTQ+ people on nights out. They work with venues to develop policies and provide accreditation.
5 things music lovers can do
For men in the audience, in bands or working in the music industry, you too have a role to play.
Take the White Ribbon pledge to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.
Talk to your friends and acquaintances about why groping women at gigs is not okay.
If you think a woman is being sexually harassed or assaulted, ask her if she needs help, if it is safe to do so, or tell venue staff. Do not stand idly by.
Ask venues and promoters what their sexual harassment policy is.
Print out and give venue managers and promoters a copy of our booklet Five ways to combat sexual harassment, groping and assault at gigs: A guide for venues and promoters:
If we want a thriving live music scene for all then we all need to take action to make them safer and happier.
You can read more about the research project, including viewing the full guidelines and report, here.
Rosemary Lucy Hill is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies in the School of Music, Humanities and Media at University of Huddersfield. She is the author of Gender, Metal and the Media: Women Fans and the Gendered Experience of Music (Palgrave). She researches gender, popular music and big data, and is currently investigating sexual violence at live music events.