Festivals: The Darker Side of the Crowd

Chapter W writer Louisa Davies describes her experience at one of London’s biggest music festivals, Lovebox. Warning: May evoke triggers.

I was wearing denim shorts.

But it doesn’t matter in reality. I could have been wearing jeans, boots and a fleece. I could have been wearing nothing at all.

But, to set the scene, I was wearing denim shorts.

I had been at Lovebox Festival in London with my friends, enjoying the music, dancing, and embracing the glitter on my face. The evening sun was high in the sky, and after Jamie XX’s phenomenal set, we lingered in the crowd waiting for Frank Ocean to end an amazing day.

The bustle of the crowd got intense, and admittedly I hadn’t eaten much that day, and after a few G+T’s I was starting to feel faint. I have a tendency to faint (drama queen), and to save total humiliation and to ensure I enjoyed the gig, I ventured to the back of the crowd on my own. I insisted my friends stayed in their fantastic spot next to the stage, after all, it was me who wanted to move. I grabbed a Kopparberg, and waited smiling in the crowd for Frank.

A line of security guards walked towards me in a yellow line, and naturally (as I am a sucker for authority), I moved. One by one, the men walked past me.

And that’s when it happened.

I felt a hand run up my thigh, and it then tuck itself inside my shorts. I froze, pushed the man away from me, and before I had chance to think, he had gone. 

Writing that sentence is difficult, to try and succinctly put into words how it felt to be violated in a crowd by someone trying to catch a cheap thrill. His decision to touch the girl in the crowd would have been fleeting, but for me – it’s all I’ve been able to think about since. 

This is just one story. One tale of sexual harassment at music festivals. Amongst the joy and laughter, there is a darker undercurrent of abuse, rape and harassment occuring at UK music festivals.  Whether it’s the slight tap of a young girl’s bum as you skim through the crowd, a grope of a breast as someone passes you, or attacking a young girl left alone and vulnerable whilst everyone’s backs are turned, it is happening and it needs to be addressed.

Lovebox Festival beamed a huge advert promoting ‘Girls Against‘ inbetween main stage acts, a charity who actively strive to prevent sexual harassment at music festivals. They recently released research that stated 45% of young women asked have been sexually assaulted at a music festival, and a further 37% of young women do not feel safe at gigs. In May, many festivals held a website blackout, with festivals such as Parklife, Secret Garden Party and Parklife using their huge public platforms to show their zero tolerance for abuse during their events. Glastonbury were recently praised for their reaction to a young woman who was abused during the event, offering her a safe strategy to enjoy the remainder of the festival, and actively show punishment to her abusers.

So why, after such heightened publicity over this subject, did this happen?

Security guards at festivals have to deal with fights, customers fainting or being taken ill, crowd management, drug/alcohol illnesses… we need them there, we need to trust them. To acknowledge that they are abusing their position of power to grope young women in crowds is sickening, and it needs to be addressed…but how?

During my weekend at Lovebox, I saw 5 police officers and 5 security guards corner a man in a portaloo for (presumably) drug related offences, however when I reported what happened to me in the crowd, it took 15 minutes for someone to talk to me. A further ten minutes for me to walk to the main exit of the festival, where I was asked to ask for someone in a grey t shirt and tell them what was wrong, and another 15 minutes recounting the incident. If the same urgency and seriousness that was applied to drugs was issued for assaults and derogatory attitudes towards women, perhaps the problem would be less severe.

Given Lovebox’s theme of love and universal acceptance, perhaps a deeper education of the ethos of the festival should be installed in all staff members. Rigorous training in how to deal with any forms of negative behaviour and assault given prior to turning up on the day, with an absolute zero tolerance stance to this. Staff interviews in stages to ensure all security guards have a personal understanding of the values of the festival, rather than employing external companies who don’t connect to all of the festival’s marketing. If you are going to promote a message of equality, trust and love, this should be seeded into all messaging for all staff – not simply used as a clickbait graphic on a main stage. 

Young people flock to festivals in their thousands, wearing clothes to express their personality and their escape from the 9-5. It is an opportunity to submerge yourself in an almost utopian world, full of food, music, friendship, and stalls where you can have glitter thrown at you like a shower.

To feel that you should think twice about your outfit, your demeanour, or the way you live your festival experience in the fear of being cat-called, slut shamed or groped in a crowd should not be accepted.

To question your own movements and wonder why you did what you did that lead up to that moment should not be accepted. 

And for men in positions of power to try and get their kicks by abusing young women in a crowd should definitely not be accepted. 

Thanks to the kindness of my friends who were with me, I reported the scumbag who thought, in the warming evening as a young girl swayed smiling to music she loved, it would be OK to touch me. Fundamentally, I am fine, and will go back to music festivals in the future as nothing can stop this gal from dancing with her friends. But I’m angry, and channelling my anger into something that hopefully makes a change. 

I share my story with you, and hopefully by sharing this with others, we can begin to install a real change in how festivals approach this behaviour.

And I will never stop wearing denim shorts. 

Written by Louisa Davies. 

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1 Comment

  1. Katie
    July 18, 2017 / 4:52 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. The exact same thing happened to me at boardmasters last year (when I was 17), only it wasn’t a security guard, it was a stranger in a crowd, and I, unfortunately, did not have the courage to report it. So much more needs to be done by festivals to prevent this from happening, and take more serious action when it does!

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