An Australian-first study into perceptions and experiences of sexual violence at Australian music festivals has found that such violence can “profoundly impact women’s ability to fully participate” in music events.
The study, conducted by UNSW’s Dr Bianca Fileborn and Dr Phillip Wadds alongside Western Sydney University’s Professor Stephen Tomsen, involved an online survey of 500 Aussie festival-goers and interviews with 16 people who had either experienced sexual violence or been involved in responding to an incident at a local festival.
The study’s initial finds, published today on The Conversation, state that while 61.5 per cent of participants said they “usually” felt safe at festivals, only 20.4 per cent of women said they “always” felt safe, compared to 47 per cent of men.
The study found that 74.1 per cent of participants believe sexual assault does occur at music festivals, and women were seen as the most likely to experience sexual harassment (86.7 per cent) and sexual assault (86 per cent).
In response, participants were found to often change the way they dress, be hyper-vigilant or inhabit less crowded spaces, such as mosh pits.
“In short, sexual violence reduced the ability of women to enjoy these important social and cultural events, in addition to the well documented impacts of sexual violence,” the study’s authors said.
While being with friends strongly influenced participants’ sense of safety, overcrowding and other people’s drug and alcohol consumption were the factors most commonly associated with feeling “unsafe”.
The study’s authors believe that while their research “provides some important initial insights into the issue of sexual violence at music festivals”, it is important to remember that “sexual violence occurs across many spaces”, and is most likely to occur in private residential areas.
“So, it is vital not to demonise festivals as particularly problematic spaces,” they said.
The authors have also praised the Australian and international festivals which have already implemented policies to deal with problem behaviour, but maintained that “a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is unlikely to be effective” at all music events.
“Our findings also point to the need for responses that are tailored to the unique dynamics of music festivals,” they said.
The study’s initial findings come after hundreds of women signed a #meNOmore open letter speaking out about sexual harassment and assault in the Australian music industry last year.