Are UK Music Festivals and Gigs Safe for Women?

A surprising number of women report concerns over safety at UK festivals and many well-known festivals such as Download (previously Monsters of Rock), Leeds, Reading and Glastonbury, have all been plagued by a range of safety concerns for women since large scale music festivals began at the end of the ‘60s.

If we are to believe the UK press. Over 40% of women attending music festivals in the UK have at one time or another had a concern about their safety. Sexual harassment is one of the main concerns.

The #MeToo movement has also had a huge influence on women’s festival safety. First in the US closely followed by the UK. It never used to be something that was spoken enough about before, but women’s safety at UK festivals is now a hot topic.

When you look at the statistics, sexual assaults such as up-skirting (taking photos up a woman’s skirt) and groping, are a common complaint. A staggering number of women, 17% claimed that they had been sexually assaulted while they slept or were unconscious. Out of the 17%, only 1% reported to the police or festival management, that they had been the victims of sexual assault.

Recent improvements

Despite the checkered history of poor behaviour towards women at festivals and gigs, we are currently going through a period of positive change .This reflects the attitudes of 21st Century music fans as compared with old-school ‘rock-n-roll’ attitudes, as well as a wider range of festivals available and the increasing numbers of women of all ages now attending music shows.

A change in attitude has also been helped along by sustained campaigning by many artists and bands, and the efforts of groups such as Safe Gigs for Women https://sgfw.org.uk/. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes have been vocal campaigners for safe crowd surfing for women for several years. Here is Frank talking to Safe Gigs for Women at 2000trees in 2017.

Staying Safe at Gigs and Festivals

What can you do to stay safe if you are going to a music festival? At the end of the day, many safety concerns can be addressed when we use a little bit of common-sense thinking. Yes, it is easy to “take your head out of gear” when enjoying your favorite artists.

Making sure you are aware of what you do and how you behave is just as important as festival security measures. Prevention is always better than cure, but should the worse happen, any crime should always be reported to festival security.

Stay in a Group

When you are out clubbing with your friends, you are more than likely to stick together and stay in a group. That kind of group mentality is important when you go to festivals as well.

The group can help to protect you from both unwanted advances and other problems that may present themselves. Someone is less likely to try to snap an “under the skirt” photo, for example, if you are partying with your friends and part of a group.

Sticking together at all times is a good piece of advice that we should follow while listening to music or just out partying and dancing.

Drinking Too Much

Yes, alcohol is a part of the music festival scene all around the world. Ask yourself how much you ordinarily drink and still manage to think clearly. That gives you some idea of how much alcohol you can handle.

Don’t forget that most festivals take place during the summer. When it is warm, it is much easier to get drunk as you may be slightly dehydrated. It is a good idea to make sure that you drink a mix of beverages. Making alcohol your go-to drink is easy, but you also need to drink water and soft drinks to keep up your overall fluid intake.

What Is in Your Drink?

There is a strong link between sexual assaults, drugs and spiked drinks. To stay safe, it is essential for women to be aware of the symptoms of drugs and how quickly they can lead to loss of consciousness.

It is hard to tell that your drink has been spiked. Buying your drink directly from a vendor, or only accepting drinks from a friend you trust, are always the best ways to stay safe.

Even though alcohol is the most common way to spike a drink, there are other substances that are used and some are life-threatening. They include ketamine, tranquillisers, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL).

What are the side effects? This is what you need to know about the symptoms and side effects of the above substances:

Ketamine

Ketamine is a white powder which is often sold as a street drug. It is a hallucinogen, and although the effects may not last very long, they are often very powerful. Ketamine tastes slightly bitter but it is hard to pick up the taste of ketamine when it is added to drinks.

The side effects of ketamine include feeling you are detached from reality and very relaxed. It will also stop you from feeling pain. The long term effects vary from poor memory recall to depression. Short term, you may experience an urgency to urinate more. Frequent urination is one of the signs your drink may have been spiked with ketamine.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)

This is another drug that is available in powder or tablet format. It is also produced in the form of a liquid and is more or less tasteless. The first symptoms are normally sweating and vomiting. But, this drug can quickly lead to blackouts lasting up to 3 -4 hours. Alarmingly GBH affects your breathing and can lead to respiratory failure.

Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)

The effects of GBL are made worse when mixed with alcohol. You may notice that you will feel nauseous, however, this is a drug that leads to serious side effects very quickly. It is known to cause heart and lung failure quickly and leads to coma.

When you suspect that you have been exposed to any of these drugs, you should seek medical attention immediately. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are easy to buy over the Internet. They typically enter the UK from abroad where they are produced by generic drug companies.

What Should You Wear?

Yes, there are both men and women who attend UK festivals and dress provocatively. We would argue that the way you dress should not have an influence on the way you are treated and that’s what we are all trying to promote.

By all means dress how you want, as long as it’s legal. One caveat, if you are planning on crowd surfing, whether you’re a man or a woman, do yourself a favour and wear jeans or robust shorts. I once crowd surfed in a kilt and it won’t happen again.

When you’re crowd surfing, you actually want people’s hands on you or simple physics dictates you’ll fall to the ground. If you are happy with strangers touching your bare flesh, that’s fine, crack on. If not, then either don’t surf or cover up a bit. It shouldn’t be a problem but sometimes we need to protect ourselves from opportunistic pervs.

Threat of Violence

The threat of violence to women, and anyone for that matter, is relatively low at festivals. This is not to say that you can be complacent amongst a lot of drunk people but there is a much greater chance of experiencing aggression or violence on a Saturday night out on the town.

Festivals work hard to control the risk of aggression and many operate ‘friendly staff’ policies to generate a positive atmosphere as well as promoting good behaviour in online communications.

Some festival organisers have introduced knife and drug amnesties at their festivals. So far, it seems to be a very successful strategy. Police let party-goers hand over knives and drugs before they enter the festival grounds without being charged.

The practice was first introduced in Canada where it soon became popular. Now, it has spread to the UK and has been tried for the last two years. Police provide bins or bags in which drugs and knives are dropped.

If you see someone who is being aggressive, don’t confront them. They are most likely intoxicated and difficult to reason with. Much better to report them to festival security and let the professionals handle it.

What Should You Do if You Get Attacked?

If you are attacked at a festival and not with your friends, make as much noise as you can to both startle the perpetrator and attract attention. Be very clear about the fact that you are not accepting the situation. It will increase the chance of getting help from other people. Shouting ‘NO’ repeatedly should be effective.

Some organisations advocate screaming “fire” at the top of your lungs. It seems weird but the attacker may be a bit surprised enough that you will get a chance to get away. If you are alone and there is nobody close by, it has been show that people are much more likely to come running if you shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘help’. Getting involved in an attack is something that many are reluctant to do, but putting out a fire is a different matter altogether.

If you have been attacked or robbed, get in touch with festival security or the police right away. It will allow them to act faster and increase the chances that the culprit of the crime is caught.

Look after your money and valuables

A lot of money is spent at festivals in the UK during the festival season. Music festival-goers spent more than £1.0 billion last year. The average spend per person per day is around £60 – £80 per day. This money is mainly spent on food and drinks.

Cash is easy to lose, but credit and debit card skimming is not far behind. Robbery of some kind is the most frequent crime reported at festivals. Make sure you keep your cash with you at all times as it seems that women are the most frequent victims of cash robberies.

When it comes to credit and debit card safety, it is a good idea to set up a pre-paid card before you go. Pre-paid cards are a way of making sure that you only have a limited amount available which can be accessed by robbers. They are easy to set up and work the same way as an ordinary debit or credit card. Set yourself a budget and shop around for the right card for you.


Conclusion

It’s fair to say that women are now safer than ever at gigs and festivals but there is still no room for complacency. Attitudes have changed for the better in recent years but where there are large crowds of intoxicated people, there is always a chance of some bad behaviour. If you reduce the risks by staying aware of your surroundings and taking sensible precautions, like staying with your friends, there’s no reason why you should be overly concerned.


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