Artists, fans want festivals to address sexual harassment

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2018 file photo, Lauren Mayberry of the band Chvrches performs at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Fans and artists are asking the live music industry to make cultural changes to address sexual harassment and groping in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Mayberry experienced it as a music writer when she was reviewing a show. (Photo by Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Emma Friedman went to her first rock festival at the age of 17, she was so excited to get to see bands she loved. But as she was leaving, she recalls her mom made a comment like, “Are you sure you want to wear those shorts?”

Friedman didn’t think anything of it until she got groped at the festival.

“They were what I felt confident in and what made me feel comfortable,” said Friedman, who is now 20 and going to school in Asheville, North Carolina. “And then I was crowd surfing and some guy was trying to be inappropriate.”

Friedman said her friend who accompanied her was groped so hard she bled.

Friedman is one of many music fans who have spoken up about sexual harassment and groping at musical festivals recently as the #MeToo movement has emboldened more people to talk about harassment in public spaces. With more attention on the longstanding problem but little statistical data on how often it happens, music fans and even artists are asking the live music industry to make cultural changes.

This year, Friedman went back to the same festival, called Carolina Rebellion, this time armed with a sign that said, “Stop Sexually Assaulting Female Crowd Surfers.” She said the response was overwhelming positive, from both women and men.

Some festivals are responding to complaints by training festival staff and volunteers on how to respond to harassment, adding booths or signs with information on where to report sexual violence, and having clearly posted anti-harassment policies.

Kim Warnick, who runs the campaign Here for the Music for the social activism group called Calling All Crows, worked with Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, to give voluntary training to about 250 members of their staff this year.

Festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits have prominently posted policies on their websites and on festival grounds about harassment and how to report it. Laura Sohn, Bonnaroo’s director of sustainability, said they wanted to be proactive in their response to a growing cultural movement around #MeToo.

But Warnick said for the vast majority of festivals and venues, fans and even artists are left in the dark about their safety when they enter those spaces.

“Very few festivals and venues share these (safety policies) publicly,” Warnick said. “And even when we put it in a contract rider for a band, we’re still getting a lot of ‘We can’t legally share that with you.'”

Local police generally report a litany drug and alcohol arrests after a major festival but when sexual assaults are reported, which is rare, it generally becomes big news and can be damaging to a festival’s reputation.