A new research project run by the University of NSW hopes to shed a brighter light on the realities of sexual assault at Australian music festivals and gigs.
The project’s inception arose following a number of high-profile sexual assault incidents that occurred at Australian music festivals over the past couple of years and the disturbing lack of research into the issue.
UNSW Criminology lecturer Dr Bianca Fileborn is co-directing the study which focuses on improving our understanding of sexual harassment and assault that occur at festivals, why these incidents occur and how to appropriately respond.
“We’ll be making recommendations about how festivals can improve with how they respond to sexual harassment and assault, and on things they can do to help prevent it from occurring, so what you have to say can help make a difference,” Dr Fileborn said.
All participants must be over 18 and will be interviewed about their experiences of sexual harassment or assault at music festivals, including anyone who has witnessed or assisted in responding to sexual assault and harassment at festivals.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian women aged 18-34 are the most likely to experience sexual violence at music festivals across Australia.
Sexual harassment and assault includes but is not limited to any unwanted or unconsented behaviours like; verbal comments, persistent and unwanted sexual advances, staring and touching.
There is already a concerning lack of research making it difficult to determine the true prevalence of sexual violence at music festivals across Australia.
Dr Fileborn says that part of the reason behind the minimal research is due to the strong focus of research into intimate partner violence and sexual violence taking place within this context.
For example, large settings like music festivals can often facilitate sexual harassment due to the anonymity these vast venues provide, enabling perpetrators to harm unknowingly.
“Obviously, this research is important, but it doesn’t capture the full range of (particularly) young people’s experiences of violence very well,” she said.
For many young women, unwanted sexual attention in licensed and live music venues, like ‘accidentally’ touching someone in a crowded area or in a rough mosh pit, has become an inevitable part of a night out.
“We’ve already seen comments from survey participants explaining things like being groped or touched inappropriately in the mosh are just expected at a gig.
“Sexual harassment and assault are normalised and excused in so many ways across our society, so what we see in the music scene is really just an extension of that,” Dr Fileborn said.
Dr Fileborn says she eventually hopes to see festivals and venues enforce clearer zero-tolerance policies with severe consequences.
“This also needs to be communicated to patrons, so they’re aware of the consequences if they engage in this behaviour.
“It’s also important for patrons to know that they can report anything that happens to staff and they’ll be believed, supported and taken seriously,” she said.