Festival websites go dark to highlight sexual assault

The 'Safer Spaces' campaign is encouraging festival-goers to take on an active role to combat sexual harrassment

More than 25 of the UKs most popular music festivals will be “blacking out” their websites next week as part of a campaign targeting sexual assault.

The zero-tolerance 'Safer Spaces' campaign is encouraging festival-goers to take on an active role in promoting safety during the summer festival season.

The initiative will also run on social media with the hashtag #saferspacesatfestivals and more than 60 members of the UKs Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) have signed up to a Charter of Best Practice committing to:

  • A zero tolerance policy towards any form of sexual harassment at their events
  • Provision of confidential welfare services to any victim of sexual assault
  • Ensuring staff and volunteers are trained to deal with issues relating to sexual violence
  • Taking a victim-led approach to sexual assault incidents

The organisation said that while there is no evidence of any widespread problem regarding sexual assault at festivals – the campaign can help raise awareness of the supports that are available.

AIF Campaign Manager, Renae Brown said any form of sexual harassment is unacceptable at music festivals.

“We are aiming to tackle these issues in both a sensitive and impactful way – pushing awareness of sexual safety to the fore, while ensuring all those working onsite are properly trained, and that UK festivals continue to provide the safest, securest and most enjoyable environment for their customers,” she said.

The campaign has three key messages for festival goers:

  • Zero Tolerance to Sexual Assault
  • Hands Off Unless Consent
  • Don’t Be a Bystander

Bestival, Parklife and Secret Garden Party are among the festivals signed up and the campaign is supported by guidance from experts at Rape Crisis England & Wales, Girls Against, Safe Gigs for Women and the White Ribbon Campaign.

The festival websites will be blacked out for 24 hours from 9am on Monday.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Clíona Saidléar, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said she fully supports the idea.

“This looks like a really good model from our sister organisations in the UK and it is great to see that the festivals have come together to build a credible structure around training, safety and awareness,” she said.

She said sexual assaults at Irish festivals have been widely reported in the news.

“It comes up all the time and Irish festivals have been looking for ways to improve their policies towards sexual harassment and safety,” she said.

“At the end of the day, everyone goes to festivals to enjoy themselves, to have good time and to let their hair down.  

“It is so important to remember that just because you are at a festival, the standards don’t drop; you still need full consent for any kind of sexual contact.

“Nothing has changed when you step into that field and any form of unwanted harassment is unacceptable.”

Formal policy

Secret Garden Party Founder Freddie Fellowes said: “It is gratifying to know that a formal policy is being put in place across so many festivals highlighting the availability of support to both the victims and witnesses.”

“It is essential that events come together, with the public, to try and eradicate this totally unacceptable behaviour,” he said.

The RCNI answered over 13,000 calls last year from people affected by sexual violence in Ireland.

Almost 65% of the survivors who contacted the network's support services had not previously reported to any formal authority.