We’re Not Gonna Take It: Ending Sexual Harassment at Gigs and in Nightlife

trigger warning: mentions of rape and sexual assault

There are no cultures in which music is not an integrated part of life in some way. Live shows in Western culture are an immensely important outlet for passionate music fans of all identities and ages. Gigs are spaces where people can dissolve the stresses of every-day life and get involved in a collective emotional experience, building a sense of community. While being involved in something larger than the individual self, participants are also fulfilling themselves personally; they are feeding the fire of devotion and adoration they have towards a specific artist or group. Dishearteningly, within live music settings, sexual harassment and assault against marginalized people, particularly women and intersectionalities within that identity, is not uncommon. These events should be safe spaces that everyone can feel comfortable, without worry of being violated. Slowly but surely, more collectives working towards bringing visibility to these inappropriate acts are being created, and musicians themselves are crafting tools for victims and bystanders to utilize to halt sexual harassment. People attend concerts and nightlife to experience live music, which should absolutely never allow for the physical, psychological, and emotional toll of being sexually violated.

We live in a culture that consistently victim blames, especially when a person is of a marginalized group. This is called rape culture, which “condones physical and emotional terrorism against [women] as the norm,” and can include “jokes, TV, music, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery.” Only thirty-two out of one hundred rapes are even reported to the police. One of many reasons that there are so few police reports of rape filed is because, unfortunately, within patriarchal societies, “it’s not unusual for women to condone” violence against themselves, and they are “more likely than men to believe that it’s acceptable” (Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life 220). Of those thirty-two reports, seven lead to arrest, and three of those seven are prosecuted. Only two of those are convicted as felons and will spend only a single day in prison, resulting in 98% of sexual offenders walking free. A study conducted in 2005 shows that 82.5% of all sexual harassment is committed towards women, and according to UN Women, “certain characteristics […] such as sexual orientation, disability status or ethnicity” may increase a woman’s vulnerability to sexual abuse, harassment and assault. In 2014, 5% of heterosexual women experienced sexual violence from people who they were not romantically or sexually involved with, whereas 23% of non-heterosexual women experienced violence from the same demographic. These absolutely horrifying statistics lead to massive consequences. Sexual assault victims are:

three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide (RAINN).

The sickening existence of rape culture is vividly present and should not be overlooked; it persists and permeates into every portion of our lives.

Sexual assault, harassment and abuse have lifelong effects on the victim, and it is not something to make light of. The slogan “Eat, Sleep, Rape, Repeat” was written on a t-shirt adorned by a California festivalgoer in 2015. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been a haven for music lovers since 1999. The festival hosts a plethora of acts on many different stages from about noon until around midnight for three days straight in the Indio, California desert. Caitlin Roper, member of the women’s rights group, Collective Shout, addressed the implications behind such a garment:

I’m sure there are people who will argue it’s ‘just a joke’ or ironic, but why are we supposed to accept ingrained misogyny as just a bit of fun? This is not merely an issue of ‘offence’, it’s not about whether individuals are offended or not. The issue is that this is a statement that is openly threatening and hostile to women, in a culture where up to a third of women experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of men (Huffington Post UK).
courtesy of Huffington Post UK / Twitter

Roper is completely truthful in her statement, we live in a culture that normalizes violence and harassment against women; using violence against women as a simple punch line to a joke is insensitive, irresponsible and perpetuates rape culture. Bringing attention to the issues with sexual harassment and rape culture will only help create more conversation.

Groups like UK based intersectional feminists, Girls Against, are combatting the existence of rape culture within live music, pushing people to become more outspoken and intolerant of sexual harassment at shows. There is desperate need to “open up a discussion between fans and their favourite bands” in order to cease assault at gigs, which Girls Against certainly have started to begin. Artists such as Kate Nash are supremely supportive of the girls bringing light to the awful and inappropriate behavior that can transpire at gigs. Nash took to Twitter, excitedly stating she feels what Girls Against are doing is “awesome and super important”:

Spector’s Fred Macpherson joined the conversation, solemnly stating how upset he is about girls having to face harassment at gigs:

While Austin Williams of Swim Deep encourages the ladies:

The praise that these figures within the music community are giving this group is of the utmost importance. Combined, the total of followers these artists have is just shy of 200,000, so the word is receiving relatively wide reception. Girls Against’s own twitter is nearing 7,000 followers, just a month after starting the campaign. The harms of sexual harassment is gaining rapid attention, with renowned youth culture magazines like Dazed and Confused and The Fader covering the topic, but musicians are taking matters into their own hands as well.

Artists are not only spreading the existing message that it is important to stop sexual harassment at gigs, but they are also creating platforms that will make a difference. Boston-based band Speedy Ortiz have implemented a text message hotline that will help victims of sexual harassment at their live music shows be heard. A flyer the band posted on their Facebook page tells fans that they “have a right to an inclusive, welcoming performance space” and that “music should be free of discrimination”, encouraging that music venues should “strive to keep concertgoers of all kinds safe”. The notice continues, “prejudicial, oppressive language and aggressive behaviors of any kind are unacceptable to us” which includes “racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, & all other oppressive and marginalizing actions and microaggressions”.

The flyer Speedy Ortiz posted on their Facebook page

Following their full statement, there is a hotline number and email, which when reached out to, should include the concertgoers name, where one is located within the venue, and any other information the attendee feels important. Utilization of this tool will help keep individuals safe and will aid in keeping the conversation of sexual harassment going. Intolerance of harassment during gigs continues to grow as Speedy Ortiz keeps pushing the agenda. Following their show in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the staff of the venue planned a meeting in order to help implement a similar tool for future gigs, and other bands playing the venue continued to announce the number throughout the night. Some are worried about hotlines being implemented, with the thought of possibly getting “kicked out of the show” for “inadvertently [offending] someone,” but Sadie Dupuis, lead singer of Speedy, rapidly replies they’re “just trying to encourage people to be a bit more thoughtful about who’s surrounding them at a show” and teach people “how to be kind” which “is not intuitive for many”. Although rape culture persists, bands like Speedy Ortiz are consistently trying to push the envelope and help educate and make others aware of their actions and how they could potentially be harmful.

Implementing tools and spreading awareness about sexual harassment, not only in live music but also in everyday life, is essential. No one should have to face the trauma of such violations, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality or any other identifier. DJ and journalist, Zezi Ifore, chatted with writer Kareem Reid for The Fader about safe spaces, particularly for people of color within the LGBTQA community. On the creation of a club night named Body Party, “a safe space for queer, black, and brown bodies” in the UK and US, Reid states: “our lives, including our racial and cultural backgrounds matter — all the time. Running a ‘safe space’ is about sharing and creating, trying to build something better. It’s not just a club night”. Reid acknowledges the importance of a specific club night for LGBTQA people of color, but highlights that it is not just about the nightlife; there is hope that this event can spread awareness in itself, and perpetuate the idea that different people have different needs in order to feel welcome and comfortable. Ifore voiced the importance of creating these spaces for marginalized people so that they can feel unthreatened in nightlife: “So many places are white safe spaces by default”, she says about most of the parties she has hosted in the UK, so access to comfortable and safe nightlife spots for people of color and LGBTQA communities are essential. Creating nightlife where there is no “patriarchal flexing” and homophobia is absolutely needed for folks who are threatened by this type of behavior.

Everywhere around the world there are battles that women, people of color, and other marginalized groups face constantly. Creation of collectives like Girls Against, bands speaking out and implementing tools like Speedy Ortiz and their hotline, and designated nightlife like Body Party are all pushing toward the goal of safety for anyone in attendance of events. The goal of concerts is to allow people to relish in the performance before them. More often than not, that is absolutely impossible because the risk of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse being ever-present for marginalized groups of people within patriarchal and white-obsessed cultures. It is incredibly significant to create spaces for these people to feel at ease, and to enforce their safety within already existing spaces.

contact Cecilia Majzoub:
ceciliamajzoub.com // on Twitter // on Instagram

Speedy Ortiz on Facebook // Girls Against on Twitter and Tumblr // Zezi Ifore on Twitter