UK Festivals Agree to 24-Hour 'Blackout' in Fight Against Sexual Violence

Rob Ball/WireImage
Atmosphere on day 3 of Bestival at Robin Hill Country Park on September 12, 2015 in Newport, Isle of Wight.

More than 25 U.K. festivals are to undergo a 24-hour "blackout" of their websites as part of a campaign to raise awareness around the threat of sexual assault at live music events.

Bestival, End of the Road and Parklife are among the events that have signed up to the 'Safer Spaces' initiative, which is being led by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and promotes a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment.

In line with the 24 hour online blackout -- scheduled to take place May 8, when visitors to participating festival websites will be directed towards support networks - more than 60 AIF members have signed up to a best practice charter that ensures specialist help will be on offer to any victims of sexual assault at participating events and that festival staff and volunteers are trained to deal with issues surrounding sexual assault.

"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," says Freddie Fellowes, founder of the Huntingdon-based Secret Garden Party, who has also signed up to the pledge. He said it was "essential that events come together, with the public, to try and eradicate this totally unacceptable behaviour."

"This campaign is building upon the positive measures that are already being taken by our members,” added AIF's Renae Brown in a statement. Working in consultation with a number of charity and welfare organisations, including Rape Crisis England & Wales and Safe Gigs For Women, she said that the initiative was aiming to push “awareness of sexual safety to the fore, while ensuring that all those working onsite are properly trained, and that U.K. festivals continue to provide the safest, secures and most enjoyable environment for customers.”

Although incidents of sexual abuse at music festivals are relatively rare, Rape Crisis England & Wales says that more than half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year and approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped. It's research also indicates that only 15 percent of people who experience sexual violence choose to report it to police. By highlighting the issue, AIF hope that more people will come forward when they witness or experience sexual harassment.

“It's a fact that when you raise awareness and offer support, victims will seek it out,” says Fleur Gardiner, from Isle of Wight council, which has run a "Love Doesn't Hurt" adult safeguarding stall at Bestival for the past four years. It's onsite team also includes domestic abuse experts and sexual health nurses.  “By embracing approaches such as ours,” adds Gardiner, “organizers can actually be making festivals safer spaces.”

"It's really positive to see event organisers commit to training and strategies aimed at preventing sexual assault and rape at festivals, as well as making sure those who do experience these crimes get access to appropriate support," agreed Rebecca Hitchen from Rape Crisis. "Zero tolerance to sexual violence and encouraging festival-goers not to be bystanders when they witness assaults are strong and crucial messages."