Artists, Fans Push Music Festivals to Tackle Sexual Harassment

A festival-goer crowd surfs at the 2015 Knotfest in San Bernardino, Calif.
Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP, File

A festival-goer crowd surfs at the 2015 Knotfest in San Bernardino, Calif. 

Members of Chvrches, Speedy Ortiz speak out about their experiences.

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 in a festival environment. But as she was leaving, she recalls her mom making 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 increased focus 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 overwhelmingly positive with both women and men thanking her for her sign. “I just want there to be a conversation and for people to feel safer and be able to enjoy concerts and festivals without the fear,” Friedman said.

Some festivals are responding to these 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. Some artists have spoken out on stage to try to stop groping that they can see in the crowd, including Drake and Sam Carter from the British band The Architects. Pop singer Madison Beer said during one show, she called out a man who was being aggressive to a woman in the crowd.

“She kept pushing him off, pushing him off, and he wouldn’t stop yelling at her and telling her to shut up and all this stuff,” Beer said. “I stopped the show and I was like, ‘Leave her alone.’ Everyone applauded and was whatever. I don’t even do things like that for a reaction or applause. I genuinely don’t like seeing that. I’ve definitely had my fair share of guys being a little too much with me and they think just because they follow me on Instagram they know me.”