One in five British festival-goers have experienced sexual assault or harassment at an event, according to new research.
The figures rise to 43% for women under 40 and campaigners said the findings - believed to be the first of their kind - should be a wake-up call for the industry to start treating sexual violence as seriously as other crimes.
The poll showed 22% of all Britons who have been to a festival faced some kind of unwanted sexual behaviour, rising to almost one in three of women of all ages (30%).
Only 2% of festival goers who were assaulted or harassed reported the incident to police, according to the figures, suggesting the issue is significantly under-reported.
Separate data released in the Crime Survey for England and Wales in February showed more than 80% of victims of sexual assault did not approach the authorities for help.
The poll, in which YouGov surveyed 1,188 festival goers for the Press Association, also revealed:
– 70% of those who experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival said the perpetrator was a stranger.
– Just 1% of women reported sexual assault or harassment to a member of festival staff, either before or after the event, although 19% of men reported their experience to staff.
– When people were asked how satisfied they were with how festivals they attended handled the issue, 45% said they did not know and 24% said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, suggesting a lack of awareness around festival policies and safeguards. A total of 22% said they were satisfied and 8% said they were dissatisfied.
Tracey Wise, founder of campaign group Safe Gigs For Women, said: “We have struggled to find anyone with any definite statistics on this before now.
“It gives us something to show to festival organisers so we can say ‘you need to take this on board’.”
Jen Calleja, a co-director of the Good Night Out Campaign, called the research “shocking but not surprising”, saying it “helps prove what we already know through anecdotal evidence”.
“We know that the vast amount of harassment and sexual assault is not reported and we know this comes down to stigma, fear of not being believed and a minimisation of what harassment is,” she added.
Beth Granter, a 35-year-old campaign manager with social network Care2, said she was flashed by a man at Reading Festival when she was 17.
“He said something like ‘give us a shag’,” so she told him to go away and tried to laugh it off, she said.
“Laughing was a defensive strategy to de-escalate the situation.”
Granter said she did not report what happened but felt vulnerable for the rest of the festival.
“I think this kind of thing happens more at festivals than in the street during the day, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it happens more at festivals than in nightclubs. I have lost count of the times I’ve been sexually assaulted in a nightclub,” she added.
February’s Crime Survey statistics found one in five women had experienced some form of sexual assault since they turned 16.
Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said festivals “have a duty to make their events as safe and secure and enjoyable” as possible, but that some responsibility also lies with festival-goers to report problems.
“People shouldn’t feel that they need to tolerate the type of behaviour [at festivals] that they wouldn’t tolerate in the street,” he said, adding that raising awareness around the importance of consent and bystander intervention was paramount.
“If people don’t intervene, then this behaviour becomes normalised,” he said.
“The idea we want to put forward is that harassment is everybody’s problem, it’s not just the person who is being assaulted,” added Calleja.
Hundreds of thousands of people flock to UK festivals every year but organisers of some of the UK’s biggest festivals – including Glastonbury, Creamfields and the Reading and Leeds festivals – declined to comment on the new figures.
Somerset Police recorded two incidents of sexual assault, two incidents of rape and one incident of indecent exposure at last year’s Glastonbury Festival and some social media users reported instances of sexual assault at Manchester’s Parklife festival this year, on June 9 and 10.
Parklife also declined to comment.
Wise said: “[The figures] will be massively helpful, because at the moment I don’t think festival organisers do enough.
“It would be good to get to the end of festival season and see festivals have taken this on.”