Music festivals are growing in popularity year by year, with hundreds of thousands of people attending to see performances by their favourite artists over a number of days.
Whilst generally a positive experience, with like minded individuals gathering in one place to share their passion for music, these festivals also create the opportunity for vulnerable individuals to be targeted for sexual assaults by those who take advantage of the care-free atmosphere.
Scale of the problem
Sweden came under the spotlight recently when over 50 cases of sexual assaults were reported over one weekend at two of Sweden's biggest musical festivals; Bravalla and Putte I Parken. The offences, committed against women mostly under 18 with the youngest victim a child aged 12, included forcefully grinding against the women from behind, groping over and under clothing and rape.
In the course of this investigation, it was revealed that similar complaints were filed in 2014 and 2015, which the Swedish police failed to investigate.
Looking beyond Sweden, it is clear that this is a concern at music festivals around the world:-
In July 2016, 5 cases of sexual assault or rape were reported at the Roskilde rock festival in Denmark, which was attended by more than 100,000 people.
More than a hundred complaints of sexual assaults were filed on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany.
In America, rapes were reported at Electric Zoo, an electronic music festival held in New York, in 2014 and Made in America in 2013.
Taking a look closer to home:
•in 2016, an 18 year old girl was raped at the Scottish music festival T in the Park;
•in 2015, three cases of sexual assaults were reported at Glastonbury;
•in 2014, one woman was raped at V festival in Essex;
•in 2013, two women were assaulted at Wilderness music festival in Oxfordshire;
•in 2010, a 12-year-old girl was attacked at the Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire by a 16 year old boy;
•in 2010, two women were raped at Latitude festival in Suffolk - one aged 17 was assaulted in a tent, whilst a 19 year old was raped by three men;
•in 2009, one woman was raped at the Reading festival.
When one considers the fact that a high number of sexual assaults are not reported to the police - especially in these situations where as a result of alcohol and drug use the victims worry that they will not be believed - it becomes clear that the true scale of these assaults is likely to be much greater.
The need for action
Notwithstanding the widespread and increasing number of cases coming to light, there seems to be very little action being taken to keep women safe at these festivals.
Whilst most festivals have sections on their websites setting out general safety tips, there is little information and guidance about the very real risk of sexual assaults. Furthermore, whilst most festivals have security teams patrolling the area, there appears to be reluctance on the part of the organisers to speak up about these issues out of fear that their festival will be marred. As a result, outside organisations and campaign groups have been trying to draw attention to this.
As a first step, therefore, it is essential that the organisers of these festivals invest in awareness-raising programs and put in place a structured framework to prevent sexual attacks on their sites. There is clearly a need for proper training of staff and availability of support services to address this growing problem.
As a solicitor who represents victims of sexual and physical assaults, I know how devastating the impact can be. I therefore urge festival planners to look beyond profitability and realise their social and moral duty to tackle these issues head on.