MOSHPIT: Crowds at Falls Festival in Byron Bay 2017.
MOSHPIT: Crowds at Falls Festival in Byron Bay 2017. Marc Stapelberg

Moshpit groping, assaults 'a common experience' at festivals

"A STRONG majority" of people attending music festivals believe physical violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault occur at music festivals, according to the results of a pilot project study released by Falls Festival.

Those interviewed in the study believed groping and other forms of sexual touching in crowded moshpit and performance areas was a common experience, and that bystanders (other patrons) rarely intervened.

The research was conducted in 2017, when Falls Festival was invited by criminology lecturers Dr Bianca Fileborn from The University of Melbourne, Professor Stephen Tomsen from Western Sydney University and Dr Phillip Wadds from UNSW to participate in a pilot research study into sexual assault at music festivals.

This pilot project aimed to establish a research base in this area by investigating patron experiences and perceptions of sexual assault, harassment and safety at music festivals in Australia.

While participants for the survey were recruited from Falls Festival patrons in attendance, the survey asked participants about their perceptions of sexual violence and safety at music festivals in general, so these findings are not specific to the Falls Festival.

The study included observations at the 2017-18 Falls Festival, an online survey conducted with 500 patrons of the 2017-18 Falls Festival, and one-on-one interviews with 16 individuals who had experienced, or had been involved in responding to, sexual violence at music festivals across Australia.

The online survey found the vast majority of participants reported that they either 'usually' (61.5 per cent) or 'always' (29 per cent) feel safe at music festivals, but most participants believed that sexual harassment occurs 'often' (31.2 per cent) or 'very often' (30.2 per cent) at music festivals.

During the interviews, participants reported diverse experiences of sexual violence, ranging from sexual harassment through to actions that may constitute sexual assault.

Groping and other forms of sexual touching in crowded moshpit and performance areas were common experiences.

Perpetrators were overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, men, and bystanders rarely intervened when sexual violence was occurring.

Interviews also indicated that most participants did not report to police, security or festival staff.

Those who did report typically recalled negative responses from authority figures, such as victim-blaming, not taking the report seriously, and/or a failure to take appropriate action.

Zero-tolerance policing of drugs and anti-social behaviour deterred participants from reporting to police.

Key recommendations from the study included the introduction of clear protocols and consistent messaging about sexual violence, including consequences for perpetrators.

The study also recommended increasing the number of female police and security staff working on-site.

The document also suggested security and police to be distributed throughout festival spaces, including camping grounds.

To see the full report and all the recommendations click here.