Gigs Against – We Have a Problem with Sexual Harassment

“I had lost my older sister and I was alone, when a boy behind me grabbed my boob and did not let go, I turned around and he was smirking.” It’s experiences such as this, being harassed at a music event for the first time at just 14 years of age, that have led to the rise of Girls Against, the “intersectional feminists fighting against sexual assault at gigs”. But as the campaign and awareness of the issue grows, what can be done next to fully bring harassment to a halt?

The natural environment of dark lighting and tight spaces in music venues naturally entwine to make the possibility of groping, and getting away with it, so easy to do, which is why it has become such a prevalent issue – once the lights are dimmed and bodies are moving to the music, unknown hands can wander into areas they shouldn’t, and then disappear in a split second.

This is where Girls Against step in. For an ever-growing campaign, boasting almost 13,000 followers on Twitter and supported by many respected bands such as Peace, Slaves and Wolf Alice, it becomes more and more evident just how crucial they are becoming. Anna, one fifth of the campaign, says it was formed via Twitter after Hannah had a “particularly bad experience” at a Peace gig, and the group of girls, based in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, decided that “enough was enough” and that something had to be done.

It’s a simple enough idea – providing a platform for people to share their experiences and raise awareness of the issue, but it hasn’t been done before in such a successful way. The very existence of Girls Against is, in itself, proof that there isn’t enough attention being given to the issue from within the music industry.

Discussing the success and reason of the campaign, Anna said: “Just discussing the issue is progress as it means it is being acknowledged and isn’t being swept aside.

“So many people have come out with stories and experiences which, before, they would have been too scared to tell.”

Being a victim of sexual harassment can leave a sour taste of confusion and anger in your mouth, especially when you have no idea who the perpetrator is, so it’s good that Girls Against provides a platform for people who have been in similar situations to share anecdotes and seek comfort in sharing. But, to push on from finding comfort to finding a solution requires a lot of help.

A lot of musicians, such as BBC Sound of 2016 nominee Rat Boy, aka Jordan Cardy, have been vocal with their support for Girls Against and have been helping to raise awareness of the issue. Cardy first became aware of the campaign through people tweeting him during their recent tour supporting The 1975, but it’s also something that he has witnessed firsthand:

“I was in Manchester and someone was being really fucking creepy, like squeezing some girl’s leg, and I was like ‘what gives you the right to touch someone?’” Cardy explains. “I could see that he did not think he was doing anything wrong. And he’s probably just like a normal person, it’s fucked that people think it’s alright.

“I didn’t wanna come across as, like, thinking she couldn’t deal with the situation herself, but you’ve got to read every situation,” he adds.

For a band to truly give aid to finding a solution, they need to do more than just raise awareness – they need to “make a big deal about it”, as Cardy says. This means putting their money where their mouth is and putting their popularity at stake; they should introduce lifetime bans for guilty parties and not be afraid to embarrass their fans. It may put some people off attending their shows, but that’s the point – it’s the gropers that won’t attend. Maybe actually educating bands about the issue and giving them advice on how to deal with it would provide them with a head start in the race to beat harassment, instead of waiting for an incident to happen in front of them to trigger their awareness.

The next step, then, is action – making the moves necessary to eradicate this unsettling issue once and for all. Anna talks of “establishing a safety plan for venues and security companies” to confront the issue. But it’ll take more than that – there needs to be a complete reshuffle of nightlife security and their attitudes. Venue staff are the people being paid to ensure nights run smoothly, so its up to them, not the victims, like Girls Against, to deal with the problem.

Beth* is a teenage girl recalling her experience of being harassed at a gig: “This guy grabbed my hips from behind and pulled me closer to him multiple times – each time I moved further away from him. The final time, he pulled me into him and grabbed my gooch.

“The only thing security cared about was getting rid of us because we complained about it. I realise that it’s difficult for them to do anything as it was my word against his, but they should’ve done more than joke about it in front of me.”

Generally speaking, security just doesn’t care – Beth describes their response to her situation as “absolutely ridiculous”. They’re seemingly only paid to stand still and look tough, anything else is someone else’s (your) problem. As it’s security’s job to look and act threatening and little else, they don’t come across as the approachable type to anyone – especially a vulnerable victim. There needs to be someone else of authority present during gigs – and nightlife in general – who is more sympathetic. Preferably someone who hadn’t five minutes earlier denied your request for water from their side of the stage barrier, like a zookeeper refusing to give food to their hungry animals, or threaten to eject you from the venue for being drunk.

Obviously alcohol needs to be talked about. In a recent interview with Girls Against, Slaves vocalist Isaac Holman advised fans not to get drunk because it’s putting yourself in a “vulnerable position”. This is a flawed proposition, for being sober won’t stop someone else, who’s drunk, from groping you, but it will, however, make you more aware of your situation and awareness is crucial in preventing yourself, and anyone else, from being groped. Cardy, however, hits the nail square on the head: “Even if someone’s pissed, that gives you no right – everyone should respect each other”.

Excessive consumption of alcohol at a gig not only makes the vulnerable more so but equally fuels encouragement for the perpetrators. Victim blaming is cruel and unjustified, but if you’ve got your wits about you then you are naturally less vulnerable. I’m not saying everyone needs to start writing giant ‘X’s on their hands with permanent markers, but should you sacrifice your right to party for your right to be safe?

Venue surveillance of crowds, and mosh pits in particular, is worryingly minimal due to natural difficulty in identifying the culprit – in the darkness all faces become faceless, thus reducing repeated offences becomes, basically, impossible. But in terms of keeping a watchful eye, how far is too far? Camera surveillance, for example, would be unsettling introduced to a gig situation, while also being a clear breach of freedom. Maybe the co-operation of fellow gig-goers is the key to identifying culprits, but there’s still the issue of proving what’s happened – those who make up stories to specifically get people they don’t like kicked out aren’t much better than those offending in the first place.

It’s clear that this issue is one that’s starting to be taken seriously, mainly in debt to the success of Girls Against. The work that Girl Against have done in order to provide a platform that victims can confide in is heartwarming, and maybe the foundations they have laid can be built on to truly challenge sexual harassment and bring it to an end. The biggest issue remains finding a way to do so, though. Maybe it’s one of those things where an end-all idea to the problem will just spontaneously come and grab you out of nowhere, like a hand in the dark.