Friday 20 September 2019

'I felt a hand reach between my legs and grope me' - why people are talking about sexual assault at music festivals

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Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

For Dee, volunteering at a popular music festival in Dublin this year was an opportunity for her to give back to the community while soaking up the festival atmosphere. What she didn't expect was to become a victim of sexual assault- and not for the first time either.

"I was standing near the festival entrance and was standing alone but close to the rest of my team, when I felt a hand reach between my legs and grope me there," Dee (36) told Independent.ie.

"I was shocked for a second, then I turned around to see who it was but there was just a big group of men there walking past. I didn’t want to confront them all- I'd done that before and got loads of abuse for it, so I just let it go."

Dee explains that she felt "angry" in the moments after the assault.

"I was extremely p*ssed off to be honest. This particular type of assault has happened to me numerous times throughout my life, and I think the first few times it was more of an upsetting thing. 

"This time, I just felt angry and I wish I’d seen who did it."

One in five festival-goers have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour at festivals in the UK according to new research.

The YouGov study found women under the age of 40 are more likely to experience sexual harassment or assault at UK festivals.

Almost a quarter have been subject to sexualised language or verbal harassment, while 29pc were subject to unwanted forceful dancing. 

Although there are no similar statistics available in Ireland, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) say festival season is something they "pay attention to".

Last year, a former Leinster rugby player was found guilty of sexually assaulting a music performer at Longitude in Marlay Park.

David Poff (21) was fined €200 after he drunkenly groped the woman's buttocks from behind as she walked through a crowd and told her: “Give me your t**s.”

The woman, who was in her 20s at the time of the incident, told a court last year that she felt "violated".

Poff denied responsibility for the assault at the time, but the woman said there was "no doubt in her mind" that it was him who carried out the assault. She is believed to have pulled out of the festival and didn't perform as a result of the assault.

Cliona Saidlear, a spokesperson for RCNI said the organisation is aware of issues at music festivals.

"The context for sexual violence at music festivals falls under socialised alcoholic consumption which is something we're paying attention to at the moment," she said.

"A lot of people treat festivals as a time where they can abandon all rules, where they can have fun and play, but one thing people can't abandon or play with is the rule of consent."

Ms Saidlear believes it is important that festival organisers have "core practices" in place to deal with sexual crimes that may take place.

"It's important that festivals are made a safe place and festival-goers are aware of the standards this festival is setting. Do you feel safe and supported, and have the festival made it clear that this won't be tolerated?"

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) said they often receive calls from women that have experienced assault at festivals, but delays in reporting the incidents are prevalent.

"We do get calls from time to time," CEO of DRCC Noeline Blackwell said.

"The experience of our counsellors is that sometimes people are slow to come forward and so there can be quite a time lag between the event and the disclosure.  Also, friends of victims or their parents will call our number, looking for advice."

This year, the Rape Crisis Centre had a stand Body & Soul festival in Co Westmeath to promote sexual consent, to which Ms Blackwell said the charity had "a great response" to.

"We had the great good fortune this year to be given the donation of a space at Body & Soul by the B&S organisers. Pluto Events company and their sources helped make the space into what we called a ‘Safe Space’ where the Rape Crisis Centres in Dublin, Galway, Sligo, Tipperary and Wexford all came together," she said.

The Rape Crisis Centre 'Safe Space' allowed festival-goers to discuss consent with their volunteers.

"Our volunteers found that people seemed very happy we were there and also very eager to discuss sexual consent and healthy sex and relationship education.

"In particular, we got a great response from young women who seemed to be happy we had such a visible space at this large an event," Ms Blackwell said.

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