Chelsea was 19 years of age when she should have been enjoying her first ever music festival. Instead, she was left feeling out of place and uncomfortable as a male aged significantly older than her both physically and verbally assaulted her.
Chelsea King, now aged 20, is a live music photographer. This role often places her in a position where she is able to act as a witness to much of the dangerous behaviour which plays out at live music events, until of course, she was no longer the witness, but became the victim of said behaviour herself.
“He sprayed my white dress with a water gun, making it go see-through,” explains Chelsea of the ordeal. “And then [he] proceeded to pull the material from my chest, looking down to take a peek at my breasts. He even started to lift up my skirt too, before I was able to stop him.
“He said he was only joking, but then followed this statement with comments about my body,” she continues, “I didn’t know how to react and I felt so uncomfortable, but I just laughed it off as playful banter… I know now that this behaviour is completely intolerable and I should have told him off, although it’s easy to say these things in retrospect.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of 2016 there was a 3.3% increase in the number of sexual assault victims in Australia. This brings the sexual victimisation rate to a five year high of 88 victims per 100,000 persons, with the majority of sexual assault victims being female.
While these findings are not isolated to live music events, the growth in reported sexual assaults at mass gatherings would suggest a strong correlation between the two. This was particularly evident at the Tasmanian leg of last year’s Falls Festival, which saw five reported sexual assaults on women, including one rape.
“In a place where I should have felt carefree and comfortable to just listen to music and have a good time, I felt out of place,” says Chelsea, “Suddenly my body was a playground for other boys… I was constantly on alert looking out for my assaulter and I couldn’t enjoy the event properly.
“Now I never feel quite comfortable at a festival. I constantly feel like I’m being observed and that I just don’t quite belong being a female… There was such a massive swarm of people and yet I felt completely lost and unable to turn to anyone for guidance.”
Alongside growing reports of sexual assault at live music events, there have been reports of serious injury as a direct result of dangerous behaviour, which could also be seen at the Lorne leg of last year’s Falls Festival, where 19 people were reported to be hospitalised with serious injuries following what could only be explained as a stampede or crowd crush.
Gig and festival frequenter, Charles Thompson, goes on to explain an experience of similar nature in which he found himself stuck in at the 2013 Big Day Out festival.
“I was probably two meters back from the barrier for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ headline performance,” he begins, “Understandably, everyone at Flemington Racecourse was out to see them… As soon as they came out on stage the crowd started pressing in, as expected, but for those up front, all that sweat and hot air became difficult to deal with.
“We were being pushed in so tight that people were voluntarily jumping the barrier just to get out. And a shorter girl who was next to me passed out, either from the crowd or that she couldn’t get high enough to get some fresh air. Another guy next to me and myself were the only ones switched on enough to grab her and pull her up to get her to the front.”
A recent campaign has been launched which acknowledges the presence of these dangerous behaviours at live music events and mass gatherings, and ultimately looks to stamp them out. Adopting the title of Your Choice, the initiative is an industry supported campaign which places a strong focus on looking to reduce incidents of discrimination, violence, injury and sexual assault at Australia’s venues and event spaces.
Alycia Emmerson, National Marketing Manager at Secret Sounds and Your Choice co-founder, says “There are a lot of separate conversations happening between events, venues, organisers and patrons about safety, best practice and behaviour at live gatherings; and Your Choice is bringing them all together into one place.
“As well as speaking to industry and artists, Your Choice is also calling on the audience to play their part in shaping the experience of all attending. We’re asking people to think about their behaviour and take accountability for their choices.”
Your Choice was brought to life by a team of passionate individuals who have collectively experienced some serious issues at events, where the actions of a minority have led to serious consequences and negatively impacted the majority.
“Between the team at Secret Sounds and Unified, we started by chatting about the issues we recently faced at our events and the impact they had on teams working and our patrons,” says Alycia, “We talked about what we could achieve together as an industry if we created a campaign that brings people and ideas together.
“Also about our share of voice and how powerful that could be across all of our resources… Between our organisations and with our artists we really have a huge voice which speaks to people of all ages.”
The response to the campaign has been noticeably large, with an extensive list of artists, industry groups and professionals, as well as venues and festivals, signing on as supporters.
“As soon as we started reaching out, the response was huge,” explains Alycia, “From big to small operators we have all faced the same issues and are all looking for ways to improve; by sharing resources around safety we can only strengthen the industry.”
As a part of the campaign, Your Choice has released a set of ‘House Rules’ to be implemented by venues, events and patrons. Of the many to jump on board was highly-esteemed Ballarat venue, Karova Lounge.
Karova Lounge venue booker, Shaun Adams, explains some of the ways they work to ensure these ‘House Rules’ are implemented within the venue.
“It’s not by luck we are one of the safest venues in our town,” he says, “We have some of the best security, staff and of course, punters. We can’t be everywhere and have eyes on everything, but we have people that really care about the venue and the safety of everyone.
“We have made signs to report inappropriate behaviour and made staff as approachable as possible. Making sure people reporting incidents feel safe [and able] is just as important.”
With the summer festival season now upon us, Your Choice have been working heavily on how to rollout the campaigns before and during shows, to make the messages clear.
“Everybody has the right to feel safe when they go out,” says Your Choice co-founder Alycia. “As organisers we have a responsibility to provide a safe environment but we can only do so much; we also require our patrons to take responsibility and become a part of this conversation.”
Many bands have also been doing their bit and using their voice, calling out dangerous behaviour at live music events. Bands such as Camp Cope have been a leading example of this.
“The following year I returned to that same festival I was assaulted at the year earlier,” explains live music photographer Chelsea. “And I found myself alone in the mosh for Camp Cope. Lead singer Georgia Maq was quite vocal about assault at festivals… She mentioned how assaults happen all the time at mass gatherings and we shouldn’t ignore it and things need to change.
“She also said if you see your mate being a dickhead, do something about it. I instantly felt safe in a crowd for the first time in a while.”
Visit https://your-choice.net.au/ for more info.
Written by Helena Metzke