What's happening to our festivals? Rape allegations at Latitude, attempted murder and sexual assault at T In The Park, and the season's only just getting started.
Right now festivals are under the media spotlight as never before. The Guardian laments that Latitude may become “somewhere women can't walk on their own at night”, while The Sun refers to the three incidents at T In The Park as an ominous "wave of trouble".
So is 2010 the summer of festival violence? Should organisers be doing more to keep people – and women in particular – safe? Or should we give up on the whole thing and simply watch festivals on telly in a (locked) house with a (not too hot) cuppa?
Let's look at this logically. T In The Park is one of the more 'lively' festival crowds, being near Glasgow, and a big one at 85,000. While it’s on, T is essentially the fifth biggest city in Scotland. Two attempted murders and a sexual assault are not to be made light of – but, statistically, it’s not wildly out of kilter with what you might expect over a weekend in a city centre.
It’s no secret that people behave badly at festivals. It can be intimidating being surrounded by groups of loud, drunk lads, especially when they start screaming and running around half-naked with flaming torches, Lord Of The Flies-style, as I’ve witnessed at Leeds, during the traditional final night hijinx. It’s annoying, but rarely does that exuberance cross the line into violence. Incidents like the ones at T and Latitude are, thankfully, extremely rare.
This is no epidemic of violent crime. Festivals are no more dangerous than they ever were. Crime at Download this year was down 41%. Arrests at Glastonbury were down too. Realistically, it’s difficult to see what more organisers could do to ensure our safety.
Latitude is a predominantly family event, has CCTV around the site, plus helpers and security at every turn. The bleak truth is, if some evil bastard with a ticket sets out to take advantage of a drunk, lone female under cover of darkness, then they’ll find a way. That’s not the nature of festivals, that’s the nature of evil bastards, and they’ve been around since the dawn of time.
Festivals appear to offer a magical escape from real life. But it's an illusion. Bad things can happen, just as they do anywhere. We'd do well to remember that. But let's keep a sense of perspective: festivals are only as dangerous as the wider society around them.