I was 15 the first time I got groped at a gig. I was watching Oasis at Wembley Stadium when someone grabbed my arse. I confronted the guy behind me. He shrugged. There was no apology. No shame. Just shock that I’d dared to confront him.
That scenario will be eye-rollingly familiar to many gig goers. Over the years, I’ve had my breasts grabbed in the dark, I’ve yanked countless pairs of hands off my waist and once had a man booted out of a venue for forcing my head towards his crotch when I bent down to pick something up.
It’s no safer onstage, which is why more and more artists have been forced to speak out in recent months. Iggy Azalea says she’s stopped crowdsurfing because people kept molesting her. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves says she feels “profoundly fucking unsafe” onstage because a guy tried to grab her. Deap Vally, White Lung, Angel Haze and Haim have all hit out against the barrage of verbal sexual harassment they face while performing. And it’s not just female performers – country singer Tim McGraw slapped a woman in the face when she grabbed his groin during a gig last month.
London’s Good Night Out campaign asks venues to train staff in dealing with sexual harassment and promote their ‘no tolerance’ stance with posters. It’s gained such traction that they’re now looking for funding to take it nationwide, which they hope to achieve via a Kickstarter campaign. Projects like this can only mean progress, but it’s a grim reality that we need to put up signs to remind people to respect one another’s basic right not to be groped and harassed. Crowd camaraderie should never be used as a means of justifying sexual assault.
In the ’90s, Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna launched a ‘girls to the front’ policy to combat what she saw as women staying away from the front of gigs due to fear of harassment. Earlier this year, Staind frontman Aaron Lewis halted a gig to rage at the “molesters” copping a feel of a young girl he could see crowdsurfing. Meanwhile, Meredith Graves stamped on the guy who tried to grab her and called the audience out for not stopping him. Hanna was right: women shouldn’t have to leave a venue or stand coyly at the back. Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable by some Neanderthal prick shouting leery abuse.
Of course, men can be victims and women can be perpetrators, but in a country where police figures show that one in five women are victims of sexual assault or attempted assault, the idea that women’s bodies are open game to be grabbed and mauled is a poison that keeps dripping into venues and festivals.
We all need to fight back against this bullshit. Anonymity is the groper’s currency, so point them out and shout for everyone to hear. Get them kicked out. Call the police if necessary. Music should be the ultimate form of free expression. Gigs should be loose and wild and raucous – but there’s a big difference between a bit of rough and tumble in the service of your favourite band and copping a feel in the dark.
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