Earlier this year, Drenge posted an account from someone in the crowd at one of their gigs calling out “vile creepy boys who felt it was within their right to grab and grope the girls around them just because it was crowded.”
“Hey douchebags. This makes me want to stop playing gigs,” the band commented.
Reports of groping at gigs should be isolated events that don’t occur very often, if at all. Yet the Derbyshire band aren’t the only ones who’ve had to speak out about how their fans are treating each other at shows this year. Slaves and Foals, amongst others, have both put messages on social media discouraging this behaviour and those who do it from attending their gigs. In October, Peace frontman Harry Koisser also tweeted a fan’s experiences of being groped at one of the band’s shows. “If this happens at a Peace show tell me or security asap. If you think this is OK then, please, I beg you do not come,” he wrote in response.
The fan whose experiences he reposted was Hannah Camilleri, part of Girls Against – five teenagers aged 15 to 17, completed by Ava, Anna, Anni and Bea, who are trying to raise awareness of and put an end to groping at gigs. Hannah and her friends’ experiences (having boys try to put their hands down their tights or grabbing their waists) inspired them to start the campaign. “We are aware that this is an issue that affects many gig-goers – girls in particular – and so we decided to take matter into our own hands,” says Ava. “There aren’t many campaigns about this topic so we felt like one was needed.”
Since starting Girls Against just under two months ago, the group have gained the support of a number of bands and as well as nearly 5,000 Twitter followers – significant considering they say the reason they started the account was so “people would have a place to talk comfortably about their experiences.” Of the messages they’ve received so far, Ava says they’ve “received countless horror stories from people sharing stories of gig groping, and also lots of messages from people wanting to get involved with our campaign in any way they can.”
Groping at gigs is more commonplace than most people assume
The speed with which Girls Against’s campaign is growing traction proves just how rife groping is at our gigs, although as Anna explains it’s “often underestimated and dismissed” – one of the key reasons why raising awareness is so central to the group’s objectives. They’re doing this by selling Girls Against badges at gigs in Scotland and London (where the girls are based) and talking to fans queuing to get into venues about the campaign and their experiences.
In the future, they’re hoping to have “flyers and general information cards” to give out as well, as well as t-shirts further down the line. “Another possibility is a gig put on with all the bands who support us involved,” says Bea, who explains that their ultimate aim is to elimate groping and sexual harassment at gigs “for good”. “We want to be able to get security on board to help us stop the attackers from entering the gig in the first place,” she says. “Hopefully support from bands will inform these people that something is being done and that they will not get away with it easily anymore.”
We need to start taking groping at gigs seriously
“Many [people] who didn’t [take the issue of groping at gigs seriously] before are starting to,” says Anna. “However, the odd person does say that when you go to a gig, that’s what you expect and that you should ‘stay out of the pit’, which is absolutely the wrong approach.”
It’s this attitude that can make women of all ages wary of getting too deep into a crowd, stopping them from enjoying gigs to their full extent. As Anna says “when you go out onto a busy and crowded street, you don’t expect to be sexually assaulted, so why expect it when you’re at a gig? Sexual assault is illegal and should be treated as such. This stigma is something that is a priority for us to abolish.”
Talking about groping and sexual harassment is key to changing attitudes
Hannah says she found it easier to confide in a stranger about her experiences at Peace’s gig, which is one of the motives behind the group’s Tumblr and Twitter accounts. “There’s no fear of being judged,” she says. “Because we’re all teenagers we understand and fear the same things [the people messaging us] do. There’s also the way society has developed a rape culture, which means people that come to us are scared of making their story public and then being shamed for it. Victim blaming has become so common that people don’t want to report when they’ve been sexually harassed, which isn’t OK.”
Anni recently interviewed Spector’s Fred Macpherson for Girls Against’s blog, who said he’d noticed more confidence in calling people out for groping. However, she acknowledges that while some people might feel that way, the trauma of being groped is “so personal to those who’ve experienced it” that many people may not have that same confidence. “If you’ve been conditioned by rape culture, you’re more likely to blame yourself for your experience, therefore less likely to speak out for numerous reasons.”
Speaking out about experiences of sexual harassment might be hard, but by supporting groups like Girls Against and joining in the conversation (whether contributing our personal accounts or not) can only change things for the better.
The Girls Against campaign doesn’t just support women
Despite the moniker they operate under, Girls Against aren’t solely focused on sexual harassment towards women. On their Tumblr, they say they support “all victims” regardless of gender, including trans people or those that identify as gender fluid. “A couple of people have raised the issue that our name could appear transphobic and non-inclusive,” Hannah explains, recognising that it’s not just girls who’re subject to groping. “We’ve tried to combat [that misconception] with making it well known that we’re intersectional feminists and, therefore, acknowledge that it happens to everyone.”
Bands might not be able to do much on stage, but they can still get the message out that groping isn’t acceptable
“Bands cannot physically help someone out if they are being groped at a gig, that’s security’s job,” acknowledges Anna, but there are things groups can do to let their fans know that groping won’t be tolerated at their shows. “They can take the initiative to talk about groping and let perpetrators know it will not go unnoticed, which is what many bands have done so far and we are so grateful for.”
The Girls Against ladies have been speaking with bands about helping them stamp out groping at gigs – they cite Peace and Circa Waves as “huge supporters”, while the likes of Slaves, Slutface, Swim Deep, Gengahr, Rat Boy, Sundara Karma, Spector and “many more” have all shown their support too. It’s key that the conversations between bands and campaigners like Girls Against continue, says Anna, because bands “have such a great platform as so many people look up to them.”
“It’s really important that bands promote healthy attitudes across all their platforms, whether that be through social media, live performances or through their own material,” agrees Anni. She raises the issue that what bands write about in their songs can affect the attitudes of their fans – “When bands write songs with problematic messages, i.e. about the objectification of women, they are basically advocating sexism and those attitudes may spill into fans’ minds,” she reasons, adding that seeing more girls in music writing about their experiences would be more empowering for female music fans who often feel unwelcome in some genre communities.
Girls Against believe that bands have a responsibility to speak out about what happens in crowds. “There’s no use brushing it under the carpet, because it’ll only make it more difficult for victims to speak out,” Anni says. “The music community needs to take [groping] more seriously, so victims feel as though their experiences and feelings are valid.”