Strong VOICES.

Women report incidents of assault, normalized sexual harassment at Coachella

Summertime has finally arrived, and I could not be happier. As soon as the calendar turns to June, it’s time for beaches, poolside tanning, barbeques, hiking, and all things outdoors. Many of us have also been counting the days until our favorite music festivals. In the coming months, huge outdoor concerts will draw millions of people from across the U.S. And, while these festivals are supposed to lend themselves to the carefree vibe of summer, a lot of women will worry about the audience around them.

A recently published article in Teen Vogue drew attention to sexual harassment that was allegedly “rampant at Coachella 2018.” Over fifty women spoke to the magazine over the course of the festival, all reporting personal experiences with harassment and assault. One 16-year-old concertgoer said, “It’s scary, and you can’t trust random people…Why are you touching me? We’re trying to have fun and fit in here.” It seems like perpetrators use festivals with the excuse of a “tight crowd” to avoid consequences. Ana, 19, told the magazine, “Of course sexual harassment happens here… it happens to us at all concerts. [There are] so many people here that men will get away with touching you, and they think we don’t notice.”

Assailants will point at crowd sizes to try and normalize their behavior, but also deflect to the festival “environment.” I spoke to a Coachella-goer in our area about her experience. “Why is the environment of an outdoor concert something to blame for assault?” “He said it was the ‘free love’ atmosphere of the festival, then used drinking as an excuse”, she told me. “‘Free love’ is the most over-used response in the fest scene, and most of the girls I know have to deal with it, too. People act like that’s what concerts are all about.” Maybe part of festival appeal is “freedom”, but its freedom to dress differently and dance with your friends, not freedom from consequences of sexual assault.

If lacking repercussions is an enabling factor, what responsibility do festival organizers have? Coachella is the highest-grossing festival in the world, but it does not seem to have any information available on what to do if you are a victim of assault during the concert. This appears to be common with similar events, although some festival organizers are starting to address the problem. Chicago’s Lollapalooza defined a zero-tolerance policy against assault on its website last year, and other festivals have begun training staff and medics on what to do if an attendee is assaulted.

Implementing these guidelines is a slow process, and there is no guarantee that they will impact the behavior of potential assailants. When the festival’s over, as we carpool home with friends, we deserve to take joyful memories with us. Ultimately, the responsibility to end sexual assault and harassment falls entirely on the perpetrator, but until then, women and men are taking action to protect themselves and others. Ashley, 21, told Teen Vogue, “We literally will not separate, and if we do, it’s in groups, so that way no one is ever alone.” Another woman said some bystanders have intervened. “There will be guys who say, ‘Hey, get away from her,’ and it’s really cool when they do that.” Going to a concert and actually enjoying it is not too much to ask for. Until harassment at festivals declines, we can try to keep each other safe and remember that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim.

If you think you may have been sexually assaulted you can find support online at rainn.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). To find out what legal options you have, we are here to answer your questions. All conversations and meetings are confidential and will not cost you anything. Whether or not you decide to file a claim is entirely up to you.

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