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No More Silence: Sexual harassment in the scene

October 26 2015, 6:00 PM EDT By Luke O’Neil


For the past several months as scandals unfolded, as our leaders spoke out and the fans came together, as excuses and apologies tumbled out in equal measure, the staff of AP has been working to take all of this information and find proactive solutions. The problem of sexual violence in the music scene is not a new one—where there is power, there is power to misuse it. Still, as this new outrage gained collective strength, there was a sense this time would be different. Social media kept the story in our feeds, new voices spoke out and the larger outside media took notice.

Now, we need to talk about how to fix it.

Today, AP is launching a series of features and interviews that we hope will spark discussion and give voices to silenced stories. First, we have an investigative longform feature by Luke O’Neil that explores the cycle of sexual violence from many angles within our scene. This will be followed with four new interviews—one launched daily this week. You’ll also find a list of links and phone numbers to organizations where you can get involved, or report an incident that you’ve experienced.

We want to focus forward on solutions and the belief that we can make this scene great again. Our community has given so many of us a haven, but its insulated boundaries can also keep the bad things hidden and silent. This scene was forged on the belief that you could find home anywhere. We have to start talking about how to make it right. It’s not our job to rewrite the past. But the future—that’s a bright promise we’ll commit to.

Series compiled by Lee McKinstry

 

Starting earlier this year, allegations of sexual misconduct against Jake McElfresh, the singer-songwriter behind Front Porch Step, have dominated much of the conversation in the scene. But his case was by no means the first instance of a musician, industry professional or fan being accused of sexual violence. The sad truth is sexual assault and violence have long been inextricably woven into the history of rock ’n’ roll. But while these actions might not be new, something has changed: A growing chorus of musicians, fans and activists are finding their voice, shedding light on the problem—and saying enough is enough.

The salacious details of the accusations against McElfresh that arose in January—and the high profile of the Warped Tour date on which he was scheduled to appear at the time—made his story a lightning rod. When he eventually turned up on a Warped date in Nashville this summer, a bevy of musicians and fans took umbrage. That same day, Hayley Williams of Paramore took to Twitter to share her thoughts on the bigger picture as well, writing “The amount of pervy/predatory vibes that are surrounding the tour this summer is astounding. What happened to our scene?” and “I still believe in you, scene. Demand better [because] you deserve better. No more excuses for boys just ‘being boys.’”

Not long thereafter, Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail unleashed a series of tweets that further called attention to the corrosive climate. “This music scene is literally filled with dudes in bands who are trying to have sexual relationships with underage girls,” he wrote. “It’s fucking crazy. People in newer and younger bands are extremely uneducated as to proper behavior. We are in serious need of people in the community to speak up and set examples on how to conduct yourself online, at shows and in private, because apparently there are a lot of men who aren't getting the message, don't care and don't think their actions are causing irreversible harm. Silence on this is not an option on this matter because it is so fucking wide spread [sic].”

In September, indie band Speedy Ortiz jumped into the fray with their own pushback against the culture of harassment in the music world. The band recently announced a text hotline (574-404-SAFE) designed for fans to use if they found themselves experiencing discrimination or abuse at their shows in a number of ways. “It’s frustrating enough to be a show-goer and to experience harassment on a macro level, like being called ‘a bitch’ after asking someone to stop touching you or on a micro level, like someone physically picking you up to move you if you are in their way or touching your waist to push past you,” explains vocalist Sadie Dupuis. “So unnecessary, bro.

“What’s even more frustrating is that these kinds of things continue to happen to me regularly, even at shows or festivals at which my band are performing,” she continues. “I’ve had multiple issues in the past month, in fact. As a musician hired to play these events, I have some amount of privilege: a day-of-show contact; a backstage to retreat to after a frustrating encounter; the ear of security if someone is encroaching upon my safety. But I know what it’s like to be devoid of those resources at a show, and what it’s like to not be able to get someone harassing you off your back without resorting to violence of your own and escalating a tense situation or to not know how to find security. It can be terrifying.”

The idea with the text hotline, she says, is to extend the privilege they experience as performers to everyone attending their shows, which might be connecting them with security or a venue employee. “Obviously, it’s not a perfect system yet—what system can ever be perfect—but it’s a start, and we hope other artists and venues implement similar services that let fans ask for help if they’re in trouble,” she says. “Especially fans who fall outside of the demographic majority—not cismale, not white, not straight—who are used to being silent, ignored or not believed.”

Writer Paul Adler laid out what has become a growing list of questionable or illegal behavior from musicians in a piece on Medium called “Warped Behavior: Sexual Violence On Tour.” “[O]ver the past half-decade, a handful of alt-scene, so-called ‘Warped Tour’ bands have found themselves accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Musicians have been convicted of crimes, and other bands have been condemned for their apparent advocacy of physical and sexual violence, especially toward women.”

In recent years, a number of musicians—not to mention YouTube and Vine personalities—have been at the center of controversies that range from sexual harassment and engaging in sexting with minors, to an indictment for the rape of children. In November of last year, the Hotelier and the World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die pulled out of a scheduled show in Dallas when one of the promoters involved was accused of abusing a woman.

While the incidents involving more well-known musicians tend to get the most publicity, the handful of news stories only highlight a sliver of a culture of sexual violence and intimidation that’s taken hold of the scene in general. The consensus of the dozens of musicians, industry professionals and fans we spoke to for this story seems to indicate it would be harder to find a woman who hasnt encountered some form of sexual violence, whether that means being groped in a crowd, stalked, humiliated, intimidated or raped.

“These sorts of issues are as prevalent and pervasive as they’ve ever been in the music scene today,” says Sam Pape of Portland indie-punks Lee Corey Oswald. “The internet has made the problem more upfront and urgent than ever, but it’s always been there. I’ve personally had plenty of firsthand experiences witnessing sexual assault in Portland’s tiny, isolated music community alone. Numerous friends of mine have been raped by members of popular bands; we witnessed groping firsthand this summer on Warped Tour; and I saw some kid at a punk show pull out his dick and spit in my friend’s face at a house show when she told him to stop touching her.”

None of this is unique to any particular musical subculture. As we found during our reporting, there are few major concert events that haven’t had incidences allegedly occur—most of them unreported. Rather, it’s a sample of the prevalence of rape culture in society at large. But for many in the scene, it’s particularly disappointing to see this type of thing persist, particularly because the fans and the bands who comprise the larger punk-rock diaspora are specifically supposed to be more welcoming, more socially aware, and (at least in theory) less likely to treat others like second-class citizens and mere sexual objects meant as prizes for men.

The variety of ways in which these incidents can manifest are as broad as the scope of human interaction, but of all the young women we spoke with, the fact that their assaults happened in the context of the music scene—at a concert, on the road or interacting with a band they admired—added an extra layer of pain. On top of the act itself, they also had to contend with the tarnishing of something they loved—this scene—and thereafter associated the two.

When this stuff does happen, it hits hard because hardcore is supposed to be about having a safe place to go and feel comfortable.

Festivalgoer Kyrstin says she was raped twice by someone she knew after a music festival in Philadelphia. “The next morning was so awful,” she says. “I hated myself. I felt dirty. I took a shower so hot that I nearly burned my skin.” When she got to the music festival the next day, she told people what had happened, but nobody did anything, or declined to do so because of her alleged attacker’s connections to the hardcore scene. While the scene in Philadelphia is by and large protective, she says, “When this stuff does happen, it hits hard because hardcore is supposed to be about having a safe place to go and feel comfortable.”

One fan, who wished to remain anonymous, says she was pressured into having sex with a member of a well-known band after a house show. “When I was 17, my favorite band, who were pretty well-known in the scene, played a show at my friend's house and we all ended up sleeping over after.”

She says the band’s guitarist, who was then 28, knew she was underage when he pressured her into having sex. “Me being fucked-up and naïve, I thought I had no other choice than to do what he wanted me to, just because he was in my favorite band. After it was finally over, I went back inside and one of the other band members said, ‘We all knew that was going to happen.’ That alone almost hurts equally as much, because I had known them since I was 14, had seen them almost 20 times and I considered them brothers—but not one of them cared about what happened to me.”

A couple years ago, Erica was helping sell merch at Bamboozle in New Jersey, when a young man started following her around the grounds. When she tried to politely decline his advances, he blocked her path and forced a kiss on her. “In broad daylight, in the middle of the early afternoon, in a crowd of people, with his friends laughing and cheering,” she says. “I was shocked, totally grossed out and a little vulnerable-feeling, so I just shoved him off and brushed past through the crowd fast.” As a music writer, it’s made her think twice about attending concerts. “It made me more nervous, to a degree, to walk around unaccompanied, mostly due to uncertainty.” She also wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do about it.

“I think sometimes people try to downplay it, or pretend it didn't happen, or just try not to make it that big a deal.” She didn’t at first, trying to shrug it off. “But then, as I got a little older, I realized, ‘Oh, hey, that wasn't fucking okay at all.’”

Victoria, a 17-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, says she’s been assaulted numerous times at high-profile shows over the years. In one instance, a man twice her age came up behind her and put his hands on her waist. “I immediately turned around and asked him to take his hands off of me, but he instead moved them down to my bottom, where he grabbed it,” she says. “I was shocked and again told him to stop, but he did not move his hands, so I began to panic and try to get away from him. Instead, he grabbed my waist and disabled me [from moving] until I got the attention of my peers, who then helped me get away from him.

“At almost every show I have ever been to, my friends, someone near me, or myself have been harassed,” she continues. “It ruins my time when it happens to me, because often I get so scared or uncomfortable that I leave altogether. On the [rare occasions] that it doesn't happen, I have the time of my life.”

Many of her friends have shared similar stories with Victoria. “More often than not at shows, men say slurs to me or catcall me and make me uncomfortable. There have been very few shows where I feel safe. I keep going back because I don't want those experiences to take my favorite thing away from me, but I think at some point I need to start worrying about my own safety.”

Sara, a 20-year-old from Maryland, shared numerous stories of her being assaulted over the years, because, she says, “This is something no one has ever sincerely asked me about.” The most frequent harassment she has to deal with at punk and hardcore shows is men pulling her shirt down in the crowd. “Too many times I have had to leave a crowd to regain my composure,” she says. “The worst part is that I was underage throughout all my concert-attending days. I started going to alternative punk shows when I was 15 years old. At first, I only went to shows with younger crowds, like Pierce The Veil and the Summer Set. Those were relatively safe, probably because most of the audience was made up of girls my age or younger. Then I got into more hardcore shows where the crowd was older than I was. That was always the worst environment for women and girls.”

At one concert, when she was 16, she found herself knocked onto the floor. Two boys bent down to help her—or so she thought. “Instead, they were touching all over my chest and tugging down on my shirt sleeves. I went to enjoy a show, just like those boys, but I went home feeling violated. The memory of harassment ruins the memory of how good the band was live.”

These types of experiences color not only how many women feel at shows, but how they dress for attending them. Many will eschew loose or revealing clothing, even for warm weather summer festivals, or avoid shorts and skirts, in an effort to avoid being groped. “You get fed up with getting touched at every other concert,” she continues. “I still listen to music from the scene, but my concert habit died out. The punk scene is supposed to be a safe space for those who feel different. But it seems to only make room for sad white boys.”

Anna was 24 when she hit a local punk show in Chicago a couple years ago. “I felt someone run their hands up the backs of my legs and lift up my dress. I whirled around and started screaming at the guy and tried to hit him, but I'm not very strong and he just laughed at me like it was a joke and kept telling me to chill out. That was honestly the most upsetting part—how weak and powerless his reaction made me feel.” Fortunately, when she told security what happened, they took her around the venue to find him and tossed him out. “This was of some small comfort to me, but try as I might to put it out of my mind and enjoy the rest of the show, the whole night was ruined.

“I had been looking forward to my trip for months, and this show was the centerpiece of it,” Anna continues. “It happened the day after I arrived in town, and it completely colored the rest of the visit. I slept badly for the rest of the trip and my heart just wasn't in it anymore. I didn't feel comfortable. I was never fully present when I spent time with my friends for the next few days because his laughing face was always in the back of my mind. On top of that, I was viciously criticizing myself internally for not being able to get over it. I kept telling myself that his behavior was practically benign compared to what lots of other women go through.”

It could’ve been a lot worse, and it regularly is for others, she says. “It’s worth noting that a lot of punk shows don't happen at big concert halls, but in dive bars and college kids' basements. Not every woman who gets harassed at a show will have venue security to protect her from the perpetrators. And it's very common for crowds who see this bad behavior not to intervene, as they did not in my case. The DIY ethos of the scene can be incredibly empowering, but it can also leave you very vulnerable.”

Another woman, who asked not to be named, remembers everything about the time she was groped at a show in Chicago eight years ago. She was 14 years old, walking through the crowd with her father, when a man felt her up from behind. “I turned my head to see who did it and a guy in his mid-twenties was staring at me. Then he winked. I still shudder when I think of him. He had greasy hair, was wearing baggy jeans with a chain wallet, had a poor, patchy excuse for a mustache and a black hoodie.” When she told her father what had happened, crying, he explained that was simply how things go. "Well, it happens. I'm sorry,” he said.

I thought more men would want to protect me and other survivors once they heard our stories. The amount of times I have been asked why it happened to me is disgusting.

Harassment isnt limited to crowd interactions. The professional realm of the music industry has similar problems. Selena Rox, who's worked on production for Warped Tour and as a tour manager, says she was raped by a fellow industry professional after a non-festival show she worked in Boston. When she encountered her rapist a couple of years later on Warped Tour, she told the tour manager at the time what had happened, and he was escorted off the premises. But, she never filed an official police report, largely because of the reactions she got from people after the incident when she tried to talk about it. 

“I never filed a report, I never came forward. I was too scared. I saw how me being cold to him started a rumor mill about me and I knew I wanted to continue working in music and touring. I knew it was best if my personal life wasn't the first thing discussed when my name came up. So I let that part of myself stay locked in the back of my brain. I focused on getting bigger in my career and becoming more credible as an individual, because I have seen what this industry does and says about women. It is disgusting and wrong. I know what I did was selfish, because he is free to continue doing this to other women.

According to Rox, she’s heard many stories out on tour of “men getting drunk and sexually harassing [women], but it's usually water under the bridge or the victim of the harassment gets told that it's not a big deal because the aggressor was drunk.” She goes on to say, “The issue is that [the aggressor] being drunk doesn't lessen the way they made us feel when the abuse was happening.”

Why does she think people like her are reluctant to report what happened? “Men don't want this stuff to be followed up on,” she says. “The abusers are afraid of their victims taking the power back…I know not all men feel that way, but I made the mistake of thinking more men would care about my story when I would open up about it. I thought more men would want to protect me and other survivors once they heard our stories. The amount of times I have been asked why it happened to me is disgusting."

It’s the fact that many might not believe them (or worse, somehow blame them for what happened) that makes speaking up hard for many women. It can be difficult even for those seemingly in a power position of being in a band. Mariel Loveland of Candy Hearts, who played this year on Warped Tour, says it’s tricky, because occasionally an internet mob can convict someone in the court of public opinion erroneously, such as the false rape accusations leveled online against Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst (which were eventually discredited after his accuser publicly recanted).

Lee Corey Oswald’s Pape concurs. “There is a risk of some trolls and assholes using the social media platform to sabotage innocent people. It’s happened before… but the risk is just built into how the internet and social media function, I think. I’ve heard plenty of musicians complain about this—they feel like they need to be more ‘on their toes’ than ever, out of fear of being falsely accused or something. But that’s not even a bad thing! As the risk of being publicly held accountable for our actions increases, the likelihood of bad things happening decreases.”

Another possibility, Loveland says, is that false allegations make the overarching situation even worse, because someone might not believe the next woman who speaks up. “It’s always important to listen to people who feel like they've been assaulted or done wrong,” she says. But, she stresses, if you’ve been assaulted or raped, you need to talk to the authorities. “I know it’s easier said than done. It’s hard to tell your parents about something like that or even admit it to your friends.”

The threats of sexual violence are something Loveland’s personally lived with ever since she started going to shows. “I remember at a very young age, the first thing my father told me was not to crowd-surf because I’d be groped. That’s even stemming from his generation—it’s been going on so long that he knows.” While she’s never been assaulted, she says, “I’ve definitely been in situations on tours where inappropriate things happened to me and I didn’t want say anything because I didn’t want to be ‘that girl that causes problems.’ That’s horrible. These people feel like they can take ownership of your body, and they can’t. I feel like girls are always taught to avoid conflict, avoid situations where that can happen, instead of teaching the boys not to act that way. If I'm being groped backstage by someone who I thought was my friend—that is not my friend. It’s not something I should feel like I have to hide, or that bands won’t want to take me on tour because I said something.”

The more people are looking out for each other, the less girls will feel like they have to hide, and the less guys there will be groping young girls, she says. Still, this is a lot easier to say as an adult, than as a teenager going to your first shows. “When something happens to you at one these shows, there really is nowhere to go,” she says. “At one of our shows, one of our fans could always come to me, I could help them find the police.”

“I think it really is up to the bands to protect people going to their shows,” Loveland says. “I think that’s extremely important. I think that everyone should have some sort of plan in place to keep their fans safe, even if it’s just telling the venue staff. It should be more available. Especially in a genre dealing with such young kids and teenagers. It’s different at a 21-plus show. At these shows their parents drop them off and expect everything to be fine.”

I feel like girls are always taught to avoid conflict, avoid situations where that can happen, instead of teaching the boys not to act that way.

How frequently these incidents occur is hard to say. The statistics regarding rape and sexual assault in general are themselves hard to track because so many of them go unreported. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates there are 293,000 victims of sexual assault every year. Forty-seven percent knew their attacker and 44 percent of them are under 18, according to RAINN.

The numbers of assaults specifically in the music scene are even harder to determine, as no one organization seems to be tracking them. As Broadly's recent article “There's A Rape Problem At Music Festivals And Nobody Seems To Care” highlighted, a 2013 federal government study in the United Kingdom found that “85 percent of all serious sexual offenses aren't reported to the police.” But one thing that is undeniably on the upswing in recent years is people in the scene who are fed up, and starting to speak publicly about the problem.

The Hotelier are one band in particular who’ve been vocal about sexual assault this year. Over the summer, they shared a list of guidelines on their social media accounts laid out in the publication The Media that explained just how pervasive sexual violence is and how to confront the issue.

“There is a show happening tonight,” reporters E. Conner and Beck Levy wrote in the piece the band posted. “It's happening across the country and all over the world. One of the bands has a member or members who have been publicly outed as perpetrators of sexual violence, or who have publicly spoken out in support of an abuser. You may be playing this show. You may know someone in the band. You may want to go to the show. No matter what, you are complicit. This violence was rape. This violence was stalking. This violence was harassment. This violence was emotional. This violence happened. You may be wondering what you could do in the face of this violence.”

Pape says Lee Corey Oswald distributed a series of fliers from their tent at every show on this summer’s tour, literature meant to address the issues of consent, alongside those discussing women’s reproductive rights and racial injustice. “We knew that we wanted to do something like this pretty much right away when we decided to do the tour,” he says. “There were so many bands this summer whose politics and lyrical content is just downright atrocious. Some of the most popular bands are still dropping homophobic slurs and singing about ‘hating cunts.’ There were kids walking around every day with shirts that say DON’T BE A SLUT and YOU’RE JUST A BITCH. It’s fucking insane. We wouldn’t have felt okay about our involvement on Warped Tour without trying to spread some positivity and basic information on [how to fight] oppression.”

Jeff Rosenstock, a punk scene veteran of Bomb the Music Industry! and the Arrogant Sons Of Bitches, is also angered by the dismissive attitude surrounding the problem. He’d just gotten home from a show he’d played in Texas this year when he saw a fan tweet that she’d been groped by a number of men in the crowd.

“I was taken aback by the fact that anyone like that would attend our shows,” he said. “I’ve always felt that it was pretty clear that our band has feminist ideals, meaning that we believe in the equality of all people. So, I tried to clear things up on Twitter and say, ‘Hey. This is not okay. If you're this kind of person, do not come to our shows ever. Or stop treating people like that. You don't have to be a dickhead forever.’

What really pissed him off, he says, was the responses. “In my eyes, a brave fan spoke out about being sexually assaulted,” he says. “That is a hard thing to do, partially because people refuse to believe that it's a thing that can happen, especially in our punk scene. So people started getting mad at her for ‘ruining my band’ and ‘spreading a feminazi agenda.’ Those were the nicer comments. I saw some vile shit being said to this person that I don't want to repeat. All by strangers on the internet who refuse to open their eyes to the fucking reality that, yeah, hello, this happens all the time at shows.”

At a recent show in Philadelphia, a large fan in the crowd had been touching a young girl in front of Rosenstock. He stopped the music and asked him to stop. Security didn’t do anything about it. “If that guy was smoking weed or snuck in a beer, he would have been booted in a heartbeat. But instead, we had to stop our show and our friends and the audience had to solve the problem. Isn't that abhorrent?”

Warped Tour is one of the few places that give some truly radical, grassroots groups and artists a chance to reach people nationwide on a larger scale and provides a real change for people to engage with new ideas and improve on their own communities.

Tara Anne, a veteran tour manager who’s worked with Snoop Dogg and spent a few years working on Warped Tour and Metal Mayhem, thinks there’s something about the punk world that lends itself to this sort of behavior. “I saw more casual sexism, misappropriation of power, entitlement and disrespect towards females among the white, male, middle class suburban paper-tiger punks then I ever did touring in the hip-hop scene,” she said.  “These guys get a small label advance or get on a tour bus for the first time and they forget how to act like a human. It's a problem bigger then the ‘scene' or one particular tour... It’s a sense of privilege and entitlement and power.”

She likens the mentality to that highlighted in similar cases in the news, like the violent 2012 gang rape of a young woman by high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio—boys who acted with the misplaced confidence that they’d go unpunished. “Some of these [band] guys are essentially acting with impunity with the mentality of these ‘football players’ or ‘frat boys.’”   

While she says the problem is obviously not unique to the scene, “it’s maybe more shocking here because you might expect people to be more evolved in their political sensibilities. If you’re a punk or hardcore kid, going to shows, you were always assumed to be against those things. I think it’s shocking to people when someone maybe doesn’t have the same values as you. Things that are common knowledge—you don’t rape women, you don’t grope women.”

Much of it is owed to the power structure of the music world and most industries in general, she says. She sees a lot of the casual sexism in her role as a tour manager, where she’s often assumed to be “just a girl.” However, she always found the community at large to have done a good job of making men who commit these acts feel unwelcome, and to step in when things got out of line. But the onus has to be on the individual, she thinks. 

“Warped Tour is one of the few places that give some truly radical, grassroots groups and artists a chance to reach people nationwide on a larger scale and provides a real chance for people to engage with new ideas and improve their own communities. It can kind of serve as a gateway, or introduction to some really life-changing information.”

While there have always been informational and outreach groups at festivals like Warped Tour, those dedicated specifically to this issue are rare. A Voice For The Innocent, a group dedicated to supporting and offering community to victims of rape and sexual abuse, was featured on a few dates of Warped this past summer. The group, started by Jamie Sivrais, provides information for victims on a state-by-state basis, letting them know whom they should reach out to if they’ve dealt with rape or assault. But the group also wants to educate participants about the broader culture surrounding the issue.

“People don’t ever expect to be in those situations, so they don’t necessarily prepare for them,” Sivrais says. “A person that’s sexually assaulted—there’s no training. You don’t know who you call next. A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to call the police, I don’t want to research this. I’m just gong to forget about it.’ We provide that information. You can tuck it in a folder and God forbid if you’re ever in a situation where you need it, you’ve got it.”

Sivrais, who also works as a violence prevention educator and speaks at schools, says if there were an easy solution to the bigger problem, they would’ve found it by now. But, like almost everyone who’s speaking out about the issue now seems to agree, he thinks the best disinfectant is sunlight. “It may not be the solution, but a whole lot of progress can come when people aren’t scared to talk about it. Even people who aren’t affected.”

He remembers growing up and going to punk shows for Anti-Flag and H20—and not being able to leave without knowing what the bands thought about an issue. “I don’t see that as much anymore,” he said. “I’m sure they’re out there, but I don’t see the bands that take a stand for a cause… Obviously, Underoath and Paramore were really supportive of [self-harm prevention group] To Write Love On Her Arms, and that’s why they’ve been so successful reaching people with suicidal thoughts.”  The solution may not necessarily be in educating the perpetrators, or telling the victims how to behave, but rather getting the rest of us to pay attention.

Sivrais continues, “Most people think, ‘I’m not hurting anyone, I’m not going to sexually assault anyone, so I’m doing my part,’ but most people have been like that for a long time and it hasn’t worked.  For every one person that’s hurting somebody, there are 40 who aren’t—but the 40 stay silent. I think the answer comes from bystanders speaking up and saying, ‘This has to stop. I’m sick of my sisters or my brothers or children in my life being at risk. They're not going to be at risk with me, but I want to make sure they're not [at] risk from anyone else.’’’ He likens it to a former taboo, when years ago, youths felt uncomfortable confronting a drunk friend considering driving. Without that act of intervention, previous generations were more likely to drive drunk, or with open containers. “Now it’s completely acceptable to say, ‘Hey, are you okay to drive?’ One of the main tenets I teach is there’s no ‘neutral.’ If you stay silent, you’re essentially saying you're okay with what happens. Staying out of it isn’t really an option.”

Andy Serrao—owner of all-ages club Chain Reaction in Anaheim, California—agrees. As the former information manager for Coachella, he adds that festival design can go a long way in preventing harmful situations. Sometimes, he says, it’s as simple as “making sure there's enough security, making sure there's no hideouts where people can go away and do whatever they plan on doing. So there's eyeballs on everyone, in a good way.” He stresses the importance of open spaces and giving all security personnel a briefing on what to look for when on patrol. “We make sure there’s nowhere you're completely out of visibility. [We] tell everyone to keep an eye out for people who look uncomfortable, people who are being loud, or crying.” For instance, during every stop on this summer's Warped Tour, approximately 700 parents were admitted into the shows daily, thereby acting as more eyes and ears on the concert grounds for additional safety awareness.

Fans trying to enjoy their favorite bands shouldn't have to worry about protecting themselves; the scene should simply be a safe place for everyone.

Younger members of the scene are also getting involved. Take Safer Scene, for example. Started in June after a discussion on an Absolute Punk message board, the group of fans, ranging in age from 19-28, is the process of filing paperwork to incorporate as a nonprofit this summer. In the meantime, bands have been sharing their FB page and infographics on social media accounts with surprising speed. Now, the organization has T-shirts for sale, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Joyful Heart Foundation. “We want to open a new dialogue on incidents such as sexual harassment—to really make people think about and discuss the problem itself, as well as what all members of the scene can do to enact change,” says 21-year-old Danielle Hunter, one of the group’s members.

While Hunter doesn’t know if there are more incidents of assault and rape happening today than in the past, the fact that we’re hearing about them more often—largely through social media—is a positive. “Social media and the internet have definitely played larger roles in providing outlets for victims to tell their stories,” Hunter says. “Social media has allowed the disadvantaged, abused and harmed to speak up and let their experiences be known. This is not a negative. These tools ensure that victims will be heard instead of silenced. Because of this, a dialogue has already started on matters relating to sexual harassment/assault, gender and sexism. We want to make sure that dialogue grows louder.”

One thing she is adamant about is that putting the responsibility on potential victims doesn’t work. “Teaching people to ‘avoid’ being sexually harassed or to avoid other harmful behaviors isn’t much better than effectively blaming the victims before they even become victimized. So, we want to educate everyone in order to prevent abuse from even occurring. Fans trying to enjoy their favorite bands shouldn’t have to worry about protecting themselves; the scene should simply be a safe place for everyone. We want to educate everyone in order to prevent abuse from even occurring.

 “The main piece of advice I have for anyone in this scene regarding harassment and assault is not to be afraid to speak up. Whether you’re a victim or an ally, use your words to create change. It sounds like a cliché, but sometimes clichés exist for a reason. You can make a tangible difference just by speaking out.”

It’s a message echoed by Kira-Lynn Ferderber, one of the founders of a new group called SoundCheck based in Canada. The group came together in response to a report published in 2014, by the Ottawa Hospital Sexual Assault And Partner Abuse Care Program. It found that more sexual assaults were reported in the area after large public gatherings like music festivals—a whopping 25 percent. SoundCheck has set about training volunteers and industry professionals on how to spot incidents of sexual assault at concerts before they take place.

“I always try to think about, ‘Is there something about shows that makes sexual assault happen, or is it that they happen and there’s just a lot of people at shows?’” Ferderber asks. “I think it’s both.  We have to fix the fact that sexual assault exists at all, but there’s something unique to show culture.”

One of the main problems is bystander apathy. On the one hand, people feel safe in a large crowd, but on the other, perpetrators also tend to feel like they can get away with something because they’re hidden among many. You combat this, she says, through bystander intervention. “I’m not teaching ‘no means no,’ not teaching men not to commit sexual assault. I’m not there telling women, ‘Watch your drinks. Don’t go out too late.’ It’s not about the attack or the person who might be a victim. It’s about all the other people standing there who could engage.”

There’s a psychological phenomenon related to the diffusion of responsibility, where people won’t intervene because they assume someone else will. To the hundreds of volunteers she’s now trained, Ferderber and SoundCheck stress a few steps those concerned about the problem of assault can take that are surprisingly simple. If you’re unsure if a person is in a dangerous situation in a crowd, simply start a conversation with him or her about something unrelated. If the person in question wants out of the situation, he or she might use that as an excuse to leave.

“If someone comes up and talks to a guy who’s talking to me [that’s] being a creep, I will use that as an excuse to get out of the situation. You can do that by talking to the guy or talking to the woman you’re worried about and maybe she’ll now be aware of you as someone who’s watching. Sometimes people want to ask for help and they don’t know whom to ask. I teach kids that they don’t have to tell the truth… you can walk up, like, ‘Hey we’re all going to the beer tent. Do you want to come with us?’ If it’s her boyfriend she might be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But if she’s looking for an excuse, she might take that [opportunity]. Now the guy thinks, ‘Oh, she’s got friends here looking out for her.’ You’re not accusing anyone, not walking up and demanding an explanation or putting them on the defensive, just checking in and seeing how people are doing.”

It’s no different than other protective traditions in music culture—from check-ins at raves to pulling people off the ground in the pit. “If you aren’t sure if you should do something, err on the side of doing something and you'll feel better than if you didn’t,” she says. “There’s this big hump people have to get over of it ‘being awkward.’ Just say something. If nothing’s going on, they’re going to forget about it in two minutes and if they needed you to intervene, they're going to be glad you did.”

“I think the solution is just having conversations,” Rosenstock says. “Don't be afraid to speak out if you're in danger, because chances are everyone except that asshole who is molesting you has your back and will help stop the problem. And if you see something like that, try to stop it, or get the attention of a bunch of folks around you and stop it together. Get a fucking security guard or a bouncer. That's what they're there for, not for telling kids they can't stand somewhere 'cause they don't have a bracelet. In general, I think looking out for each other and believing that others will look out for us is a good start.”

Punk rock has long been associated with the virtues of spreading awareness of social issues and arguing for political causes. Sometimes, even for the most ardent activists, some of those issues—climate change, war, poverty and so on—can seem too immense, too abstract, for the average person to ever hope to make any difference, and they ultimately become disillusioned. But here, in the case of sexual harassment and assault in the scene, is something that you can actually hope to stop. No, not all of them at once all across the world, but the next one happening right near you in your hometown, in your own local scene. The best part is, it won’t require massive funding, or persuading politicians to write laws, or major research and study: All you have to do is talk about it. 

 

Continued reading in this series:

Q&A with Ash Costello of New Years Day by Lee McKinstry

Q&A with promoter Eddy Burgos by Lee McKinstry

Q&A with Warped Tour sober coach Mike Farr by Lee McKinstry

Q&A with Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail by Annie Zaleski

 

Confidential Hotlines:

National Rape Crisis Hotline (24/7): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Domestic Violence Hotline (24/7): 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project (24/7): 1-800-832-1901

Anti-Violence Helpline (24/7): 1-212-714-1141

Planned Parenthood: 1-800-230-7526

 

Organizations:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse And Incest National Network)

SARC (Sexual Assault Resource Center)

Joyful Heart Foundation (Mariska Hargitay’s foundation to end domestic violence and sexual assault)

Men Can Stop Rape (allied men and male victims of sexual assault)

 

Legal Action:

SALSA (Sexual Assault Legal Services and Assistance)

Victim Rights Law Center

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