Sooo, it’s taken me forever to get this out here. I was lucky enough to be able to interview the amazing Bea from Girls Against about how education plays a part in sexual assault at gigs…
The founders of Girls Against met on Twitter and became friends through their love of music and gigs. The idea for Girls Against came out of the founders realising, after of them was sexually assaulted at a Peace gig, that this was something they had all been through. Bea told me that they realised that “there’s no support systems, there’s nothing to tell you what to do next or deal with it [sexual assault at gigs].” So they decided to do something about it. “We tweeted Peace, and then NME picked up the tweets going round about it and that blew up”. She said that Hannah didn’t want it to be just about her and so they set up the Girls Against Twitter page, which thanks to the NME interest, gathered a lot of followers. Since 2015, Girls Against has become huge, they were featured on the big screens at Reading and Leeds festivals which Bea said was overwhelming.
Whilst support systems for victims of sexual assault are essential, and raising awareness around the issue is helping move towards making gigs safer spaces for everyone to enjoy, I thought maybe the issue can also be tackled in another way. Bea told me that in her school’s sex education, “the one thing I don’t remember doing any sort of work on was consent” and agreed that if there was better (and more!) sex education, that there would be less sexual assault at gigs. We both also were surrounded by expectations, as girls, of how we should look and dress “of not having your skirt too short, or not wearing inappropriate clothing” in Bea’s experience. The underlying attitude of victim blaming, primarily against women, also plays a part in sexual assault at gigs.
Bea said that Girls Against found that “sexual assault at gigs is quite normalised”. The confined, dark space allows perpetrators to get away with assault more easily than other spaces and until Girls Against started the discussion, sexual assault could be seen as part of gig culture, as horrible as it sounds. The space, or lack of, means it can be hard to avoid contact with others. Bea used the example of being near the front of a gig: “if you have your hands [held up] and you’re pushed up against someone, it’s really hard not to touch them…but you can tell, when you’re more educated about consent, as to what is accidental and what is definitely not.” In such tightly packed spaces consent education is essential and the more of it we have, makes people more likely to call out assault, making it less of a norm at gigs. But, when this comes up on social media, especially on twitter, people can be quickly dragged down and stamped on as much as is possible in 140 characters. As Bea said “People who tweet, oh maybe she shouldn’t have been wearing such a short skirt, they are either:
a. trolls (which is quite a lot of the time)
b. people who genuinely think that
and they are reflecting that attitude of what they have been taught growing up, that what you wear has an impact. It’s a sad thing, but that’s why I think education is so important, because that attitude can be faded out.”
On social media we should be using our 140 characters to have a conversation, to question their views and unhealthy attitudes. Shutting them down doesn’t leave us any hope of changing their minds and attitudes towards consent, it just removes them from twitter.
You can’t always pick where your hands fall, but squeezing, reaching out to touch, and purposeful grabbing are all unnecessary forms of contact in any situation, even when people go down like dominoes in a mosh pit. Offering your hand to help someone stand up again is great, but pushing a girl up by her bum isn’t. Tapping someone on the shoulder to squeeze past is polite, weaving your arm around their waist, isn’t. These are the conversations we need to be having, and boundaries we need to be setting in spaces like gigs, where the boundaries can often be hard to see. Venues, bands, and gig goers, openly showing support of campaigns like girls against and having policies against sexual assault, can help this process.
I want to say a massive thank you to Girls Against for giving me your time and you should head over to my social media pages (links below) for an exciting Girls Against themed giveaway!