Music festivals are supposed to be fun. When people pull up their denim shorts and paint on their glitter, they’re looking for a space where they can sway in the sunshine, sip on a lukewarm cider and sing scream the lyrics to their favourite songs. Sadly, this easygoing (albeit exhausting) experience has a scary shadow hanging over it for fifty percent of attendees. For women, the fear of harassment at music festivals is a reality that just can’t be overlooked.
Heading into the summer, multiple articles and reports called out the ongoing music festival harassment problem. Many of these pieces referenced a survey released by YouGov, suggested that 30% of UK female festival goers have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour. When you look at past news headlines, this stat isn’t particularly surprising: the harassment issue lead Sweden’s Bråvalla Festival to cancel their event all together, after four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported at the event in 2016. Here in Canada, a man was charged with sexual assault at the 2016 WayHome Music and Arts Festival. A Teen Vogue story from this past Coachella found that 100% of the 54 women interviewed had experienced sexual harassment at the California festival. During the 10 hours the journalist was reporting on the story, she claims she was groped 22 times.
In response, festivals are now beginning to invest resources into creating more concrete anti-harassment plans and policies. It’s not a solution, but it’s a start. Ahead of this year’s Boots and Hearts we asked the festival’s Director of Booking and Development, Lisa Zechmeister, about how the four-day country music and camping event is trying to create a safer space for attendees.
Have you seen attitudes about festival harassment shift over the past couple of years?
We don’t think the attitude shift is festival specific but all part of the larger conversation that’s taking place in society right now. We want everyone who attends Boots and Hearts to feel safe; we are committed to providing a safe and respectful environment for all our staff, artists, fans and business partners. Harassment of any type is unacceptable and has no place in our festival, company, industry or society. We are taking the appropriate steps to ensure that everyone can be comfortable within our festival grounds at all times.
What does a “no-tolerance policy for harassment” mean?
We have always had a no-tolerance policy for any forms of harassment, discrimination, bullying and violence. This policy includes immediate consequences such as ejection from the festival site and the reporting of the violation to the appropriate authorities. Our front line team, once they receive a complaint or witness harassment, are to notify their supervisor and alert the designated team members who process and receive these complaints and provide a process for resolution.
Do you think there’s a different culture of harassment at a country music festival, as oppose to a mixed-genre festival?
Fans of Boots and Hearts are passionate about the festival and some have gone to every single festival since 2012. We find that our attendees live the #BootsLife year-round and we hear countless stories of people meeting new best friends or even significant others onsite. Country music fans are always down to have a good time but don’t believe that the genre affects attendees’ behaviour.
Do you feel that the responsibility to keep attendees safe falls on those organizing Boots and Hearts?
Well-being is a shared responsibility between the organizers and the attendees, Boots and Hearts does its part through the implementation of our Festival Wellness Program that focuses on three main areas: Health Prevention; Illness and Injury Prevention; and Harm Reduction. This program is run in coordination with our onsite medical team with the goal of making the event as safe as possible. We want all visitors to Burl’s Creek Event Grounds to enjoy the festival. Safety is our number one priority, with that in mind, our many security and emergency medical services teams are never far from help if guests need it. We want Boots and Hearts to be an unforgettable experience so we do everything in our power to make sure we are set up for success as a festival.
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