Safety planning for festivals must include sexual violence prevention

Warmer weather in our city is usually complimented with events and activities encouraging locals* and tourist alike to experience the various cultures and scenes within the city. While there are events throughout the year, the summer weather allows us to shed our winter routines and enjoy the sun. Most people will be out of their homes trying to achieve as much fun in a short time-frame. In the mix of all the “fun,” what role does safety play?

25.07.16 Festival blog 2

Image found via Creative Commons Flickr search.

In a recent article posted by Yahoo news, it was reported that 8 sexual assaults occurred during festivals and festival related parties in Ottawa. Attendance at large festivals in Canada can exceed a million people. If we take into account the 460,000 sexual assaults that occur in Canada every year, some of this violence will take place at an event. Just this week, a festival goer experienced a horrific incident of sexual violence in Montreal, and was very unfortunately brushed off by the festival organizers.

When planning an event, organizers have to consider the safety of their festival-goers, volunteers and various acts. We often think of safety measures to reduce theft, property destruction, physical violence and/or health concerns. A safety concern that should be key to event and festival planning is prevention of sexual assault and harassment. As much as organizers promote fun and excitement, these experiences should be deeply rooted in promoting a culture of safety, inclusivity and consent.

Afropunk Fest, an event that takes place in New York, is an example of a festival that centered safety, inclusivity and consent in its planning and execution. Organizers posted large “No Hate” banners throughout the event. Through this action the organizers took a stance on the culture they would uphold for all participants, as well as what they would not accept from event goers.

Image found via feminsiting.com

Image found via feminsiting.com

The Afropunk Fest organizers should be modeled as organizers that took an active role in opposing all forms of violence. They visibly promoted creating a culture that encourages safe spaces for all event goers. An Ottawa-based initiative, Project Soundcheck, was created to help event organizers address sexual violence at large gatherings and acts as a great resource for event planners.

However, creating that safer space also requires the responsibility of participants in maintaining a culture of safety that prioritizes consent. Regardless of the several ways people, specifically women, choose to experience a festival, the fear or threat of sexual violence should not affect their enjoyment of the event.

As a community and as event goers, we should ensure that everyone, especially folks who identify as women, can enjoy these spaces without the threat of sexual violence. You can start by learning about sexual assault and consent. What other ways can we engage in that promote a safe environment for all?

*There are still levels of inaccessibility within our cities that are barriers for folks living with a disability, visible or invisible, to participate in city events or activities.

This blog post was written by our Safety Program Coordinator. Read more about our Safety Program here, or contact her at safetycoordinator@metrac.org.