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Are UK festivals doing enough to prevent sexual violence?

Earlier this summer, YouGov reported that one in five festival-goers have experienced sexual assault or harassment at a UK festival. This rises to one in three women festival-goers; a shocking statistic – especially when we consider the silence surrounding the issue, with only  1% of women and 19% of men feeling able to report their experience to festival staff.  It is clear that sexual violence is happening at extraordinarily high levels at UK festivals, yet the behaviour remains normalised and largely unchallenged. How do we create a culture which confronts and prevents abusive behaviour and facilitates reporting?

The festival environment is a hotbed for some of the oldest and most entrenched victim-blaming sexual violence myths, especially those which question the legitimacy of sexual violence experienced whilst a woman is drunk, high or dressed to feel attractive and have a good time. Festivals will see a disproportionate amount of sexual violence which involves drugs or alcohol, so it is important that organisers and support staff have training which busts common myths, equips them with knowledge about the law, including the legal definition of consent, and builds confidence to respond empathically to survivors and signpost them to specialist support services on-site.

YouGov research supports what we already know about the prevalence of sexual violence in the UK, where 85,000 women and 12,000 men are estimated to experience rape every year nationwide. Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that sexual violence affects one third of all women worldwide. This has also been reflected by the recent #MeToo campaign, which has been monumental in ensuring that sexual violence is on the political and media agenda, as millions of voices from at least 85 countries used the power of the internet to raise awareness and show solidarity by sharing the hashtag alongside their story.

The problem of sexual violence at festivals is not new. Last year, dozens of Britain’s biggest music festivals held a website blackout to increase awareness of sexual violence at their events, as part of AIF’s Safer Spaces at Festivals campaign. There was a huge amount of energy focused on tackling sexual assaults on-site and 76 festivals signed up to a Charter of Best Practice to address sexual assault at festivals. The charter includes a commitment to take active measures to create a zero-tolerance environment to sexual assault – an environment that is survivor-led and encourages bystander intervention from all festival-goers when they see abusive behaviour. Practically they suggest that all sites should have sexual violence training for all staff and volunteers, clear reporting policies and procedures, and visible specialist support services on site. It is not clear, however, whether all 76 festivals have taken action to ensure they are keeping their pledge, and with at least 450 festivals happening in the UK annually the majority of festivals are still not signed up.

Unfortunately the momentum gained last year following the AIF’s campaign does not seem to have been carried into 2018, and many festivals are still silent on the issue of sexual violence. Even Glastonbury’s website only offers advice on how to prevent attacks, including “keep with friends” and “avoid dark areas”, focusing on the responsibility to avoid rape rather than directing ‘advice’ at potential perpetrators to not commit abuse.  Therefore, we’ve decided to create our own top tips, inspired by Rape Crisis Scotland’s Top 10 tips to end rape, which we feel targets the ‘risky’ behaviour behind the volume of sexual violence at festivals:

  1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.
  2. When you see women having a good time by themselves, leave them alone. They’re fine without you.
  3. Just because it’s crowded, don’t think people can’t see or feel you there. Keep your hands to yourself and respect everybody’s personal boundaries.
  4. Never creep into a woman’s tent. You have your own and if you don’t, sleep outside with clothes on. And definitely don’t rape her.
  5. Nobody wants to see your genitals. It’s not big, it’s not funny, it’s not clever. It’s gross.
  6. If you’re chatting to someone and they seem drunk or high, don’t rape them. And then look up the legal definition of consent.
  7. If you feel worried about someone because they seem out of it, make sure they are as safe as possible. Help them to find their friends. Do not touch them. If you can’t do this, tell someone else that the person needs help and move yourself away.
  8. Keep with friends! There are loads of people at festivals – tell them you might rape someone so they can stop you and get you removed.
  9. If you’re worried you might hurt someone carry a brightly coloured flag around warning people to stay away from you.
  10. Don’t rape.


We hope that festivals will continue to build on the AIF Charter of Best Practice and that more will campaign to end sexual violence by implementing clear zero-tolerance messaging aimed at perpetrators, as well as the necessary support and training to ensure positive responses for survivors.

If you would like support around developing a whole-organisation approach to tackling sexual violence, please contact our Training and Prevention Coordinator for more information about our training, prevention and consultation services.

We also provide the Rape Crisis National Helpline for female survivors of sexual violence which is open 365 days a year to women and girls aged 13+ who have survived any form of sexual violence, no matter how long ago. We offer specialised, confidential support, information and referral details completely free of charge.

You can also find information about your local Rape Crisis Centre via the Rape Crisis England and Wales website.

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