Ask any music lover what gigs they've been to in the last year, and they'll most likely run off a list of at least four or five big events amid the usual weekend set at their favourite drinking establishment. I mean listening to your favourite bands at home, in the car, on the radio is part of everyday life, but getting to see them perform live, well there's nothing quite compares – it's the best, right?
Unfortunately though, for more gig-goers than you probably realise, going to the show they've been looking forwards to all year is not the best, when memories of the evening are tainted by sexual harassment and physical abuse. It's a sad fact that most of the gigs you or I have attended will have resulted in at least one person leaving not remembering that awesome guitar solo or bellowing out lyrics to their favourite song with hundreds, maybe thousands of other fans, but instead leaving unhappy, feeling violated and anxious about going to another gig.
I consider myself pretty lucky in that all the gigs I've been to, the only brush I've had with untoward behaviour was at a Korn gig at Brixton Academy, when a persistent man kept trying to drag a friend of mine into the mosh pit when she clearly didn't want to. After numerous attempts to politely tell him to leave her alone I found myself getting wound up and giving him a firm shove, which happened to coincide with the very moment he'd jumped enthusiastically into the air... Long story short, he left promptly afterwards clutching a very bloody nose while my friends and I sheepishly made our way to the bar before enjoying the rest of the set.
What shocked me though, was talking to friends about their experiences of harassment at gigs; one friend tells me, “There have been lots of instances of people pretending to trip into me to grab at my chest and then laugh about my reaction.” She also says that following incidences of guys lifting her skirt, she now only wears jeans to live events and often thinks twice about going to gigs by herself. Another friend tells me how she witnessed a 'total creep' letching and grabbing at women at last year's The Darkness gig at the De La Warr Pavilion before pulling a woman's trousers and pouring water down the back of them.
The worst thing while listening to these stories was that more than a handful of the women I spoke to all said that it was to be expected. In fact some merely accept it as simply a nuisance, rather than what it really is at face value. One of the women I spoke to said quite pointedly, “I probably sound quite uptight for complaining about it. There's a certain school of thought that tells you to either be flattered by the attention or put up with it if you want to keep going to gigs. But you'd never put up with someone randomly doing it in the street, would you?”
Teenager Hannah Camilleri wrote about her own experience on Twitter when a total stranger tried to put his hands down her tights at a Peace gig last year. It was this as well as her friends' accounts of abuse at gigs that lead to a new campaign called Girls Against, launched in October 2015. The girls, all aged between 15 and 18 years old, are avid gig-goers and love seeing bands perform live, but having all experienced some form of harassment and realising they weren't the only ones, identified a need to offer support to anyone that had suffered the same.
“This sort of thing happens at every gig, no matter whether it's an indie, metal or pop gig,” says Hannah, “and there's no way things are going to change overnight, so we're trying to tackle the situation by raising awareness.” Starting out, Hannah and friends Anna Cowan, Bea Bannister, Anni Cameron and Ava Cadenhead made badges and held stands at the gigs they attended and soon found that people were taking an interest in what they were doing. Now, just six months in, they have a decent social media following and support from some big names. “We've received huge amounts of support on Twitter and high profile news outlets,” they said. “It's been overwhelming but highly encouraging and makes us feel like we're actually making a difference.”
Open supporters of the campaign include bands such as Wolf Alice, The 1975, Peace and Foals, but the girls are now looking for further support from high profile feminists and politicians. “We'd love some bigger bands to get on board from genres other than the indie gigs we go to,” says Anna. The girls want to get to a stage with the campaign that allows for perpetrators of unreasonable behaviour towards others to be exposed and have them banned from attending live gigs. Hannah adds, “I think it's worth pointing out that this sort of thing doesn't just happen to female fans. It absolutely happens to all genders, binary or non-binary.” From the research they've carried out so far, it seems women account for the largest group suffering abuse, but the general feeling is that men and other genders are perhaps less willing to come forward and report attacks, which they also want to change. “This campaign is in it for the long haul,” says Hannah. “We want to provide a safe space for victims to discuss their experiences and campaign for a change in security training and venue policy.”
With gender equality at the forefront of popular debate at the moment, it seems this campaign is poignant in its timing, but why this sort of battle is only being confronted now perplexes me. I doff my cap to the team behind Girls Against, as should you; it's no mean feat launching a campaign for people's rights, yet here are five teenagers making a stand, giving others a voice. So if as music lovers you enjoy going to gigs and festivals, and prefer not to be hassled or abused by strangers, or for your friends and family not to suffer the same, then you should get on board too and keep live music the main event at gigs.
Find out more about the Girls Against campaign via Twitter: @girlsagainst