Safer Spaces has launched, in response to the epidemic and unchanging issues around sexual violence, harassment and abuse at music festivals and events. Two sisters, Anna MacGregor and Madeleine North, based in Cornwall and London respectively, set up Safer Spaces in 2021 as a result of their own personal and professional experiences, and as a response to the VAWG (violence against women and girls) tolerant and systemic culture of assault and abuse of women and girls at concerts, festivals and other events.
A volunteer-led, community interest organisation, Safer Spaces is already confirmed to be in place at a number of UK and international music festivals this year to offer a comfortable, safe space for women and girls who feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable or who have been sexually assaulted, abused or harassed.
A report by YouGov revealed that one in five festival goers had experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival, while 2 in 5 young female festival goers have been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour. The same report detailed that over a third of these young women who were faced with unwanted sexual behaviour, assault, abuse or harassment, didn’t tell anyone at all about their experience. These statistics reveal the shocking levels of harassment plaguing music festivals. Issues of violence against women and girls continues to exist outside of music festivals, too.
Recent news stated a police watchdog has warned of an “epidemic of violence” against women and girls. And at the end of 2021, there were further calls, including from Dame Vera Baird QC (Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales), for police forces to do more to tackle these issues and thankfully those calls are starting to be heard, with VAWG now a national strategic policing priority.
Safer Spaces was set up to educate and create a culture that confronts and prevents sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse at festivals and events; providing all women and girls access to specialist support, reporting and ongoing localised referral pathways. The specially trained volunteer outreach teams are sent to festivals to offer on site, face-to-face support, whilst educating and engaging festival goers, staff and vendors with zero tolerance and ‘don’t be a bystander’ messaging, to de-stigmatise talking about and reporting sexual violence.
Safer Spaces’ tents offer a welcoming safe space where women and girls can come and hang out, use facilities and escape to some calmness. The tents also provide a safe space to report incidents (via private disclosure cabins) and get professional support. It is hoped that by providing spaces like this, more young women and girls will feel better equipped to report incidents, and open to receiving professional support until they feel ready to return to enjoy the event with their friends. While Safer Spaces is gender informed, all services are gender inclusive, turning no one away that needs a safe space.
Anna MacGregor, CEO and Co-Founder of Safer Spaces said: “Safer Spaces wants to eradicate VAWG and harassment throughout society by raising awareness, training professionals and members of the community to challenge behaviours, identify abuse and respond and support people who have experienced or been impacted by assault, abuse or harassment. As a country we are creating better services, structures and legislation to respond to VAWG, but it is not enough. VAWG is a systemic and long standing issue, embedded culturally and socially. We need to engage with people directly, creating safe spaces for women and girls and educating and challenging male violence. Festivals, events and artists are uniquely positioned to really emphasise a zero tolerance approach and show women and girls that they are valued and that male violence is condemned.”
Safer Spaces piloted at Boardmasters festival in 2021, where around 60 specially-trained volunteers headed to the 50,000 capacity Cornish event, and received a hugely positive response from festival goers and emergency services. Safer Spaces also took its services to Isle Of Wight festival, and SoundStorm in Saudi Arabia. In 2022, Safer Spaces will be in place at Boardmasters, NASS festival, Love Saves The Day, Forwards and BoomTown, with more to be confirmed in the coming months.
Lucy (alias), received support from Safer Spaces. Lucy said: “I have always felt on edge at festivals and on a night out. Me and my friends always make sure we have a plan, so we are never alone, don’t leave our drinks unattended and always check in with each other, throughout the day and night – none of our male friends have to do this! Despite having a safety plan in place, I was sexually assaulted outside a toilet – my friend was in the toilet next to me. I have been assaulted and harassed by men before and never told anyone, but this time I went to Safer Spaces – because I used the glam tent earlier in the day and knew they would be able to help me.”
“The team got me warm clothes and a hot drink and let me stay with them as long as I needed and they looked after my mate, too. I decided that I didn’t want to report to the police, because I couldn’t really describe the guy, but the team gave me so much information about how I could report later if I wanted to. I ended up telling them about my ex, who was really controlling and they found a local service for me to access when I got home. If this ever happens to me or a friend again, I will tell someone and try to report to the police, too. The team really made us all feel powerful and able to call out sexual assault and harassment – it’s not ok and we don’t have to just put up with it. I felt so safe and me and my mates used the tent and the team for the rest of the festival as a check-in and meeting spot in our safety plan. Thank you, Safer Spaces!”
As a non-profit organisation, Safer Spaces welcomes enquiries from brands and other organisations who may be able to support their work in providing safe spaces for young women and girls. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @saferspacesnow.