Girls Against wants bands and music venues to know that sexual assault at gigs is a real problem—especially for teenage girls.
Photo by Boris Jovanovic via Stocksy
People who routinely think teens—especially teenage girls—are morons. Just look at how most of the public treat One Direction fans. But Corin Tucker was 18 when she helped form Heavens to Betsy; Tavi Gevinson has been in the public eye since she was a pre-teen. And if we have to go down the incredibly obvious route, 18-year-old Malala Yousafzai has done more than I ever will in my pyjama-bound, Netflix-ruled existence.
But, as a teenage girl, it's easy to feel powerless. Especially when you're in a moshpit and having your tits felts up by a big sweaty guy, for example. Or when you're molested while you're crowdsurfing. Or, like one of the members of new campaign group Girls Against, when you're up at the front of the crowd at a gig and someone tries to put their hands down your tights.
The girls—Hannah, Anni, Bea, Anna, and Ava—are all aged between 15 and 17 and are based in different cities across the UK. They think that the prevailing free-for-all attitude at so many gigs utterly sucks and have won the "insanely supportive" backing of indie bands like Peace, Swim Deep, and Spector, who have described Girls Against as incredibly necessary and urged fans to look out for each other.
A few days after setting up their Twitter page, their awareness campaign has already picked up nearly 3,000 followers. One male supporter got in touch with the group, saying: "Makes me feel ill that I've unknowingly been in the same room where this has happened. I refuse to be ignorant anymore."
As someone who came of age during the '00s height of British indie rock (I went to more Libertines gigs than I am comfortable to admit), sexual assault was just part of your night out. I remember a guy slapping a woman's ass, the woman's outrage, and me—aged 15—thinking, "I can't believe she's making such a fuss, it's normal." And it is. Girls Against is working hard to overturn the utterly fucked up attitude of people at gigs. Broadly caught up with them to find out how.
Broadly: Hi guys, how did the group come about?
Girls Against: We'd all been friends for a couple of months beforehand, [we'd met on Twitter] through music and common interests and created a group chat. I was groped at a Peace concert, one of our favourite bands. I didn't tell the girls what had happened for ages after. This was until I told my friend who was going to see them later that week to be careful and then what happened to me. She tweeted the band the story and it received huge amounts of attention and support, including from two of the band members. For a while now we knew we had all wanted to do something together, so the idea quickly progressed from handing out badges at shows to a full-blown campaign.
What happened at the Peace gig? It sounds awful...
I was at the barrier and already the crowd were really great and proper jumping about, so I knew I would have bruises! Because the crowd kept shifting, the people behind me changed quite often and these two or three guys ended up behind me. I was wearing a skirt and I knew it had ridden up quite far but I didn't really think anyone would care or notice because of the music. After a while, I thought I could almost feel them talking about me and my skirt. A really upbeat song came on and one of them kept pressing himself up against me and putting his hands on my waist. Every time I tried to push his hands away he would lean his full body weight against me... He got bolder and tried to put his hands into the top of my tights, but it didn't last long because the crowd shifted and new people ended up behind me.
When I spoke to one lead singer of a band, he said his mum remembered being groped at a gig back in her teens.
Ugh. How did it make you feel?
At first I didn't know how to feel, I'm usually quite a confident person and I'm a big intersectional feminist so I'm always speaking out about things like this. At the time, I was terrified and I started to get a bit panicky because I had nowhere to go, and at some points couldn't breathe properly because he was so heavy.
Why do you think women are so unlikely to complain about being assaulted at gigs—is it an ingrained cultural thing, maybe?
I completely think it is a cultural thing. It is the same for crimes such as rape and domestic abuse—victims can feel silenced, as though their experiences are invalidated due to [society's] lack of awareness... Particularly, women tend to feel this way as a result of having no way of communicating their feelings or experiences. This is the exact reason why we exist—we want victims to speak out, if they feel comfortable doing so; to prove that sexual harassment at gigs is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Many people and bands that we have spoken to were actually unaware that this was even happening.
I remember being groped at gigs as a teenage girl—why do you think this keeps happening?
There's a lack of awareness. Many think that groping is simply something that has and always will happen at gigs, no matter what is done. In order to resolve the issue, we must of course show how often it occurs and prove that it is a serious issue. Of course, there have been previous movements such as Kathleen Hanna's 'Girls to the Front' movement during the riot grrrl era in the '90s, but we decided something new had to be created.
You picked up thousands of followers in just a few days. Why do you think now is the time that people have started to take notice of this problem?
I think that the issue of groping at gigs is rarely mentioned at all. Many people and bands that we have spoken to were actually unaware that this was even happening. With gig season underway as well, it is perfect timing to take notice of these issues.
Have any of you spoken to anyone older to find out their experiences?
When I spoke to one lead singer of a band, he said his mum remembered being groped at a gig back in her teens, and it is a disgrace that it is still happening after all these years.
As well as raise awareness, are you going to try and work with venues?
We are just trying to generate a discussion to show everyone that sexual harassment at gigs is a serious and widespread problem. We plan to contact venues and security companies to ensure that there is a solid safety plan to tackle the issue, should someone find themselves in that situation.