After the rape attacks on female festival-goers this summer, platitudes are not the answer, argues Amy Nicholson
Safety advice given to festival-goers often covers the basics. Don’t leave valuables in your tent, don’t let fires get out of control, don’t leave camping gas cans somewhere they might explode. Since the despicable attacks at this month’s Latitude festival, standard safety advice will seemingly also extend to, if you are a female, be afraid of enjoying yourself, moving independently or wearing clothes that reflect the gorgeous weather we were able to enjoy.
Like every July for the past five years, I was at Latitude this summer. When word filtered through of first one, then a second rape attack, I was horrified, incandescent with rage and mightily sad for the women in question. This is nothing noteworthy – everyone, both male and female, I was with responded in roughly the same way.
In fact, a particularly bilious discussion followed on the mob justice that could ensue were the perpetrator found.
And it is this emotional reaction that often ensues in private discourse, no matter what the context of the rape. Crystal Castles, who played at Latitude, stunned and shocked a certain proportion of the family-filled crows on Saturday evening when vocalist Alice Glass urged the crowd to find and castrate the perpetrator. (The set hit the news for other reasons. Alice left the stage early, cutting short the Castles’ set because she got groped by someone in the crowd. I can’t decide if this is ironic or just really depressing.)
Some argued this was unhelpful, and that quite rightly a violent response to violence is never justified, no matter what the motivation. This, I would agree with, but I wish that more acts that weekend, not to mention the organisers, had followed Alice’s lead, harnessed that rage reaction and shouted it from every stage and platform throughout the site. No-one wants to be reminded of a brutal attack when they’re on holiday, but to let it slide out of consciousness in the one forum in which any potential witnesses were to be found is a great disservice to the victims and a wider justice.
The subsequent reaction from the festival’s organisers, however, was an extra sucker-punch, a further swift kick that the women who were attacked, their friends and indeed everyone at the festival didn’t need. Melvin Benn of Festival Republic, organisers of Latitude, was immediately reported to be upping security and providing additional information on how to be safe to “young girls”, which included staying in groups after dark and avoiding unlit areas. This, I felt, was akin to banning cars because they keep getting stolen.
In doing so, Benn has followed the wrong path that so often happens in the light of such an attack – he has shifted focus from the attacker, and the attack, to the victim. The implication is that had the ‘girl’ (the victims were 19 and 17 respectively. The use of the word girl is diminutive at best) were in some part responsible for the attack. Had they followed the soon-to-be-issued security advice, they could have avoided such a dehumanising ordeal.
But the responsibility here is not with these women, nor the women who were similarly attacked at T in the Park earlier this month. The responsibility for the attacks lies with the men who committed them in the first place and this, as ever, remains in the shadows. With the criminally low prosecution rate for rape in this country alone, it is time to effect a cultural shift in the way that we respond in the aftermath.
Rape cannot remain as dirty a word as it is an act. It should not be something restrained from polite company. As long as it is happening, it should be in conversations taking place on every level to make it known that rape is not something to bring shame to anyone except the attacker.
It seems facetious to say that men should be told more regularly not to rape – of course it is beyond comprehension for the majority. But without greater targeting of anti-rape campaigning at men (the vast majority of perpetrators are male) we will not escape the cultural suspicion that, in a lot of cases, it was at least partly the victim’s fault.
Rape victims are not to blame, and should not be held remotely accountable because of their clothes, their appearance, whatever they have chosen to imbibe. Stand up, Melvin, and say to your male festival-goers – don’t rape people. Say it again. Put up posters if you have to, write a jingle and advertise it on the radio, just say it and say it again.
There is a dearth of direct education about rape for people of all ages. There is, further, a lack of education pertaining to the importance of respect and trust, and the roles that these faculties play in a proper sexual relationship. This deficiency has led to a blurring of the definitions between what constitutes rape and what constitutes sex. And again and again, like throwing peas at a wall, we find ourselves returning to the problem of objectification.
A woman’s body is not a security risk. A woman’s body is not an unsecured fire, a wallet peeking out of a back pocket. A woman who wants to go to the toilet unaccompanied is not an invitation to a violent criminal, and the longer it is treated as such the more regularly attacks like this will be blamed on the victim.
I have been going to festivals since I was 14 and have had unilaterally brilliant experiences (unlike a friend of mine, who had the misfortune to be in a portaloo that got tipped at Reading) and I know that thousands of women every year continue to do so. Melvin Benn, Festival Republic, T in the Park, do not turn your attention to the women and frighten younger generations of music-lovers out of some of the most incredible experiences of their lives. Make the perpetrator, not the victim, the focus of your response. Horrific crime may be proportionally lower per capita at a festival, but it is still abhorrent. Do not let it slip from your minds and be forgotten, dismissed as something that is almost inevitable, a simple matter of probability.
While these horrific acts can happen in the shadows and remain the topics of hushed conversation, they will continue to carry the stigma of shame. It is time for the responsibility to be put where it belongs, and the fury and rage to be directed where it should – at the rapists – at not left languishing in private conversation and out of the public forum. Learn from Alice Glass and wear your anger on the outside.
Wonder Woman wellies at Latitude festival: picture taken by D G Jones on Flickr. ‘This is not an invitation to rape me’ campaign poster from Rape Crisis Scotland. Details of this campaign are available on the campaign website