Culture

Falls Festival And Tas Police Are Sparking Loads Of Debate On How We Talk About Sexual Assault

"We would like to see the conversation turn from telling our women and girls to be on guard and vigilant, to telling our boys and men to have some respect and stop taking these liberties."

Over the past week, five young women have come forward alleging instances of sexual assault at the Marion Bay Falls Festival. One woman reported she was indecently touched in the moshpit for Hot Dub Time Machine, another experienced the same in the moshpit for Illy, a third reported she was raped at her campsite, and two more women have since gone to police with unreleased charges.

Though stating they cannot comment on the specifics of each report, the event organisers have now issued a strong statement condemning the incidents.

“Everybody has the right to move through life — not just at a music festival, but everywhere — free to feel safe and confident to enjoy their surroundings,” reads a post on their Facebook page. “Like everyone else we are disgusted and angry that some people feel they can inappropriately touch others without their consent.”

They then added a general note on the nature of public discourse on sexual assault, asking that the blame and focus be squarely placed on those at fault.

“We would like to see the conversation turn from telling our women and girls to be on guard and vigilant, to telling our boys and men to have some respect and stop taking these liberties.”

That clarification may sound pretty commonplace, but it’s worth paying some attention to (as well as the ways it diverges from statements made by other parties on this issue).

The first quotes from Tasmania Police following the initial reports, for instance, focussed exclusively on safety measures that could be taken by festival-goers. “The best thing you can do is to stay with your friends at all times and look out for each other,” Inspector Doug Rossiter said in a statement.

While that’s not bad advice — looking out for your mates at festivals is a good idea no matter what the circumstances — it does feed into a broader culture which places undue pressure on people (most commonly women) to take preventative steps in avoiding violence that might be done to them. It’s the same logic that leads homicide squad chiefs to say women “shouldn’t be alone in parks”, and results in 93 percent of Australian women between 18-24 policing their own behaviour to account for potential harassment. Shouldn’t that onus for change really be on the people doing the harassing?

Tasmania Police have offered comment against the alleged attackers since then. Detective Inspector Steve Burk told BuzzFeed there “seems to be a cultural issue among young men and young women about what is an appropriate standard [of behaviour]”. “If your mother or grandma was standing beside you, would you feel comfortable acting in that way? Would you feel comfortable with your mother or grandmother being treated in that way?”

In a seperate statement on Facebook Burk said, “it’s quite clear that the general belief of a lot of young people is that being inappropriately touched by someone else is what happens in the moshpit”. “My view is if you’re not comfortable treating women like that in the middle of the mall you don’t treat them like that in the middle of the moshpit either.”

Though the detective is clearly speaking out against the crimes, many women have expressed criticism of his wording and method in the comments section. A great number of people have pointed out it shouldn’t really be about the “comfort” of the one doing the touching (that may sound arbitrary, but it’s definitely interesting given the broader importance of how we talk about sexual assault).

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With this in mind, it’s hard not to read the Falls Festival post (which came around 12 hours later) as somewhat of a response to this. Though sexual assault is clearly a much broader issue which needs more complex consideration in our culture at large, it’s encouraging to see one of Australia’s biggest music festivals make such a strong stand for survivors and women more broadly.

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The most popular comment on Falls Fest’s post.

As other festivals and music venues trial new support systems and policy changes to deter harassment and abuse, it’ll be interesting to see if these horrific events result in any changes for next year’s event.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

Feature image via Falls Festival/Ian Laidlaw.