Safer spaces to help festival goers

Two sisters who live in Cornwall and London have set up a community interest company that provides safe spaces to festival-goers who experience sexual violence, harassment, and domestic abuse at events.

Safer Spaces is a relatively new company which sends specially trained outreach teams to festivals in the UK and recently attended an event in Saudi Arabia. They are already signed up to pitch up at Love Saves the Day, the Forwards Festival, Boardmasters, NASS and Boom Town this summer.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s team caught up with Anna and Madeline about what they do and why?

Why did you set up Safer Spaces?

Anna: I set Safer Spaces up with my sister as a result of my personal and professional experience of working within the domestic abuse sector. From my own experience and speaking to other people I realised there was a culture of harassment, abuse and assaults of women and girls at concerts, festivals and other events.  I didn’t believe that enough was being done to tackle the issue, but I decided it had to change so I started Safer Spaces with my sister.

Madeline: Women and girls are constantly harassed in the street, at the gym, at school and at their places of work and the sense of entitlement to a woman’s body is very much evident at music events and festivals. We hear of women being groped, being physically assaulted if they reject unwanted advances and very regular of having drinks spiked. Women don’t feel safe anywhere and they are coming together more and more to say enough is enough.

What is Safer Spaces?

Safer Spaces is a community interest company that was set up to help 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. We are gender informed but our services are gender inclusive, turning no one away that needs a safe space.

What do you do?  

M: At our first event, which was Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall, we had around 60 specially trained volunteers.

Our safe space at each event is a cosy tent, which on the surface, is just a space to relax and glam up with styling stations. We have specially put together private disclosure cabins out at the back that we can offer to people if they require it.

A: We use specially trained outreach teams 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.

Our tents are set up as a welcoming safe space where people can come and hang out, use facilities and escape to some calmness. The tents also provide a safe space for people to report incidents and get the professional support they need.

What sort of professional support have you referred people to so far?

M: We have connected people with local domestic and sexual violence support workers and charities. As people come from all over the country, we connect them post festival to whoever they need to see.

Yes, the police have been called down to reports of serious assaults for a few of our festival goers. The police have also been called by security to assist in incidents. In some cases officers have brought female festivalgoers to us for the specialist support that our team provides – the police recognise the need for this support but can’t provide it themselves. We work hand in hand with the police and the security onsite at every festival

What response have you had at festivals so far?

M: We have had a phenomenal response from the public. Hundreds of written feedback forms saying that they can’t believe a service like ours finally exists at these events and that they feel so much safer and supported knowing we are there.

Mostly women and girls who come and chat do disclose but also the male friends have been shocked at what women and girls are subjected to. We aim to educate them to be allies. Many of the men we have spoken to have wanted to take action to help women festivalgoers and not to be a bystander. In many cases they have had their eyes opened to what’s happening for women and girls for the first time. They are often angry about the way their peers can behave which gives me hope for the future generations.

What do we hope to achieve in the long term?

We are there for those that will need our support to cope with assault and reporting it if they want to but our long term aim is about education. We want to dismantle social norms that underpin gender inequality and perpetuate violence against women and girls, by delivering our education and our physical safe space at festivals and events

We want people to adopt this zero-tolerance attitude and to educate people on safe ways to intervene as bystanders.

Our dream is to build an army of allies who can help all spaces be just that little bit safer.

We’ve had such an incredible response from the festival circuit already and are in talks with lots of the big festival companies. We’d love for all festivals to adopt a safer spaces tent or two! As we are just getting started there is a lot to do still but we are growing rapidly and are so grateful for the positive responses we’ve already had from the industry and the public.