By Charlie Wainwright.
Thrown away statements such as ‘take it as a compliment’ or ‘it was only a joke, love’ are all too familiar for 21st century women.
Normalising these behaviours by swapping the legal term ‘sexual assault’ for belittling phrases such as ‘just an ass grab’ is removing responsibility from the men who; verbally sexualise women, brush their hands against bums in clubs, spike drinks, pull up skirts, pull down tops and touch body parts.
According to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the elements of sexual assault are: A person intentionally touches another person, the touching is sexual, the victim does not consent to the touching, and consent is not reasonably assumed.
Safe Gigs for Women has taken this problem into their own hands…
Safe Gigs for Women (SGFW) volunteer Mel dedicates her free time to tackling the normalisation of sexual assaults. The organisation, SGFW, reaches out to women who have been made victim of sexual assault.
Founded in 2015 the organisation is ran by both men and women with full time jobs who feel strongly enough about the cause to spend their free time drumming up awareness at gigs.
“We’re all volunteers with day jobs. We have a leadership team of four, and two regional volunteers. One of the things we’re doing at festivals this year is interviewing volunteers so we hope to expand that number. We’ve had a lot of interest from the US so we hope to expand there by 2018.”
SGFW plan to attend festivals this year to offer support to those attending while continuing their work with gig goers, musicians, venues and on social media. Their online support receives the most attention with the help from high profile musician Frank Turner, who struck up a strong relationship with the group after an email exchange.
“He, at first, didn’t realise the scope of the problem, but he asked his female friends and co-workers and they all said to him, yeah, it’s a thing, didn’t you know? It happens at your shows as well. So he was fully on board after that, and so was Xtra Mile Recordings, his label.
“About half-way through the tour, there was a kerfuffle on his Facebook page about SGFW and general alt-right talking points, and Frank read the comments – his onstage chat about SGFW got really interesting after that, because he was livid.”
“Part of what we say at shows and festivals to people who stop by is that we encourage people at gigs to look out for each other, and for women to reach out to venue security or even a bystander for assistance at the time it happens, and we speak to venue staff when we can about taking the report seriously – something that unfortunately isn’t a given.”
Mel insists that though the organisation’s name refers to women they would never turn away a man in need.
“We’d never turn away any person (regardless of gender, including Trans and gender-fluid people) who wanted to talk to us about an experience they had. Although it’s called SGFW our actual goal is that we want a safe gig experience for everyone.”
With a male on their team they feel it is important to educate both genders on the seriousness of sexual assault.
“Sadly, the fact is that for some men, unless another man says the behaviour isn’t cool, they won’t listen to us. Also we want everyone to feel safe and happy at gigs.”
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, one of the most cited reason for not reporting a sexual offence is that they seemed “too trivial” to report. When people are living within a society that normalises sexual assault is it a surprise that both men and women have become confused as to what warrants as ‘serious enough’?
Mel says women should: “Shout and make a scene. The person assaulting you (and it is sexual assault, not just groping – call it what it is) is counting on you just letting hit happen. Women especially are conditioned not to make a fuss but make one!”
The organisation has become an online safe haven for women, no assault too small.
“No assault is normal. Nothing about it is normal. It is sadly commonplace. That said, the most common report we get is groping.
“We have heard of everything from groping to women being dragged off and raped.
“Finally, remember it’s not your fault, you’re not alone. It’s not what you were wearing, what makeup you have on, whether you’re in heels, whether you’ve been drinking or taking drugs, nothing you have said or done gives anyone, at any time, permission to touch you without your consent. If you snogged a guy earlier, it does not give him consent to touch you later if you say no – no matter what he’s had to drink, or what you’ve had to drink.
“You have every right to wear and do and drink what you want, and what happened is not your fault.”
Frank Turner: getting ‘Frank’ on sexual assault
Popular English folk singer-song writer Frank Turner, 35, uses his fans and celebrity status as a platform to raise awareness of sexual assault and organisation SGFW.
The artist is well known within Indie circles and uses his lyrics, stage time and social media to promote equality and respect between genders.
“Safe Gigs for Women, got in touch with me about what they were doing.
“Prior to that, well, I suppose I was aware that men can be pigs and behave awfully in public towards other people, especially women, but I think I had a slightly naive view that that kind of thing didn’t happen, or at least didn’t happen as much, in the punk community, and at my shows.”
This naivety is a trend enabling men to continue their normalisation of sexualisation towards women, but Frank’s knowledge on the subject, thanks for SGFW Founder Tracey Wise, has turned him into an activist.
“Tracey pretty quickly disabused me of that notion, and it was a very eye-opening experience for me, reading through the testimonials on her site.
“Before then, I’d always made a point of calling out shitty behaviour at shows if I saw it, but the stage is not always the best place to see that kind of thing from. Since getting familiar with the SG4W campaign I’ve tried to make it a more central part of my approach to my shows.”
“It completely outrages me to think that people would behave like that at all, but the area I have some small degree of control over is the shows that I play, so that’s where I feel I can make a difference of some kind, however small.”
Frank plays an active role on Twitter raising the profile of SGFW while doing the same on stage.
Nearly every girl is now a statistic…
According to The Independent, reports show that 85% of young women in the UK will suffer sexual assault in their early adult years.
Middlesex University undergraduate Sarah Brown, 21, found herself to be a statistic.
“Every time I go out I experience some sort of objectification/unwanted attention.”
Like most, Sarah found it difficult in the past to determine what behaviour is ‘sexual assault’.
“I’m not sure what counts as sexual assault: ass/waist grabbing, dancing, uninvited attention, or even guys just staring. The worst is when they won’t take no for an answer – and then when they finally do, insult you because of their own hurt ego from the rejection.”
Sadly this is not uncommon and the behaviours mentioned are sexual assault, whether physical or verbal.
“One of the most explicit times I was sexually assaulted was when me and a friend were stood at a bar, and I felt a guy literally push his hands in-between my legs from behind. I looked at my friend and she said ‘has that guy got his hand on your f****?’ and I said yes, he was doing the same to her!
“She punched him. The fact that just because I was wearing something where you could access somewhere so personal, this apparently gave that guy a valid reason to touch it made me feel really exposed and a bit sick.
“We felt thankful that neither of us would just take something like that – but worrying to think that some girls might have not known how to react in a situation like that (not that physical violence was the correct thing to do).
“Certain aspects have been normalised. There are certain clubs that I won’t even go to, just because I spend the majority of my night having to ward off unwanted attention – which sounds big-headed but isn’t, as I think most of these guys aren’t too concerned with who they’re giving attention to along as they are of the opposite sex.
“I think that a lot of people aren’t educated enough on sexual assault – me included. I think that because calling it that has such strong connotations I’d also hesitate to call some of my own experiences as sexual assault, which is probably me also adding into the problem.”