CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual violence and assault.

A new study focusing on safety and sexual violence at Australian music festivals has recommended clearer protocols regarding sexual violence and the consequences for perpetrators.

Doctor Bianca Fileborn, a criminology lecturer at the University of Melbourne, worked with Dr. Phillip Wadds (senior criminology lecturer at UNSW) and Professor Stephen Tomsen (Professor of Criminology at WSU) conducted the research during and after the 2017 Falls Festival.

The aim of the study was to look into the average punter’s experience at a festival, and how they felt about sexual assault, harassment, and their own safety while attending.

While all three researchers were on site, they also conducted an online survey of 500 people who had attended Falls Festival, as well as 16 one-on-one interviews with people who said they had experienced, or responded to, sexual violence at any Aussie music festival.

Of these survey participants there were twice as many women as men, and two people who identified as transgender or non-binary. The vast majority (87.6%) were heterosexual.

The survey found that just over 61% of those questioned usually felt safe at music festivals, however almost 93% of people said they thought physical violence occurred at music festivals. Further still, just over 95% said they believed sexual harassment happened and 88.6% said they thought sexual assault occurred.

Participants were allowed to define what constituted “sexual violence” themselves, with researchers preferring not to use legal jargon or criteria.

Groping in the middle of moshpits and during performances was a common experience, and perpetrators were overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) men.

And while 75% of people involved with the online survey said they would be extremely likely to report sexual assault that they witnessed at a festivals, researchers found during one-on-one interviews that bystanders rarely intervened when sexual violence occurred.

Most people also said they didn’t report incidents to police or other festival staff, either, and those that did recalled negative responses like victim-blaming and not being taken seriously.

Things like a zero tolerance approach to drugs from police and a general anti-social vibe from police were the triggers that stopped people from reporting incidents of sexual assault.

Almost everyone who participated in the study said they drank alcohol at festivals, with a little under half saying they took drugs – a figure that is particularly interesting given the NSW government’s insistence that almost all patrons take illicit substances.

The report recommended music festivals have clearer protocols about sexual violence and the consequences for perpetrators, increasing the number of female police working at events and offering multiple ways for people to report sexual violence.

Follow up on reports, chill out spaces, regular security patrols, better signage, lighting, and a continued effort to make line-ups more gender equitable and diverse was also recommended.

This study was only a pilot effort, providing purely initial insights into an issue that is far-ranging and under-analysed. It is clear, reads the study, that further research is required.

If you need to speak to someone about your own experiences, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT. If you suspect someone you know may be experiencing abuse, please call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call 000.