THE PROBLEM OF GIG GROPING, AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
Trigger warning: sexual violence
It’s such a long time since I’ve been to a gig: COVID-19 has significantly restricted the in-person live music scene. It makes me wistful for gigs past. But there are some things I don’t miss: that tall bloke always in front of me, sweaty hair in my face, and being groped in the crowd.
This is what happened when I went to see Metallica: a man groped my breast. I was fuming, humiliated, frightened. To be touched intimately without my permission, to be reduced to meat, to be unsure if worse was to come… to be stopped mid-sing-along, to spend the rest of the gig looking over my shoulder… It was a miserable experience. I didn’t report it.
If you’ve been groped at a gig, you’re not alone, and it is not your fault. Our research has found that gig groping is all too common: men (it’s often, but not always, men) grope women (not always, but mostly women) in the crowd at gigs. One participant described it as ‘the extra price of a ticket’ that women have to pay. Those targeted don’t always report it because venue staff often don’t believe that anything much bad has happened, or they don’t know what to do about it.
But something bad has happened: in UK law a criminal sexual assault has taken place. This is upsetting. Our research found that gig groping can have long lasting impacts on physical and mental health. Even years later our interviewees cried as they described what had been done to them. They were angry at the perpetrators, at the venue staff who responded badly, at the injustice.
And it has lasting impacts on musical engagement too: it stops people from enjoying the music; they retreat to the back and sides; they stop going to gigs alone, in particular venues, or by particular bands… Some stop going to gigs altogether. One of our participants described her experience:
“Whenever I started going to gigs, I felt very uneasy. I felt like I had to constantly look over my shoulder. And I started having panic attacks, suffering from claustrophobia” – Thora (not her real name)
So what can we do about it? Well, for a start, if you’ve groped people you can not do it again. But sexual violence in our live music spaces isn’t just the problem of ‘a few bad apples’; it is a problem for the whole community. This is what you can do:
As metal fans, we want to take good care of each other. If you see someone being groped or harassed, you can check in with them, to see if they need help. Learning about bystander intervention is really useful for knowing what to do in these situations.
If you put on gigs or run venues, you want to take care of your audience members. You can get specialist training to help you respond better when an assault takes place. You can create a policy to help audiences know what is good gig behaviour, and what you’re doing to support your audience.
As music lovers, it is vital that we defend everybody’s right to enjoy the gig. We can start with our own behaviour and with what happens in our musical communities. It takes action and self-reflection, but together, we can improve the gig experience for everyone.
Songs to keep in your ear
Svalbard, ‘What Was She Wearing?’ (2020)
Jo Quail, ‘Mandrel Cantus’ (2018)
Within Temptation, ‘Angels’ (2004)
Healthy Music Audiences’ research articles.
My TEDx talk on sexual violence at live music events, The Gendered Experience of Music. Trigger warning: sexual violence.
Guide to writing an anti-harassment policy.
Good Night Out guide to bystander intervention.