Live Music Exchange Blog
Our latest post is by Rosemary Lucy Hill, Senior Lecturer in Media and Popular Culture, University of Huddersfield. Here she outlines research into sexual violence and harassment at gigs, and introduces the guide that emerged from it about how to write a ‘safer spaces’ policy.
TL;DR: safer spaces policies are really useful; here’s our Guide on how to write one.
Right now music venues are fighting for their lives. Slivers of hope in putting on gigs again are tied in with thinking about how to do so safely.
Whilst we consider audience safety from covid, other forms of safety need to be remembered. Violence and sexual harassment have been a pernicious part of the gig experience, especially for women, for many years. Going to a gig can be a distinctly unsafe experience, leading to long-term trauma, loss of community and loss of a musical life. For musicians it can mean a reconsideration of career choices.
This moment, then, presents an opportunity to reflect on how we might improve safety in terms of reducing sexual violence and harassment, and promoting equality in gig going.
My team and I have been researching the impacts of sexual violence at gigs, and what we can do to mitigate them. We discovered that some venues are very good at dealing with violence, but others felt at sea when an incident occurred. They didn’t know how to respond for the best.
Safer spaces policies can be helpful for staff in dealing with sexual harassment and violence, especially if staff have also received good training. Policies can provide consistency so everyone in the venue is on the same page. They are good for audiences and musicians too, as they provide more information about how to behave or how to get support if something goes wrong.
But for all that, we found a lot of variety among existing policies: some long, some short, some complex, some as distilled as ‘Don’t be a dick’ (as if everyone knows what ‘being a dick’ is). This means it’s quite patchy in terms of how useful policies are, or how easy they are to read and understand.
We also found that people who run venues are really pushed for time. They might not feel confident about writing a safer spaces policy. One of the venue managers we spoke to said,
“I’m not the expert on rights and policies, it’s not my thing. I’m really good at running things smoothly and efficiently, but writing isn’t [one of my strengths].”
We wanted to help resolve this problem with an easy guide to writing a policy and a template to go with it. So we created the Five Step Guide to Writing a Safer Spaces Policy for Your Venue. We drew on our research and consulted with venue managers, promoters and anti-violence charities to make sure that the guide is practical and a positive experience for users.
Our Guide sets out five steps to lead venue managers and their teams through a discussion of what to put in their policy and how to write it. This is about the ideals of the staff and what kind of venue they are running or want to create. It asks about practical measures already in place and what more could be done (and what support would be needed to achieve it).
Our research found that a lot of safer spaces policies use quite negative language: they’re about what people shouldn’t be doing in a venue, not what they should be doing (having fun!). We recommend that policies are framed in positive language. This encourages people to share in the values of the venue and to take constructive action.
Our sample policy is explicitly framed in this positive language and sets out clearly what audience members can do to enjoy themselves safely and without impinging on others’ fun. For example,
“Say ‘excuse me’ when moving through the crowd, rather than pushing or touching people. A couple of taps on the shoulder may be okay if they haven’t heard you”
It is also clear about what the venue provides and how staff will respond if an incident of violence does occur. Sadly, incidents do happen even in venues with policies – but knowing how best to deal with it can reduce the trauma for those on the receiving end.
We hope that the Five Step Guide to Writing a Safer Spaces Policy will prove a valuable tool for venues and promoters as they foster safety at gigs. It is our philosophy that the gig experience should be fun for everyone. Clear guidance for audiences and support from venues can promote that. We think of this as a ‘framework for fun’ in which everyone’s freedom to have fun is being supported, as long as it doesn’t impede someone else’s enjoyment.
Hill, R. L., Hesmondhalgh, D., & Megson, M. (2020). Sexual violence at live music events: experiences, responses and prevention. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 23(3), 368–384.
Hill, R. L., & Megson, M. (2020). In defence of safer spaces: punk, privilege and safer spaces policies. Punk & Post-Punk, 9(1), 59–76.
Rosemary Lucy Hill, Senior Lecturer in Media and Popular Culture, University of Huddersfield, UK; Twitter@rosemarylhill