Osheaga in the #MeToo Era

Summertime is peak festival season. This is supposed to be a fun, exciting time of year when you get to see some of your favourite artists or discover new ones. But for others, festival season can also mean an increased period of unwanted sexual advances.

Despite the heightened awareness surrounding these issues due to the #metoo movement, sexual harassment and assault is still prevalent at festivals all around the world. A quick google search reveals articles with disturbing titles like Sexual Harassment was Rampant at Coachella 2018. And in response to the high number of sexual assaults at festivals in Sweden, the first cis, non-binary, and trans women-only music festival, Statement Festival is scheduled to launch in late August.

In Montreal, a real conversation about sexual harassment and assault at festivals started in 2016. When Osheaga officials initially brushed off Melanie Doucet’s claims that her drink was spiked, she went to the media to share her story. Doucet’s story inspired The Montreal Women’s Council to survey women about their festival going experiences.

The results of the survey, which included women of colour, women with disabilities, and members of the lgbtq community, were both scary and unsurprising. 56% of women who attended festivals in Montreal reported being harrassed. 37% of women surveyed admitted to being sexually assaulted. And that’s only the women who were willing to come forward. Many victims, either out of shame or embarrassment, never speak up.

So how has Osheaga, which starts this year on August 3rd, responded to these issues? For the second year in a row, the festival has hired the Les Hirondelles intervention team to roam the grounds. In a press release for this year’s festival, executive vice president and chief operating officer of evenko Jacques Aubé stated that “The presence of the Hirondelles is perfectly in line with our primary objective, which is to allow all festival-goers to fully enjoy their entertainment experience in a safe environment.”

Recognizable by their armbands with a pair of swallows, The Hirondelles are specialized security squads designed to increase the safety of vulnerable people at the festival. They will also have booths on the grounds that act as safe spaces for people who feel threatened.

It’s commendable that Osheaga has started taking steps to ensure that everyone (we can’t forget that men are victims of sexual harassment and assault as well) can feel safe from these kinds of vulgar and inappropriate situations. If only we could live in a world where everyone could just keep their hands or comments to themselves, and enjoy the music.

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