Trauma can have a huge effect on your mental health, as can how safe and comfortable you feel within a environment, and whether there is trust and communication in the community you are a part of. For that reason I really wanted to ask the team at Girls Against some questions. Conversations regarding sexual assault are heady and regular in light of the media storm created since the #METOO and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. To cover enough ground and do that we could attempt to touch on some difficult quandaries, I felt I should play the part of devils advocate with some of my questions – referring to opinions and statements I’ve seen posted online in regards to this topic. I also wanted to find out more about what their powerful movement is trying to achieve for us all.
Why did you feel compelled to start/be part of Girl Against?
Our founders started GA when Hann was assaulted in the crowd at a Peace gig, and she shared the experience on social media. There was a huge response, with others sharing similar stories. Members of the band also heard about what happened, posting on Twitter that it was unacceptable to perpetrate such behaviour and that they didn’t want anyone at their shows who wish to act that way. Hann was pretty blown away by both the support and the overwhelming scale of the problem, and thought that the conversation needed to continue – and in a bigger way. So Girls Against started!
You are working with bands, venues, and security companies, to devise a solid safety plan. Where are you currently with this? What’s the current recommended course of action should you experience something you’re not comfortable with?
We would always recommend making security aware of a situation, if you feel safe to do so, but also understand the difficulties people sometimes face when they let security know. This is why we’re working with security companies to create training protocols – because unfortunately a lot of what is currently in place is insufficient on this subject.
Has the fact that you are all young (teenage) females made things more difficult. Have you found that some people don’t always give you the respect you deserve and are resistant to listening to what you have to say?
Definitely! We’ve been lucky that the music community at large has been supportive of the campaign, but we are often met with scepticism – not always overt, but clear enough to us! When Girls Against began, the founders were all 16-18 and the whole group now ranges from about 17-22. People do look at you and think ‘what can you really do?’ and ‘what experience do you even have?’ – to which I say, we’ve experienced growing up as girls who go to shows. The understanding that we all have of what that’s like and the passion for changing how things are is more important than any experience people older than us might have in running a campaign. What makes GA is that we all ‘get it’, and we’re involved. People can be as condescending as they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are doing work that needs doing – and from the number of people we hear from who have been affected by harassment and assault at shows, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job.
When you reach out to people companies and big bosses for support are they very responsive and do they seem to WANT to make positive changes?
Yes, for the most part they are responsive. Sometimes we get the impression that their hearts aren’t truly in it – that they just don’t want to look back – but I think for the most part people are willing to discuss it. They may not always understand straight away, but that’s okay (even if it’s frustrating a lot of the time!) because we’re all learning.
There’s a misconception that because Girls Against is run by females that you’re only fighting for females, can you tell us the reality of what you’re trying to do….
We’re called Girls Against because all the founders are girls, and it was a snappy name. We are still predominantly a girl-led campaign, but we have members of other genders too. More importantly, we’re here to help everyone. Sexual harassment and assault in these settings is most statistically likely to happen to women and girls, and visibly queer people. But it can happen to anyone, and does. Any gender, any race, any sexuality. GA are working for everyone.
Obviously since the Weinstein allegations ,and all the ones that followed as a result sexual harassment/assault is a bit of a hot topic in society and the media. How do we ensure it’s not a passing trend and carry on pushing forward?
It’s difficult, because the intensity of the #MeToo campaign et al isn’t sustainable – it’s draining for survivors and activists alike. Yes, these things happen with alarming frequency and we need to be aware of it, but talking about it as we have been the past few months is causing severe burn-out for many – it has involved confronting trauma on a daily basis, and being unable to escape it because it’s everywhere. In all honesty, I don’t entirely have an answer for you – we have to carry on the conversation, but I don’t know how we go about that in a way that is sustainable and isn’t actively harming those it’s meant to help.
I suppose action is the key. We’re having these conversations and trying to hold people accountable, but we need to be pushing people with influence to truly hold these people accountable too. In the music scene, for example, many big magazines are still providing a platform to alleged abusers, as are festivals. This isn’t acceptable and we need to continue demanding that they do better.
What can people do on a day to day basis to be part of the positive changes that need to take place?
Look at who you’re supporting and ask yourself whether they deserve that support. Examine your own biases, and be willing to be challenged. Look after yourself – because change is happening and change takes a lot of hard work… you need to know your limitations, and how to protect your energy when things get overwhelming.
I think conflict is a big issue when it comes to these topics. People don’t know how to feel/react when there are allegations happen to be about someone or something they’ve had positive experiences of, or are simply a fan of? What are your opinions/advice?
I 100% understand the reluctance + discomfort when it’s someone you are a fan of – I’ve adored and even met bands who have had allegations against them. I work on this campaign and this is an issue close to my heart, and I have still found those most difficult to believe. But it’s important to remember that abusers are always someone’s friend. They are always something positive in someone’s life, but they are still abusers. Just because our personal experiences of them have been good, it doesn’t mean that’s everyone’s experience.
It’s also important to remember that it is very rare that people make up stories of being assaulted – there is no gain to be had from sharing such experiences. People who have made allegations against band members have received endless hate for it, have been sent death threats and other violent messages from hundreds of strangers. Why would anyone want to go through that? Fake stories do happen, but hardly ever – what’s far more common is survivors being disbelieved. The law and society are in favour of the person with more power in the situation – typically, the man. When you add the social status of being in a band (no matter how small – if they have any public status and fans, then they have a certain power the other does not), it’s very easy for the accused to get away with it.
That is not to say that you can’t find it difficult to let go. For me, personally, I find I can’t listen to music made by someone I now know to have acted in such a terrible way – it makes me feel physically ill. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss that band being in my life, that I don’t hear people talking about their shows and feel sad that I can’t go (due to a moral decision). There is one band that I hear on the radio a lot and sometimes forget – just for a moment – what they’ve done, and I still feel the love for them that I felt a year ago. But then I remember, and that’s hard. But you know what’s harder than not listening to a band you used to (or still kind of) love? Being assaulted or abused, and seeing other people continue to support the person/people who hurt you.
Where do you stand on redemption and forgiveness? What is it reliant on or impacted by? Is it how the allegations are dealt with by the accused party? Is it whether they acknowledge the accusations, and/or admit to fault? Is it how they admit to fault? Is it about whether they can prove they’ve changed?
Flippant sexist comments, misguided song lyrics etc. can all be forgiven if a person as apologised and learnt. When it comes to assault and abuse, however, it is not so simple. Rehabilitation should of course be encouraged, and people should be given the opportunity to change. They can strive to do better, but that doesn’t mean they deserve forgiveness. Abuse ruins people’s lives, affects how they relate to other people and changes how their brains work. Why should the perpetrators of such things be forgiven?
A large part of the problem is that behaviours, perceptions, notions are ingrained in society or a result of nurture. What do you think could be done to educate, both children and adults?
Children need to be taught about consent. They shouldn’t be forced to hug or kiss a family member if they don’t want to. That seems like such a small and normal thing, but kids need to know that what they do with their body – on every level – is their choice. Kids need to know that there is never a situation in which they are owed or that they owe anyone anything in that regard.
Adults, meanwhile, need to be educating themselves and each other. They need to be open to hear others and accept that what they have been socialised to believe isn’t necessarily the truth. Conversations still need to be had about alcohol and consent, about women’s clothing and what it does or does not signify, etc.
Another issue is power. Often people feel they’re in a position where it feels difficult to speak out if something has happened to them or if they’ve witnessed it happen to someone else. Perhaps you think you’ll lose a job you really need, and/or effect your future career. Perhaps you worry about backlash or not being believed. Perhaps you suffer with anxiety and the process of taking action is incredibly scary. What do we need to have in place/change to move towards a place where people feel safe to report these things?
People need to be able to feel confident that when they speak out, they will be believed and supported. That’s what’s been so great about the #MeToo campaign – people have come forward because they’ve been given a space in which their story will be accepted and understood. Creating more safe spaces like that, making promises to prioritise the stories of survivors and believing them rather than questioning the validity of their statements.
What do you think needs to happen to make sure everything about the process is fair in terms of the accused too? (I say this because if everything is treated completely fairly and thoroughly there will be less room for doubts regarding to the viability of the ‘victim’ which is so important). I’m so fed up with people saying that the ‘victim’ was lying just because the case doesn’t get anywhere or because they happen to drop the suit. But we do also need to safeguard the percentage of people falsely accused.
It is incredibly rare that people are falsely accused – there’s this belief that people are always making up ‘rumours’ to ‘jump on the trend’ or something along those lines, but that’s really uncommon. As I said before, there’s not much – if anything – that someone can get out of making false allegations – making a statement always leads to nasty backlash.
I think people need to better understand the power dynamics involved, and appreciate that a case being dropped doesn’t mean an awful lot regarding what happened.
There is an argument that trial by social media is unhelpful. How do we find a balance or raising awareness, making people aware but not potentially damaging a case in a legal sense?
I understand where this argument stems from, but I don’t think it’s fair. The legal system is incredibly biased against survivors – it’s difficult to obtain ‘evidence’ in these cases, especially as reports are not always immediately made (if you’re in shock and traumatised, telling someone who may or may not take you seriously is not easy to do). Again, societal beliefs about consent etc are skewed and not in favour of victims. Social media, especially with the current momentum, sometimes feels safer – yes, people are awful online but there are also people who will have your back. It can feel easier to share with a wider audience, where a larger number of people will take you seriously (even if it means more horrible stuff, too). It feels like, at the moment, the internet is more likely to hold people accountable than the law in these situations, which is why people choose Twitter as their first place to speak.
Drawing on what you said earlier. Do you think magazines/media need to take a stronger stance about who they are willing to feature?
100%. I see music magazines supporting alleged and known abusers all the time. These people are still getting front covers and glowing reviews and feature pieces galore, and it’s not acceptable.
To anyone looking to set up an event/gig what would you suggest they do/have in place to make it as safe as possible?
Make a clear policy. Put up posters on the doors, have announcements between acts – make it clear what behaviour you do not tolerate, and make it clear that there will be consequences for acting that way. Put information for helplines in toilets – if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable or safe to speak to staff on the night, they still know that help is available if needed. Make sure any security at the event are trained well, and know to take incidents seriously.
Do you have any specific things planned for the year ahead?
We do! We’re working in partnership with Truck Festival, which is exciting – they’ve been really thoughtful and receptive over the past few months as we’ve been discussing improving security and similar issues. They’ve taken any concerns we’ve had seriously, and taken our suggestions on board! We’re really excited for that.
We’re also working on something for International Women’s Day (8th March), but I can’t reveal details yet…
There are so many things in the works! But it’s all being kept under wraps for now I’m afraid, but people should keep their eyes peeled!
What helplines/podcasts/websites would you recommend to people who are dealing with any of these issues?
Some good helplines and websites if you’ve been affected are:
Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999
The Survivors Trust: 0808 801 0818
Our friends at Safe Gigs for Women are also great, and doing a lot of hard work in this specific field too.
You can find us at https://girlsagainst.org.uk