“ASES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IN CANADA ARE DISTURBINGLY COMMON. FOR EXAMPLE, FIGURES FROM STATISTICS CANADA IN 2016 SUGGEST THAT 1,260 SEXUAL ASSAULTS TAKE PLACE IN ONTARIO EVERY DAY, AND THAT IT AFFECTS APPROXIMATELY 50 PER CENT OF WOMEN BETWEEN THE AGES OF 18 AND 30 THROUGHOUT THEIR LIFETIME.”
By ZOË ARGIROPULOS-HUNTER
What is perhaps more devastating than these endings alone is the fact that further research shows that an estimated 91 per cent of these cases were not reported to police, and that criminal prosecution rates are even lower.
Likewise, very little data indicates what factors contribute to occurrences of sexual assault in mass gatherings, such as music festivals, despite the alarming spike in the number of incidents at major events in the last few years.
The slow realization of this reality, and very little action put forward to counter it, has sparked lots of media backlash. A known issue for years, Vice published a piece by Kate Lloyd aptly titled: “There’s a Rape Problem at Music Festivals and Nobody Seems to Care” in 2015.
That being said, an extensive 2013 study conducted by Dr. Kari Sampsel, a determined emergency room doctor and director of The Ottawa Hospital Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, has uncovered some key observations and patterns that help explain what factors are perpetuating this largely ignored issue.
Dr. Sampsel’s case series analysis surveyed 204 sexual assault patients from The Ottawa Hospital Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program. From this sample, she and her colleagues found that 53 (26 per cent) of the victims were sexually assaulted at mass gatherings. Additionally, Sampsel noted that an increase proportion of sexually assaulted patients associated with mass gatherings peaked in January, July, September and October, months that coincide with events like New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, local university Frosh weeks and Halloween.
Two years after Dr. Sampsel’s research was published, it came as no surprise that reports of sexual assault shot up as Ottawa’s summer festival season kicked o in 2016. That June, Dr. Sampsel’s team treated 6 women in the ER unit over the course of one weekend, all of whom had been sexually assaulted either at music festivals in the Ottawa area, or at pre-party events.
From this study, it was concluded that victims of assault at mass gatherings are more likely to be within a younger age range, and to have consumed illicit substances, been drugged, or experienced unconsciousness at the time of their assault.
Additionally, Dr. Sampsel reported that less than one-third of victims, who were primarily young women, knew their assailant. It is without a doubt that Dr. Sampsel’s commendable work is an important resource for concert attendees to educate themselves on the dangers that manifest within festival culture. At the same time, her hard hitting results have started to turn the heads of those in charge of programming major music events in Ottawa through an organization called Project Sound-check.
Project Soundcheck was developed in 2015 by The Sexual Assault Network and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women after Dr. Sampsel’s report recognized that 25 per cent of the sexual assault cases she addressed in 2013 occurred after large events.
In essence, the members of Project Soundcheck make up a sexual assault prevention team. Their main goal is to work alongside major event programming coordinators in the mutual e ort to avert sexual violence, and raise awareness about its prevalence.
Elsa Mirzaei, a safer space activist and member of Project Soundcheck, explained they want the group’s message to be directed mostly to people who may have never experienced sexual violence, “ . . . so they know how to be supportive of other folks around them [within the community] who are survivors.” They emphasized that their central mission to get this point across is done by educating others about what is known as “the bystander apathy e ect”, whereby the willingness or responsibility to act in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation is diminished because we feel that someone else will intervene.
With Project Soundcheck as a strong community partner, the minds behind local grassroot festivals like Ottawa Explosion and Megaphono are putting forward innovative protocols to address accountability and bystander intervention within their guidelines.
Emmanuel Sayer from Ottawa Explosion Weekend’s (OXW) board of directors, identifed e ective communication as one simple way to counteract sexual assault.
To elaborate, Sayer highlighted that his team makes sure that all parties involved in planning OXW understand their motivation to create safer spaces within the community.
Sayer said this begins with, “[briefing security guards] on our audience and our needs, including any vulnerable site lines, areas, and times. We [also ask that they] understand our vision, as well as our code of conduct.” He added that it is just as vital to “ . . . share information about emergency procedures, including reporting of both active and potential incidents [of sexual assault],” to their volunteers and committees during training in order to build understanding and trust.
All in all, Sayer says this process “[helps] create an environment where we work as a team to communicate and support each other and our attendees.”
Meanwhile, those working behind the scenes for Megaphono Festival are planning to tackle this issue beyond traditional forms of security. Collaborating with Kamp Operations (who manages Megaphono volunteers and security) members Rachel Weldon and Jon Bartlett from Megaphono’s public relations council are hoping to implement the presence of a Safety Team at next year’s festival.
“The Safety Team will be team of volunteers trained in de-escalation and bystander intervention practices, and would be a neutral, non-judgmental point of contact for those experiencing violence or trauma. They will be an alternative to extra security presence to help keep an eye out for event attendees,” Weldon said.
Unlike other local music festivals, both Ottawa Explosion and Megaphono have their codes of conduct and safer spaces policies available to the public on their websites and online event pages.
Alongside Project Soundcheck, these organizations actively pursue public engagement in order gain knowledge and insight on ways to improve events within the 613 circuit and support survivors of sexual assault, and prevent future cases agressivity. Teams from these respective groups encourage survivors of sexual assault and members of the community to get in touch with them personally about their concerns, and do so by making their contact information available on their web pages and social media outlets.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can contact these resources for help:
Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC)
Orcc Telephone Line
The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa
Centre d’Aide et de Lutte Contre les Agressions à Caractére Sexuel (CALACS)
Centre For Treatment of Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trauma
The Sexual Assault Network (SAN)
Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW)
OCTEVAW is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending violence against women and, through leadership, education, advocacy and political action, to promoting a coordinated response to women and their children who have experienced abuse.
This article is part of our August 2017 issue 15