Rape culture

Earth to Osheaga: it’s 2016

Festival’s dismissal of date-rape-drug incident is irresponsible
Photo: panchenks

Despite frequent attempts to treat it as the hysterical hyperbole of overly sensitive feminists, rape culture and victim blaming are alive and well. Sexual assault is too often treated as a problem that women would be wise to shield themselves from, by not engaging in any behaviour that might somehow invite it.

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It’s no surprise then that when Melanie Doucet was slipped a date rape drug while attending the Osheaga music festival this past weekend, festival security was less than helpful, and for the most part quite dismissive.

In a detailed Facebook post, Doucet described how, after suspecting she had been slipped a date rape drug and having been separated from her friends, she immediately left the premises and sought safety at her boyfriend’s apartment.

The next day she returned and spoke to security at the gate, asking them to warn others, but, despite doing the most responsible thing possible, she was brushed off and victim-blamed.

Despite doing the most responsible thing possible, she was brushed off and victim-blamed.

“I told the Osheaga Security Manager at the gate what had happened to me and asked if she could notify the security people around the site to be on the lookout since I was fearful I would not be the only girl this would happen to over the course of the weekend,” wrote Doucet in the Facebook post. “I got completely brushed off, was told they were very busy, they were trying their best but could not catch everything coming through the gates and that maybe I should have paid more attention to my drink.”

Her drink, by the way, never left her hand.

Doucet says that this was her fifth year attending Osheaga and most likely her last. The experience, compounded by the total dismissal of her complaint, has understandably left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“If they had responded to me in a better way, I would have felt reassured, but their response was so dismissive,” she told Ricochet during a phone interview.

Osheaga needs to do better

While no one is laying the blame solely on Osheaga, a music festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Parc Jean-Drapeau each year, the response to Doucet’s complaint was woefully inadequate.

Since her post went viral, the entertainment company responsible for the festival has issued a statement, but it’s nothing more than the generic damage control one often reads when bad publicity hits the fan.

“We are sorry to hear what happened to this lady. We will proceed with an investigation in order to find out what transpired,” said Evenko spokesperson Philip Vanden Brande in an email responding to CBC’s request for comment.

While Evenko cannot be blamed for the actions of one individual, it can be held responsible for its lax security (Doucet saw zero medics or security on her way out Friday night) and unprofessional and non-empathetic response.

This is particularly true when one considers that sexual harassment and date rape drugs have been well documented at festivals around the world.

Osheaga needs to ensure that its participants feel safe and that their concerns are addressed.

“There were three sexual offenses reported at Glastonbury this year and two in 2014. Two men were arrested for raping a woman at Reading Festival last year, and there was also a rape at the festival in 2009,” notes a 2015 Broadly article.

And only a few weeks ago there were reports of sexual assaults spiking during festival season in Ottawa.

Rape culture is so flippantly dismissed in our world that last year a man attending Coachella was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read: “Eat, Sleep, Rape, Repeat.” You can say that those are the solitary actions of one man, but it’s still telling that some people think rape is an acceptable punchline.

Alcohol and drug use are often enablers, but in no way justifications for a sexual assault. A person slipping someone a date rape drug with the intent to assault is committing a punishable crime. While it behooves festival-goers to watch out for themselves and their friends, organizers of these huge money-making events are ultimately responsible for ensuring that adequate security and medical staff are on the premises to ensure situations like these will be handled quickly and efficiently.

'Out of control' attendance and no security in sight

“If they had something already in place, they could have treated me on site, but as a long-time Osheaga-goer I felt that this year’s attendance was out of control,” Doucet told Ricochet. “It felt like they were unprepared for the sheer number of people attending. They should have tripled security. They need to step up because their prevention and intervention measures are lacking.”

Doucet cited what other large festivals are doing as examples of how to proactively tackle these issues. The Shambhala festival in B.C. has a Women’s Safe Space, open 24 hours a day and staffed by women offering non-judgmental support throughout the festival. Outreach staff, found at the gate to the festival and in the crowds, train volunteers and ensure that they are able to detect people in distress. Drinks can be sold with lids on, decreasing the chances of someone slipping something in them.

But ultimately the responsibility lies with a very successful, very profitable festival. Osheaga needs to ensure that its participants feel safe and that their concerns are addressed.

Having grown by leaps and bounds over the years, Evenko now needs to reassess and increase Osheaga’s security staff, establish better training procedures, and bring on board experienced people who’ve been trained to both detect and handle sexual violence at large gatherings. Ottawa-based Project Soundcheck does excellent work and would undoubtedly be an invaluable resource.

Osheaga is a fantastic music festival, but the mealy-mouthed response to Doucet’s scary experience was less than fantastic. Evenko will be rightfully blamed if it fails to do something now that it has been made aware of the problem.

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