Rapes at Latitude and festival co-ordinator’s disappointing response.

Hey all. So I’m a little bit behind with this one but my week in work has been beyond stressful.

Anyway, I was upset at the beginning of the week to hear that two rapes were reported at the Latitude festival in Suffolk. Having had my best ever festival experience at Latitude in 2007 (glorious sunshine every day, jumping like mad to CSS, screaming along with Arcade Fire, being mesmerised by Jarvis Cocker’s charms…) I was gutted to hear about attacks like this happening. The group of mates I went with generally agreed that one of the things that made Latitude great for us was the relative lack of pricks. No one threw pints over the crowd during gigs, there appeared to be more people conscious than passed out and loads of cute little kids ran around all day with their parents’ mobile phone numbers scrawled in permanent marker up their arms. It felt relaxed, it felt inclusive, it felt safe.

Knowing that two women were raped at this year’s event does impact on my desire to make a return visit to Latitude, it taints my warm fuzzy festival feelings about the place and I’d be looking for some reassurance from the organisers if I was to consider returning. So when the Guardian covered the story on Monday I was hopeful that their superior journalistic sensibilities would elicit such assurances from the festival coordinator Melvyn Benn of Festival Republic. What I actually read made me a little nauseous. Have a look at the first two paragraphs and tell me it doesn’t make you want to throw a pint over him:

The UK’s biggest music festival group is planning to launch personal safety awareness campaigns for female fans after two rapes at theLatitude festival in Suffolk last weekend.

Melvyn Benn, the chief executive of Festival Republic which runs Latitude, said the organisation was planning to raise awareness of the potential dangers faced by female festival-goers at all its events, which include Reading, Leeds and the Big Chill. “It is fair to say that in the future we will be making much more high profile the issues of being alone at night, particularly if you are a girl – definitely,” said Benn.

Excuse me? That’s your opener? We plan to teach ‘girls’ how to avoid rapists? For one thing, if you look around Latitude you’ll notice that the majority of guests are fast approaching middle age so it’d be a little but more appropriate to use the term ‘women’. To say ‘girl’ however seems to reveal the narrow assumption that the only females at risk are silly little ‘girls’ who run around drunk at night making a target of themselves while all the ‘women’ are tucked up in bed being sensible.

I’m not going to rant endlessly about this as it has already been said brilliantly by Sian of Bristol Feminist Network over at the UK Feminista blog who is recommending we pen a quick letter to Melvyn Benn with a bit of advice about what rape prevention should look like. You can read her piece here. You could send a paper letter or use their online contact form, but please note it does have a word limit so it needs to be concise. Contact details can be found at http://www.festivalrepublic.com/contact/

Sian has written a template letter that can be used. In my own I just drew attention to the fact that the comments Mr Benn made in the Guardian article did not make me feel that I would be safe at Latitude. Rather they made me feel patronised. If he wishes to reassure women that their safety from sexual assault and rape is a priority for him then he should have talked about how they will monitor sexually aggressive behaviour, make it easier for women to report men that act inappropriately towards them and launch a safety awareness campaign that focuses on men. Rather than telling women how to be more careful, they need to give out materials that remind male festival goers of the legal requirements to obtain consent for sex, demand that they respect the rights of any individual to say no to sex and state clearly that sexually aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated.

He wouldn’t say that of course because that seems to suggest that any man could rape when actually rapists are little evil goblin-like creatures who lurk in bushes. Actually in this case the rapists were four drunken lads who were chasing petrified girls around the campsite and groping them. Sounds depressingly familiar.

As for The Guardian, they seem a little conflicted on the whole issue. After the initial story on Monday which allowed Benn’s victim blaming to be reported without input from anyone who might present a different approach, they went on to publish this comment piece on their music blog which highlighted a change in the atmosphere at the Festival and the need for better lighting, followed by John Harris suggesting on CIF that sexual violence is inevitable where so many people gather together and that ‘There’s not much organisers can do about it’ (Note to John – yes there is actually, they can make women feel safer about reporting sexual assault by acting on it and ejecting people from the site.) This piece was followed up by Ellie Cumbo finally drawing attention to the fact that maybe preventing rape involves a little more than making women more frightened.

So in light of all this, if you are a festival goer and particularly if you’ve ever been to Latitude, please take some time to drop Mr Benn a little bit of advice and make sure that victim-blaming is not allowed to define the way this issue in approached for next year’s event.

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2 Responses to “Rapes at Latitude and festival co-ordinator’s disappointing response.”


  1. 1 Muhammad Inam July 31, 2010 at 7:26 am

    For me women is one being that should be equally respected not even considering what sex she is?. Women nowadays are on the front line with alot of humans at front. I wish things apparently change and become the natural truth that women are the most trust beings that ever existed.I hope People think of their mothers beforing committing such an action

    Pakistani Girls on Front line

  2. 2 Maria September 15, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I find it shocking that women can’t go to a festival and enjoy themselves without having to deal with this shit. I’m a little late, but I’ll definitely be dropping our dear Melvyn a line!


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