Falls Festival Gets More CCTV, Counselling To Combat Sexual Harassment

"Everyone has the right to feel safe at events"

What you need to know
  • Falls will introduce more CCTV, security and counsellors
  • Campaigns like Your Choice and It Takes One aim to combat abuse in the industry
  • Victoria's music industry is running a pilot program of training for nine venues

Falls Festival will introduce sexual assault counselors at its events over the New Year period, the latest in a suite of measures aimed at stamping out crime at concerts.

Groping and sexual assault incidents were reported at Falls Festival's Tasmanian date in Marion Bay in recent years, with five in 2016-17 and at least three more in 2017-18. It led to an extraordinarily blunt statement from organisers in January 2017, who said they were angry about the incidents.

On Wednesday, the organisers of Falls -- which holds events in four states, attracting  some of the world's most popular alternative acts like Flume, Fleet Foxes, Liam Gallagher, Angus and Julia Stone, and The Kooks -- said new security and counselling measures would be rolled out at this year's festivals.

Alongside the sexual assault and psychological first aid counselors, festival goers can also expect more CCTV cameras as well as increased campground security.

"We acknowledge the position Falls holds when it comes to influencing widespread cultural change and we take that responsibility very seriously," a Falls statement said.

Crowds at the Falls Festival in 2015. (AAP Image/Noise 11/Zo Damage)

Noting one of the main obstacles in supporting victims of assault or harassment is the person’s reticence to report their incident, the festival announced sexual assault counsellors would be present at all events to provide immediate, short-term and long-term assistance after, as well as helping to report incidents.

"We have an obligation and a duty of care to our patrons to do everything we can to keep them safe at our events, and this is kept in mind during all stages of the planning process," Elise Huntley, general manager of both the Splendour In The Grass and Falls festivals, told ten daily in May.

It is just the latest in a string of reforms aimed at protecting music fans from assault and bad behaviour. Australian bands such as Luca BrasiCamp Cope and The Smith Street Band have raised the issue by repeatedly calling out bad behaviour at their concerts, leading to a number of industry initiatives.

Your Choice, a safety and anti-harassment initiative featuring members from some of Australia's biggest music festivals, launched in mid-2017. In the months since, the campaign has engaged with events including Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, Download, The Hills Are Alive and Sydney City Limits.

"It's so easy for the festival environment to get a bit nasty, but the reminders about consent probably helped keep people in check and made me feel safer," a 20-year-old Victorian woman said following a Your Choice-supported event.

Launched in the wake of several high-profile unsavoury incidents at festivals -- including Falls -- in the preceding months, the industry-led campaign shares resources for safety and training, as well as placing 'house rules' posters around venues.

Your Choice came months after a similar campaign was launched by Melbourne band Camp Cope, and after a string of sexual assaults at the Falls Festivals over the 2016-17 New Year's period. Last year's Laneway festival saw the launch of a dedicated phone line for festivalgoers to report misbehaviour, spurred after collaboration with Camp Cope's campaign.

In December, some of the most powerful women in Australian music -- including musicians, festival heads, venue managers and radio stars -- co-signed a letter titled #MeNoMore, slamming sexual harassment and abuse in the industry and calling for change.

The end of 2017 saw the initiative collaborate with Falls Festival acts to launch a range of t-shirts raising money for charity, and Emmerson said more collaborations were in the works.

Big changes are also afoot in Victorian venues, with the state government pushing on with a pilot program to curb sexual harassment and assault in music venues.

Nine of the state's most popular nightspots were involved, including Howler, Toff In Town and Gasometer.

Dr Bianca Fileborn, a criminology lecturer and researcher at the University of NSW in Sydney, is behind one of the only studies conducted in Australia on sexual harassment and abuse in entertainment venues. She also contributed to Falls' review of sexual assault policies.

The Victorian pilot builds on her research, which found venue staff often disregarded "lesser" incidents such as inappropriate comments, or engaged in victim-blaming behaviour.

"One of the big ones is that the victim somehow precipitated the behaviour in some way, whether that's consuming drugs or alcohol, or being dressed provocatively. People reported security saying things like 'what did you expect to happen, look how you're dressed'," Fileborn told ten daily.

"This needs to be rolled out not just in Victoria, not just in music venues. There is a desperate need for this to go national. My personal hope is we share it with the entire country,"  she said.

"Why hide it?"