Music industry heavyweights launch Your Choice national campaign against sexual assault

The crowd in the main arena at the Big Day Out in Sydney in 2011. Photo: Edwina Pickles
The crowd in the main arena at the Big Day Out in Sydney in 2011. Photo: Edwina Pickles

"When I was 13 I went to Big Day Out and someone put their hand up my skirt. An adult."

"Someone very high-profile groped me really obviously at a music industry event and acted like it was no big deal."

"I was groped at the Falls Festival when I was 17 … When I turned around they [a group of men] would all look to the front and pretend nothing was happening … It's so common."

These are just some women's experiences of sexual assault at music events. We didn't need to look far to find these stories.

Camp Cope led the #ItTakesOne campaign. Photo: Daniel Boud

Camp Cope led the #ItTakesOne campaign. Photo: Daniel Boud

One could be forgiven for thinking it's a growing problem, with five reported assaults at Falls Festival in Tasmania last summer; two at Rainbow Serpent in rural Victoria; and one at the Unify heavy music festival, also in Victoria.

Earlier this month Sweden's Bravalla festival was cancelled following an astonishing 27 reported assaults, including four rapes, at its last event.

But the reason we're seeing more of this, say industry professionals, is not because there are more assaults – it's because the community is becoming more comfortable reporting them.

Now, music industry heavyweights have banded together for the first time on a national scale, to send a no-tolerance message on sexual assault.

Music heavyweights back the Your Choice campaign: Jadden Comerford, Helen Marcou, Paul Piticco, Sally Mather, Jessica Ducrou and Rhett McLaren. Photo: Joe Armao

Music heavyweights back the Your Choice campaign: Jadden Comerford, Helen Marcou, Paul Piticco, Sally Mather, Jessica Ducrou and Rhett McLaren. Photo: Joe Armao

On Friday, a number of music labels, promoters and artists launched the Your Choice campaign to raise awareness on the issue and provide venues and festivals with preventative resources.

But they said it's time patrons took responsibility for their actions instead of the finger always being pointed at venues and organisers.

"We can't have a security person on every patron," said Paul Piticco, co-CEO of Secret Sounds, which runs next weekend's Splendour in the Grass in Byron Bay, as well as Falls Festival.

"It's a responsibility that I think hasn't really been articulated to our audiences – that you are responsible."

The campaign builds on previous initiatives such as the #ItTakesOne campaign led by Melbourne band Camp Cope, which encourages punters to call out bad behaviour.

Rhett McLaren, co-owner of The Hills Are Alive Group and Red Hill Entertainment, which runs the Unify festival, said the advantage of Your Choice was that it could "take the best of those grass roots campaigns but be able to distribute this [message] on a national scale".

The Your Choice website will provide resources such as best practice guidelines and training materials for venues and festivals.

Dozens of bands and artists have already put their name to the initiative including Alex Lahey, The Drones, Jebediah, Josh Pyke,The Cat Empire and the Jezabels.

"It is so fantastic that these artists are taking that on, but it's up to us as a community to have the follow-up from that," said Helen Marcou, a member of the Victorian government's sexual assault task force and co-founder of Save Live Australian Music. "That's an enormous burden for an artist to take on [alone]."

From a government standpoint, Victoria is taking the lead on the issue with a $200,000 pilot due to roll out training across eight music venues soon.

A spokesperson for Victoria's creative minister Martin Foley said the government was "about to approach the venues", which would "undertake staff training … be provided with marketing materials and participate in the evaluation of the program".

Ms Marcou said government initiatives were slow, but Your Choice was a way for industry to take a lead and act quickly.

Some venues are not waiting for the pilot.

Sally Mather, of Melbourne's Corner Hotel and Northcote Social Club, said their venues had already compiled guidelines for staff based on advice from the taskforce and from Victoria Police and were "already seeing changes in patron behaviour".

"We've just found such a positive response from this," she said.

Your Choice organisers emphasised that sexual assault was a society-wide problem, not one confined to the music industry.

A further increase in reports of sexual assaults at music events was to be expected as a result of encouraging more people to call out bad behaviour when they saw it, Ms Marcou said.

Bianca Fileborn, who has done extensive research into sexual assault in the music industry and who also works with the government taskforce, said the Your Choice campaign was "a really promising approach".

"We know from the broader literature on sexual violence prevention, that prevention is most effective when there is a 'whole of community' approach taken, where everyone bears responsibility for creating a safe environment," Dr Fileborn said.

"I think this definitely has the potential to generate effective change, particularly in conjunction with some of the other efforts that are currently being developed in this space."

The initiative comes just weeks after hospitality workers launched the Respect Is the Rule campaign to stamp out sexual assault in the hospitality industry more broadly.