Coachella is famous for many reasons—kicking off the summer festival season, Beyoncé, the wildest “festival fashions,” surprise musical guests, and sexual harassment, to name a few. (Put your hands up if that guy standing next to you keeps groping your ass during “Single Ladies.”) Toxic masculinity is no doubt heightened by drinking beer for ten hours in 100-degree temps with all your bros. Factor in thousands of “scantily clad” women who are trapped on a campsite for three days with low cell phone reception, and you’ve got an ideal setting for rape culture to thrive. Not to say this is an all-male issue, but based on the numbers, sexual assault is a man’s game. During the second weekend of the 2019 festival, I was harassed a handful of times, touched inappropriately during a couple sets and witnessed a never-ending series of unsolicited male-on-female attention. (Just another day in paradise.) I saw several vehicles marked with “Brochella” and one that read “N=Y” (No equals yes). When I inquired about the “N=Y,” I was told it was just a joke. Because rape is still funny to some rapists.
Sexual harassment at Coachella was the topic of an eye-opening article that ran in Teen Vogue after 2018’s Beychella. One journalist, Vera Papisova, interviewed 54 women, and every one of them claimed they were sexually harassed at the festival. Not a surprising statistic to any woman who’s been in public, but the article went viral and got the attention of Goldenvoice, the production company behind Coachella. At this year’s festival, attendees were welcomed by the every one initiative. It is a literal safe space on site where people can go if they experience sexual assault, an emotional crisis, or are in need of extra emotional support while attending the festival. Goldenvoice employed 15 clinicians and licensed therapists to treat festivalgoers over the three days of music. Veline Mojarro is the Director of Equity, Safety and Inclusion for every one. Mojarro sat down with Harness to talk about the new initiative, which she said is all-encompassing.
“It’s not just talking about harassment and sexual harassment,” Mojarro said. “It was really important that we took an intersectional framework around this because harassment doesn’t happen in isolation and all our identities matter in that. And that harassment looks like racism. It looks like transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and all those things are also really important.”
In 2018, there wasn’t even a mention of sexual harassment on the Coachella website. This year, they made a pretty big effort to let everyone know how woke they are in the era of #MeToo, releasing several videos about the initiative across all social media platforms, and posting signs around the festival that reminded attendees to stay hydrated and ask for consent. People getting down at music festivals is just a given. The tunes, the vibes, the heat, the herpes. I kid, but recent reports have come out about herpes outbreaks at the festival after the herp-tracking app, HerpAlert, claimed there was a massive outbreak related to the festival. According to The Press-Enterprise, SoCal health officials have not heard of any spike in herpes-related cases. They claim herpes outbreaks simply happen under festival conditions, and aren’t necessarily being spread during the festival. Anyway, enough about herpes. In past years, guests who felt threatened with sexual violence weren’t given many options, outside of seeking law enforcement or a medical tent. This was the case for Halie, who attended the festival in 2018, and was drugged by someone she considered an “old friend.”
“The medical tent was mean,” Halie said. “I had a massive bruise on my arm from them holding me. They were assholes to me. I understand the stress of their job, but they were just constantly asking my friends what I took, what I took, what I took, and we were like, ‘We don’t know, that’s why we’re here.’ I was wearing a bodysuit with fishnets and boots. It shouldn’t matter, but you could tell they were like ‘Oh, just some rave chick over here doing drugs at 3 P.M.’”
Halie’s friends, who chose to remain anonymous, said their experience taking her to the medical tent was eye-opening, and they have made changes to the way they party in public. This year, they only drank at their campsite, not inside the festival, and they didn’t take anything from strangers, or neighbors. Not even electrolytes. Which made me reconsider all the gifts of hot dogs I accepted from my campsite neighbors. (Hey, dogs fall for it all the time.) Halie said if she had taken anything, she would have told her friends, because some drugs are a group sport. (That last part is my personal opinion.) Now, she doesn’t drink as much, and she is far more selective of the people she parties with.
“Girl Gang,” Halie said. “I’m here with my sisters, I mean, you’ve got to be selective about those people you’re with. It was way better this year. I definitely feel safer. I just don’t really drink as much as I used to.”
Mojarro said instances like Halie’s, along with the growing message of the #MeToo movement, are part of the reason the every one initiative was created.
“That’s really painful to hear that that was their experience,” Mojarro said. “And that’s exactly why we’re here. We’re trying to shift culture because that conversation or that experience for them speaks to the larger temperature of our culture right now, and not believing folks and shaming folks that have gone through those things. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to change that and challenge that and make sure that folks are taking a person-centered approach and really believing.”
Halie and her friends agreed that the every one initiative gave them a sense of safety at this year’s festival. Two of her friends spoke to the counselors outside the every one area and said knowing help was there made them feel safe. The every one initiative also had 50 ambassadors who took shifts walking around the festival in teal “every one” shirts, offering help and keeping their eyes peeled for anyone who appeared to be in distress. They acted as a bridge to connect festival attendees to resources. Veronica Avila was a lead ambassador for the initiative. She said the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We’re just that extra little boost,” Avila said. “Because a lot of people here don’t feel comfortable going to security, because they feel like, ‘If I go, I’m going to get in trouble.’ We’re not that. Do what you got to do. Have fun, but we just want you safe. We’re going out there and telling everyone, ‘Hey, here we are. We’re out here. Look at us. We’re here for you.’ It’s been amazing. A lot of people have opened up their arms to us and let us know they appreciate what we’re doing.”
Avila said she feels every festival should have an every one tent. She is excited about the power of creating a safe space, and would love to be part of the every one initiative for the rest of her life.
“This has broadened my horizons and made me realize festivals are awesome, as long as you have that safe space that you can go to,” Avila said. “I would not mind coming back next year and the year after. If this gets sent to other festivals, I would love to be a part of it. This is an awesome organization.”
While several festivals, like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, have started the conversation about consent with campaigns, including OurMusicMyBody, every one is the first initiative that takes action, with ambassadors and counselors treating attendees on site. Overall, the implementation of this program at Coachella is a big step for festivals everywhere. Seeing this “safe space” progress at the world’s highest-grossing music festival can only lead to more safe spaces everywhere, or at least drum up some conversation. So, let’s pour one out for Brochella. “Middle fingers up… tell ‘em boy bye.”
Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/sexual-harassment-was-rampant-at-coachella-2018
The Press-Enterprise: https://www.pe.com/2019/04/26/herpes-outbreak-at-coachella-health-officials-say-they-havent-seen-evidence-of-that-despite-rampant-media-reports/
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