Woman Roofied at Osheaga Sparks Criticism Over Music Festival Safety

Research shows 25 percent of new sex assault patients at hospitals have attended mass gatherings.

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Aug 2 2016, 7:43pm

An Osheaga attendee said she was roofied Friday night. Photo via Flickr user 17 storey

A woman who says she was slipped a date rape drug at Montreal's Osheaga music festival over the weekend is sparking a discussion on how equipped these events are to deal with sex assaults.

In a Facebook post that's been shared hundreds of times, Melanie Doucet said she was drugged Friday night while holding a drink she bought on the grounds. Doucet, who had lost her friends, felt the effects of the drug immediately, and decided to try to make it back to her boyfriend's house in downtown Montreal.

"It was a very intense and scary struggle to get off the grounds, and I literally had to clutch onto people to get through the crowd as I could barely see, walk or stand on my own," she wrote, noting she blacked out several times while heading to her boyfriend's house.

"People looked at me in disgust and pushed me away rather than asking me if I was ok or if I needed help when I was clearly distraught and in crisis."

The following day, Doucet headed back to the festival grounds to talk to security about her experience. She said the female security manager she spoke with told her "they were very busy and were trying their best but could not catch everything coming through the gates." She also said she was told to pay more attention to her drink.

"Getting drugged at a festival against your will and without your knowledge, with the premise of potentially taking advantage of your vulnerability is NO JOKE, and should never be brushed off as it is a serious security concern and a violation of someone's body," wrote Doucet. "What would have happened if I had gotten raped on site or off site? Would they have taken me seriously then? Or would they have said we can't control everything?"

The incident comes just days after Ontario Provincial Police announced they arrested a 20-year-old man for a sex assault that took place at WayHome festival in Oro-Medonte, Ontario.

Philip Vanden Brande, a spokesman for Evenko, the company behind Osheaga, told VICE "we are very sorry to learn what happened to the young lady this past weekend" but that Evenko takes "all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the 45,000 festival attendees."

He cited the security search at the entrance, visible presence of medical staff, and clearly identifiable security guards as some of those measures.

"People who need help are immediately taken care of by the medical and security services."

Republic Live, which organizes WayHome, did not respond to request for comment.

Sex assault survivors' advocates say organizers and local politicians need to pay more attention to assessing the risks of sex assaults at festivals.

An Ottawa-based study showed that 25 percent of new sexual assault patients at Ottawa Hospital in 2013 had attended a "mass gathering."

The research sparked the Sex Assault Network of Ottawa to launch Project SoundCheck, a program that teaches volunteers about bystander intervention at music festivals; it's currently working with a number of festivals including the Ottawa Bluesfest.

Project SoundCheck coordinator Kira Lynn Ferderber told VICE Doucet's story is a good reminder that the period between when someone gets drugged and when they could be sexually assaulted is a key time to use bystander intervention.

"We teach non-confrontational, non-violent, non-escalating intervention," she said, including techniques like distracting someone who seems like they might be in an uncomfortable situation to give them an opportunity to leave, or distracting the person who might be a potential perpetrator by engaging them in small talk.

"One of the things that happens is bystander apathy, which isn't people being bad people but they think because there are so many people there that somebody else will take care of it," she said, but another issue is the tendency to victim blame a person who seems extremely intoxicated, assuming it's their own fault. Resist the temptation to do that, Ferderber explained, and instead get the person some medical attention.

"If you see somebody who is falling over, if you see somebody who is unable to talk or speak... they just in that moment need somebody to help them."

Ferderber said the response Doucet received from Osheaga staff demonstrates a gap in training for these situations.

"Something is missing there if they're not reaching those front line workers to let them know we take these issues seriously."

Stacey Forrester runs Good Night Out, a Vancouver-based service that provides "safety audits" of festivals like Bass Coast, an electronic music festival that takes place in Merritt, BC.

Forrester told VICE Good Night Out volunteers attend festivals looking for potential risk factors, such as how well lit all areas of the festival grounds are; how easy it is to get help while at a stage or in the camping area; how gender balanced security staff are and how seriously they seem to take complaints of harassment, groping, and assault.

"Once the audits are complete, our team asks festival admin about their policies, if any, on harassment/assault and upon entering a partnership, look into correcting any shortcomings the audit exposed."

Stefanie Lomatski, Sexual Assault Network Coordinator, for the Sexual Assault Network of Ottawa, said the next step is getting municipal politicians to see sex assault as a real risk at music festivals, and address that in the permit process, the same way other safety concerns are tackled.

"[Festivals] would need to get security guards, you would need to train your volunteers for bystander intervention," she told VICE. "We're wanting to see cities treat this as a genuine risk and not something that can be ignored any longer."

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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