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How to Stay Safe at Shows and Battle the “Bystander Effect” in the Live Music Community

Because music should be an escape from the bullshit of the rest of the world, not an extension of it.

by Jamie Ludwig
Jul 17 2015, 4:12pm

Photo courtesy of the Runaways' Facebook page

Last Week, the Huffington Post published an explosive piece, titled “The Lost Girls," that shook the music community to its very core. Written by Jason Cherkis, the article detailed Jackie Fuchs’ (a.k.a. Jackie Fox of the 1970s punk group The Runaways) account of being drugged with Quaaludes and raped by her manager Kim Fowley at the age of 16. The attack took place at a party following the band’s New Year’s Eve 1976 concert and was witnessed by a room full of people, including her bandmates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie (who were also teenagers at the time). No one came to her rescue.

After 40 years of silence, one of the major reasons Jackie bravely decided to go public with her story for the first time is her interest in the “bystander effect,” a social psychology phenomenon that explains why people who witness a crime often fail to intervene. Many variables are said to affect bystander behavior, ranging from people consciously “not wanting to get involved,” to fearing that they might also become a victim, to being too stunned or shocked to take action, or just not completely registering of the level of danger involved. It is also noteworthy that simply being present during a violent event can result in lasting trauma for bystanders, whether they get involved or not.

While horrific, Jackie’s story is hardly unique and it isn’t even the only incident of harassment or violence to come out of the independent music world in recent weeks (another example is the ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of certain artists associated with Warped Tour including Front Porch Step). Although shit does and will forever happen everywhere, there’s a case to be made for lovers of independent music and independent music culture to reach an extra bonus level of pissed-off when stuff occurs in our own backyard. Music should be an escape from the bullshit of the rest of the world, not an extension of it, and no one deserves to have their musical experiences tarnished through the destructive or criminal behavior of others.

Jackie’s call to hold predators and bullies accountable for their actions—and to not place blame on passive bystanders—is important, compelling, and admirable. However, there’s also something to be said for people empowering themselves so that they have more tools at their disposal to get involved should they ever come across a person in the midst of threatening situation. In the music community, we owe it to ourselves to walk the walk and be proactive in watching out for one another. The best part is you don’t have to be a tough guy or a ninja (although that would be cool if you were a ninja) to have an impact. In a non-music related example, consider Brandon Brooks, the 15-year-old who brought racial injustice and police brutality in his community to light last month when he documented the assault of a teenage black girl by a white police officer in McKinney, Texas. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference is stepping up to the plate.


Coachella, photo by Jason MacDonald

With festival season and touring schedules in their peak during the summer months, now is the perfect time to address how the bystander effect can come into play in live music settings—both mainstream and underground—and what we as music fans can do to combat it. Noisey has compiled a list of practical and non-violent dos and don’ts to help you bypass the bystander effect and help keep concerts and music festivals safer—for everyone—this summer.

Do: Assess the Situation

No two situations are exactly alike. Your course of action will likely depend on a number of factors. Is someone in imminent danger or are you reaching out as a precautionary measure? How many people are involved? Are you on general festival grounds or somewhere with less visibility, such as a parking lot or private after-party?

Do: Pay Attention

Be sensitive to your surroundings. This includes not only looking out for your friends, but being aware of others in the crowd around you.

Don’t: Assume Other People Will Intervene

Research has shown that the likelihood of someone offering help to a victim is inversely related to the number of bystanders present. This means that the bigger the crowd, the less chance there a bystander will jump in to help a victim. If you see something bad going down, take action!

Do: Be Visible

Sometimes just drawing attention to yourself and letting a would-be attacker know you’re present and watching could be enough to prevent a harmful situation from escalating. For example, if you see a dude creeping on and trying to isolate an intoxicated woman, striking up a conversation or creating a mild distraction could allow her to remove herself from the situation without resorting to aggression or confrontation (ladies, this is often where the old, “Hey, do you want to go to the bathroom with me?” line comes in handy).

Do: Step In Where You Can

In a festival setting, this can take many forms. If you’re in the pit and you see someone being groped or unnecessarily bullied, get them out of harm’s way and alert security if necessary. If you notice someone taking a nap on the lawn during an outdoor festival and they haven’t moved in a while or are in an odd or isolated location, try to wake them up or ask medical staff to check in. If you come across an attack in progress, call for help immediately.

Don’t: Be Afraid of Embarrassment

As the saying goes, “Better safe than sorry.” If your instincts tell you that a situation is dicey or has the potential to turn ugly fast, you’re better off following your gut and acting rather than holding back because you’re worried you might be overreacting.

Don’t: Worry About Getting In Trouble

This one is especially important when drugs or underage drinking is involved. Many states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who report overdoses from arrest or prosecution for minor possession offenses but regardless, it’s always better to risk a little trouble than someone’s life. This also applies if someone tells you they think they’ve been drugged without their knowledge.

Do: Get Help

Whether it’s a festival security guard or a bouncer at a club, event staff is there in part to help keep the environment safe for everyone. Call 911 if needed—that’s why it’s there.

Don’t: Put Yourself in the Line of Fire

You are under no obligation, legally or morally, to put yourself in a position where you are likely to be harmed yourself. Call 911, or get a bouncer or security guard. Take a photo or video as evidence, and pay attention to details.

Do: Support the Victim

Ask what you can do to help. Keep them company. Help them locate their friends or their ride home. Even the smallest gestures can have a big effect. If the victim is someone you know, reach out to them at a later time to see how they are doing. They may or may not want to talk, but at least they’ll know you care and are paying attention.

Don’t: Pass Judgement

The clothes the victim wore to the show, whether or not he or she had been using drugs or alcohol, or was flirting with the wrong person are immaterial. No victim “asks” to be attacked; they are attacked by someone who chooses to attack them. It is perfectly normal to feel strong or mixed emotions after witnessing a violent or dangerous event but make sure you’re not taking them out on the wrong person.

Do: Follow Up

If you are affected by a violent incident at a music event you may decide to follow up with a call or email to the festival promoter or venue manager at a later time. Your feedback can help them assess if they need to make security or logistical changes in the future or be on the lookout for specific jerks at their venue.

Do: Take Care of Yourself

If you are witness to violence and later on find yourself struggling with symptoms of anxiety, anger, or depression over the event, make sure to address it. For some, a good talk with friends can do the trick. Others may wish to seek help of a professional. Always remember that you’re not alone.

Further Resources:

Drug Policy / Good Samaritan Laws: http://www.drugpolicy.org/911-good-samaritan-fatal-overdose-prevention-law

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): https://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-hotline

American Association of Poison Control Centers: http://www.aapcc.org/

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