What to Do if You Witness Sexual Assault at a Music Festival

Every year, 32 million people flock to music festivals across the United States. In theory, they’re places to let loose, take in rad music and socialize with other fans. But they’re also hotbeds for sexual violence.

A rising Care2 movement is demanding that events like Coachella protect their attendees. In the meantime, here are some tips on what to do as a bystander if you witness or suspect a sexual assault.

1. Engage Potential Targets

Do you see someone watching another too closely? Are you feeling weird about one person following someone else who’s intoxicated?

Don’t be afraid to say hi to people who seem like they’re being scoped out. Engaging them in a conversation can divert a wannabe perpetrator. It can also be a powerful move to show potential targets they aren’t alone.

2. Leverage the Power of Your Group

Don’t forget about strength in numbers. If you have friends around you, leverage them to step in as well.

If you feel comfortable doing so, maybe you can team up to physically put yourself between the perpetrator and the target. This doesn’t have to seem aggressive. You can dance near the person or introduce yourselves.

3. Ask the Victim How You Can Help

Sexual assault victims need more people on their side. If you witness a sexual assault, it may be helpful to check in with the person targeted afterward.

Do they need someone to call security or bring them to the first aid tent? How about just sit with them?

Going through sexual assault is traumatic, and it can be easy for people to feel powerless. Give them back some of their power by asking them what they need and granting it, if you can. This includes leaving them alone if they ask.

4. Have a Few Resources on Hand

With music blaring and crowds swelling, it can be hard to be heard at all. You may have to yell over the music. It helps to have a few resources ready to pass along, maybe via text message or business card.

If there are any, learn the festival’s policies for reporting sexual harassment and assault beforehand.

For immediate crisis intervention, someone might want to text a hotline like the Crisis Text Line – full disclosure: I volunteer with this group. Texting 741741 connects survivors to a free trained counselor who can help support them.

Other resources include RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

5. Remove Your Assumptions About What Victims Look Like

Showing skin is not an invitation. Neither is getting drunk and/or high, or flirting or sleeping around with other people.

Music festivals are a perfect time to remember there’s no mold for what a victim looks like. Anyone can get sexually assaulted, and it doesn’t matter how they look, who they are or what they’ve taken – sexual assault is always the perpetrators’ fault.

Believe those who say they’ve been hurt. 

6. Call Out the Small Things

Are your friends making degrading jokes about other attendees’ attractiveness or hitting on those who don’t seem interested?

Speak up! It’s better to make things awkward for a moment than be the silent bystander feeding into the problem. Also, model consent for others.

Be the person who asks if they can give a hug, rather than force hugs on people.

7. Keep a Record

Sexual assault is historically underreported, and cases often descend into victim-blaming.

Controversially, taping an incident on your phone might be the proof someone needs to get justice — but for the love of God, don’t post it on Facebook. You can also pay attention to how the perpetrator looks, such as clothes they’re wearing and any distinguishing marks or belongings.

8. Consider Your Own Safety

Intervening in any kind of violence can be terrifying. Remember that you don’t have to strong-arm your way in between perpetrators and victims to help. Sometimes that strategy can be dangerous and counter-productive, especially when you’re vulnerable yourself.

You can call 9-1-1. You can ask someone else to step in. You can reach out to the victim afterward. You can spill your drink or create another diversion.

Do what you’re comfortable with. Just don’t do nothing.

Take Action!

Urge music festival organizers to create a zero-tolerance policy for harassment by signing this Care2 petition.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo Credit: Miriam Hoschele/Unsplash


Peggy B
Peggy B9 months ago

Anne M. Yes it was happening back in the 70 and 80's. They grab the woman or lure them behind a building or into bushes. It is so noisy no one hears them screaming. It is not new.

Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole Heindryckx9 months ago

Very good article. Young people jump into Festival life, but don't have an idea of what is happening there, and how they can help themselves and others. Very grateful that you mentioned : don't put it on FB. When you do so, I bet you or someone in your neighborhood will be the next victim. Those guys have no moral limitations. I just am not that happy with the first advice. When youngsters are drunk / drugged, it may NOT be a good idea to interrupt their thoughts of assaulting someone... I think it is better to draw the attention of adjacent people to what is happening, so you can surround the perpetrator. And someone must report it the soonest possible to anyone of the organization or private "stewards" hired by the organization. The more people you can get with you, the better...

Past Member 9 months ago

Report it like any crime it must be stoped

Kathlene L
Kathlene Lentz9 months ago

I don't go to music festivals, or even out of the house much. But if I see someone being victimized in any way, I step in. It may not be the smartest idea given my age and physical limitations, but I am one of those who acts now and thinks later. Anyway, if you can help someone who is in trouble, just DO IT!

Winn A
Winn A9 months ago


Lisa M
Lisa M9 months ago


Lisa M
Lisa M9 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta W9 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Anne M
Anne M9 months ago

Karen H. - Yes, of course I’m aware of this happening,, just never saw it/heard of it years ago when we went to concerts... - I guess we were more well-behaved.. ?

Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie9 months ago

Thank you so very much.