Nemo Me Impune Lacessit
Imagine planning an entire weekend around seeing your favorite DJ with friends that that you met at a music festival because of this DJ.
Imagine getting to the venue so early that the bouncer admonishes you from entering since there are currently only three other people at the venue. We tell him that we’re actually running late—it’s billed as an all night set, after all.
Imagine that you’re having fun when all of a sudden a stranger puts his hands on your hip without your consent to either pass behind you or get your attention.
Imagine a stranger not taking no for an answer after politely declining his unsolicited request.
Imagine this happening not once, but 8-10 times over the course of an evening.
Imagine not feeling safe enough to go to the bathroom by yourself.
Imagine all of this happening with our boyfriends standing right next to us.
Imagine what could have happened if my girl friend and I had gone to this venue without our boyfriends.
Can you still have fun? Neither could we.
Today I want to talk about the problematic normalization of sexual harassment within the music scene.
At the end of January, my girl friend and I experienced this relentless sexual harassment at Public Works in San Francisco. We were there with our partners, who spent most of the evening intervening, but we were outnumbered.
We tried to shake it off--it’s not like this is the first time we’ve experienced this. Rape culture has conditioned us to accept that this kind of behavior comes with the territory. If there had only been one or two incidents we probably would have shrugged it off, but it was the quantity that was truly alarming.
After the worst incident, where one guy was practically circling my friend despite both of our partners telling him to leave, a fight broke out right in front of us. I had honestly never seen a fight before, and at this point, we couldn’t force ourselves to have fun despite the music being phenomenal. We accepted the hard truth that the night was past the point of redemption, so we cut our losses and left for the sake of our own comfort. Just because it was 3 am, it doesn’t mean that we weren’t heartbroken. Mark Farina was still going strong, and we would have been right there with him, but we didn’t feel safe.
As we reflected on our experience, we couldn’t help but feel that there was a strong correlation between the venue’s two-drink minimum for credit card transactions and the violating behavior that we experienced.
As a rape survivor, I'm easily triggered in these environments, and I can tell you that rape culture and alcohol are mutually dependent. The shock and confusion I feel regarding the incident resonates similarly with the instantaneous disassociation I feel when I am sexually harassed. When I’m triggered, I don’t have a panic attack or become hysterical. I just want to disassociate and disappear.
Before I immersed myself in this scene, I coped by numbing myself in the form of alcohol abuse. I blacked out every time I drank in what must have been an effort to repress the memory. Immersing myself in this scene was a major turning point for me. I didn’t feel the need to compulsively drink. I actually wanted to remember and to feel my experience.
I am possessive of this space because it has been a platform for profound transformation. I know that this scene has been fundamental to my healing process because following artists like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Mark Farina, and Emancipator led me to Lightning in a Bottle, where I integrated a profound psychedelic experience I had where I spoke about my trauma for the first time since the incident. So to have that space violated when it has been so integral to my healing is deeply upsetting.
One thing my therapist mentions a lot is trying to find healthy ways to complete the cycle. This involves taking action when you find yourself in a similar, triggering situation (which is sexual harassment for me), rather than freezing and dissociating, which is what I did during the trauma, and how I usually respond. While there is nothing I can do at this point about being raped, I feel like the music scene that I participate in is niche enough for pragmatic change to be affected. So we decided to collaborate on a letter to the venue and to Mark Farina. You can read a copy of the letters here.
I want to be clear that I did not enjoy writing those letters, and I am not enjoying writing this blog post. This is a painful thing for me to talk about, and rape culture has conditioned me to feel like I’m being melodramatic. But the fact of the matter is that the price of admission entitles women to a safe space more than it entitles men to harass us with impunity. Enough is enough.
I expected more of a response from the venue than Mark Farina, but in fact, the opposite happened. Mark’s assistant reached out to me and was kind enough to speak over the phone with me. She sympathized with our situation and assured me that she would follow up with her contact at the venue to relay our experience and ask that they increase security for higher capacity events.
Meanwhile it was radio silence from the venue, and after a few months I figured I would cut my losses. I put my money where my mouth is and sat out a handful of shows that I would have loved to attend because I felt neither supported nor safe. I didn’t have it in me to follow up with the venue for a third time. But Mark Farina’s assistant did.
I noticed that Mark Farina would be playing Public Works at the end of May, and I felt so conflicted and anxious about returning to the venue--especially if it was just going to be me and my partner. About a month before the show, Mark Farina’s assistant reached out to me to invite me to the show with a +1 and offered stage access to watch free from the crowd, and she even asked if anything had come from my talks with management. This gesture meant so much to me after feeling discouraged and accepting defeat. I didn’t want to miss Mark Farina because of feeling this way, and I felt optimistic now that I had her support. It felt like I had an advocate.
I told her that I had given up on trying to get in touch with management and really didn’t expect her to do anything else. She had already done enough at this point, but she went above and beyond, and about a week before the show, she sent me the following message from the venue’s Marketing & PR Director:
Sean* forwarded along your email regarding the incident that occurred during Mark Farina's last SF play. I wanted to reach out and let you know that this is something we take very seriously and we have taken multiple steps to address.
First and foremost, we recently hired on a new security team who have been trained in how to do regular sweeps and watch for suspicious activity. We have also had training sessions for our core management staff on what to look for and how to discourage predatory behavior.
We are working on various (non club-night) events to educate and involve the wider community about Dance Music culture, safety, and inclusiveness. We also have signs up around the venue connecting our audience to a wider array of helpful outside resources, and letting them know we are here to help and protect our artists, patrons, and friends.
Beyond that we would like to of course offer up guest passes for the night (4) for the patron in question in hopes that they give the space another chance.
Please let me know if you or they have any further questions, and thank you much for bringing this to our attention.
(*name changed for anonymity)
I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I burst into tears upon reading this. This was never about free tickets or getting on guest lists. This was always about standing up for myself and every woman that has ever felt violated at a show, and turning my group’s unfortunate experience into something that will help the greater good, on however small a scale.
The redemption set was such a special experience. Mark Farina’s assistant and friend were so supportive and understanding. They were happy to see that we came back and happy that what we said resulted in tangible change. They understood because it had happened to them too, and they shared their stories with me. It was a special way to bond.
And because I was looking for it, I noticed more security guards around the perimeter. It did not make the venue feel like a police state, but I feel confident that they wouldn’t have been hard to find if something happened. The true test will be their response to inevitable microaggressions. A staff that’s trained to recognize “predatory” behavior is a step in the right direction, but being proactive and outspoken and having a consent policy and a no-tolerance policy towards anything otherwise is key.
Public Works made admirable progress by hanging that sign in both the women’s bathroom and at the back of the venue. Again, determining whether the venue had actually made any effort into improving their culture was arguably my top priority so I was actively looking for signs. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement. I love that the rhetoric implies that this is a community effort, but I would still like them to advertise a no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment, and they could have been more visible. I’d like to see one near the bar, too.
I only wish that we could have shared this fulfilling and healing night with the friends that were also affected by the negative experience, but they had been visiting from out of town and were unfortunately exposed to what I hope was an anomaly within a nightlife scene that claims to uphold Burning Man’s consent culture and ethos. I never would have been able to follow up in this capacity without their support. I was so impressed with how intuitive Madeleine and Aaron were during the incidents, and that night was really our first time going out with them outside of a music festival or Bassnectar event, which are completely different environments. This negative experience ended up being an incredible bonding experience for us.
Aaron and my partner actively and immediately intervened in every situation and attempted to de-escalate. They did this by stepping between Madeleine or myself, faced the aggressor, and told him to leave. Additionally, Madeleine and Aaron checked in with me after every single incident--from the objectively inappropriate transgression of unwanted touch to something as seemingly trivial as an unwanted conversation. The simplest “are you okay” after each incident kept me grounded and present instead of instinctually using ketamine to dissociate. I’ve realized that this is typically my response when I am triggered in this environment, and it’s neither a healthy nor effective coping mechanism. I notice that my somatic therapist does something similar when I speak about a traumatizing experience. I may seem okay on the outside, but I’ve likely gone numb on the inside, and I will seek ways to remain in that state until the environment changes unless someone checks in with me. I didn’t realize this until that night.
Check in with your girl friends after every unsolicited interaction.
And although I would never wish this experience upon anyone, it was so important to experience this with another girl to corroborate that I wasn’t crazy for getting so upset and that this behavior was unacceptable. My partner and I usually go out just the two of us so I often internalize these experiences because I don’t really have anyone out here that truly understands how upsetting it can be. And that’s not to say my partner doesn’t try, I’m just saying that this is something that only women can inherently understand.
I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but I’m feeling rather optimistic about this experience. If Public Works listened and made changes, why wouldn’t other venues? And instead of being reactive and only reaching out after an incident, why not be proactive and ask the venues that I frequent to take preventative measures so that this doesn’t happen? If there’s one lesson that I took away from my Bassnectar experiences last year, it’s that “you have the power to change things.” I feel strangely confident that this culture can be eradicated within this music scene because I have experienced it first hand at Bassnectar shows and within the West Coast underground bass music community. I think this community is an excellent template for the consent culture that I would like to see propagated at every music venue.
The very first message that I saw when walking into Bassnectar’s Freestyle Sessions last summer said, “You are welcome here. No one is entitled to your body. Respect and consent are required.” I think this simple message is an easy way to set the standard of behavior. Venues could take a page from New York’s eclectic House of Yes’ book and actively and publicly express a no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment on both their website and every Facebook event page.
House of Yes includes the following policy on each of their Facebook events:
::::::: CONSENT POLICY :::::::
Behave with beauty, connect with intention. We are obsessed with Consent. Always ASK before touching anyone at our events. If someone is violating your boundaries or harassing you, please speak to staff or security. We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment. If you feel something, say something, and we will help. Questions about consent at House of Yes? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
They also have a “Yes Means Yes” section under the experience section on their website that says,
Consent is everything, on and off the dance floor. Always ASK before a physical interaction and be sure to get a clear definite “yes” before getting intimate. It’s ok to say no at House of Yes. Consent is simple: the safer we feel, the sexier we are. If you’re not down with consent, we kindly ask that you part elsewhere or better yet… nowhere.
One day, I would love to see venues include some kind of consent form that patrons need to agree to just like we agree to the terms and conditions that we never read when purchasing tickets or downloading software. I recently heard of a warehouse event in Arizona where bouncers wouldn’t open the door to patrons unless they verbally agreed to the consent rules that were read to them.
While I admire Public Works for training staff to discourage predatory behavior, what that means is still very vague to me. Microaggressions are at the root of the problem in my opinion, and staff need to be trained to understand what those are and to believe women by default, even if the transgressions seems innocuous. Calling out microaggressions will prevent major-aggressions. Otherwise, we’re too late. Ideally this training would be standardized, and Good Night Out, an anti-harassment organization that focuses on nightlife communities in the UK, has a training and accreditation workshop to facilitate an environment that does not tolerate harassment. They also provide posters that “communicate a clear message that encourages reporting and lets customers know that the staff is trained appropriately.”
House of Yes does something similar. The February edition of The New Yorker had an excellent piece about the consent culture at House of Yes, how their staff is trained, and the concept of the consenticorn. And while the consenticorn is admittedly too niche for most other venues, I love the concept of volunteers in the crowd acculturating rather than policing, because no one wants that. The ambassadors have a similar function at Bassnectar events. I’m advocating for proselytizing consent culture, not policing.
But even with a trained staff, this is still a sensitive and difficult topic to communicate in a loud environment. It is not easy to report or talk about any kind of sexual harassment, and I’d love a subtle solution. I’ve seen the card pictured below floating around on social media from G Jones events. The text says, “If someone is making you feel unsafe at this show & you are unsure what to do, slip this card to anyone working the merch booth and they will assist you.”
What if venues started keeping cards like this in the women’s bathroom? What if this card could be handed to any staff member? And what if staff members knew how to respond because of training that they had received? This would be so much easier for me than trying to articulate what happened or why it made me uncomfortable. These interactions are shocking and confusing, and I don’t want to make a scene.
I also want to acknowledge that nightlife communities are a space to meet people, and I’m not trying to discourage that. I have met some fabulous people within these spaces, but it all comes down to intent. I’m not trying to vilify heteronormative single men that hope to meet women within this space. I’m just asking that you do so respectfully. If you want to talk to a girl within this space, approach her from the front, make eye contact, ask for permission, and establish consent, even if it’s just to talk. Stop acting like you’re entitled to our time, attention, conversation, or bodies.
This experience is the first time that I have been given the opportunity to complete a cycle in the way that my therapist has described, and I am so grateful to Mark Farina and his team for being allies and facilitating this. As I said in my letters, I know that our negative experience was outside of both the venue and the artist’s control and certainly not their intent. But even if you didn’t cause the problem, you can and certainly ought to be part of the solution.
Stand up for us. It is clear to me that the word of artists and their teams weighs more than mine, and we need you to leverage that on our behalf so that we can attend your shows. It is your responsibility to do this in a position of power. Silence is complicity with rape culture. Stand up for us because it fucking counts when you do. It sucks that my word doesn’t count as much and that is problematic in and of itself, but we need to work within that framework. Call it out. This didn’t take much man power. This didn’t cost that much money. There are no excuses. Make this the expectation, the standard, the minimum.We need to acculturate this violating behavior before it crosses the line. And speaking of the line, it’s about damn time that we re-define what the line is and where and when it gets drawn.