For some people, going to a festival, bar, or music venue might seem like a way to let loose and relax from the stress of everyday life. But for those who are more vulnerable, it can be far from that.
For women, LGBTQ+ people and people of colour, harassment at events can be common, intense and can induce lasting trauma, according to a group called PLURI.
“I have pretty intense trauma regarding (dance-floor harassment),” said one of PLURI’s founders, Éliane Thivierge. “I can’t really touch people I don’t know in the context of a dance floor, and if the crowd is too tight I can’t do it.”
Harassment at party events is hardly a new phenomenon. In June, the Conseil des Montréalaises released a survey that showed 56 per cent of women attending music festivals had reported being harassed — 37 per cent reported having been sexually assaulted. Many did not report these incidents when they occurred.
Thivierge, who uses they/them pronouns and studies social work at UQAM, founded PLURI one year ago with coworker Celeste Pimm. PLURI stands for Peace Love Unity Respect Initiative, and its main goal is to reduce harm on dance floors. It offers a protocol for promoters and club owners to employ to reduce instances of marginalization and harassment in their venues.
PLURI was born after Thivierge submitted an article to a zine on ethical partying, called rave ethics. The topic was how to flirt on dance floors without harassing someone, and it went viral.
“Then I thought, the material I wrote, I could give workshops on this,” they said.
The piece covered basic guidelines on how to flirt respectfully, like “don’t stare,” “don’t follow,” and “if a girl is wasted, take care of her, don’t sleep with her.”
“I think it seems basic to us, but I also think it’s very important to re-articulate things that people already kind of have a sense of but need to actively hear again,” Pimm said.
Pimm and Thivierge invited women, trans people, people of colour and people from different music scenes to share their experiences in party spaces.
PLURI, a non-profit organization, conducts workshops for volunteers on bystander intervention.
“Often what stops bystanders from doing something is: ‘I don’t want to be intrusive, maybe that’s weird’ (but) the first step is to ask ‘is this person bothering you?’ ” Thivierge said.
Party support volunteers are taught the six D’s — detect, direct, distract, delegate, delay, dialogue – and they get into the venue free in exchange for keeping an eye out. Most of all, they are taught to think in a survivor-centric way.
PLURI is far from being the only group that is working to create safer spaces. Thivierge said the initiative is in contact with Good Night Out and Project Soundcheck, organizations that fight harassment; the Dandelion Initiative, which works with survivors of sexual assault; and Girl’s Club, a queer femme collective that uses its brand as a visual symbol for solidarity.
After working with underground promoters, PLURI partnered with bigger festivals like MUTEK Montreal and Piknic Electronik.
Thivierge has also worked on the Hirondelles project, meant to address harassment at festivals like Osheaga and Île Soniq. A big part of her job was simply answering people’s questions about harassment.
“It’s a relief for guys to talk about this … because it gives them clear guidelines. Often they feel liberated of some kind of pressure of being creepy,” Thivierge said, recalling an instance at Île Soniq, where she had a helpful “dude-bro” conversation about harassment.
“One of the (men) said ‘I try to flirt, but it’s complicated.’ I said, ‘yeah it’s complicated, you don’t want to be assaulting someone’,” Thivierge said. “The guys were like, ‘of course not!’ ”
“From a feminist perspective we’re aware that we’re doing work to educate the oppressors about how they’re oppressing, which I think a lot of feminists don’t want to do,” Pimm said.
“It’s cool to hold people accountable if they’re doing a consistently bad job, but it’s also really dangerous if there’s one night that something goes wrong and there’s no chance for them to make any type of reparations.”