More than music
Winnipeg Folk Festival beefing up resources to deal with safety issues, sexual assault
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One of Manitoba’s largest summer festivals is taking steps to make the event safer for attendees.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and last week, the Winnipeg Folk Festival announced partnerships with several local organizations to offer support and reporting tools for festival-goers who experience traumatic events.
“We just want to be able to make sure that we take care of our audience and our campers,” says festival executive director Lynne Skromeda. “And to make sure that if there are any issues, we have ways of dealing with them properly and appropriately in a timely manner.”
During the 2023 festival, which takes place July 6 to 9 at Birds Hill Park, staff from NorWest Co-op Community Health’s Trauma Response Team will be stationed in the festival campground to provide psychosocial counselling and referrals.
Workers with the Sexual Assault Recovery and Healing (SARAH) arm of Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre will be available in the festival grounds and campground to assist victims of sexual violence. Fiddler’s Green, a local cannabis retailer, will host conversations about harm reduction in the campground.
The organization has also embarked on a year-round partnership with REES (Respect, Educate & Empower Survivors), a Winnipeg-based online sexual-assault-reporting tool, to give ticketholders a way to document incidents at folk fest-affiliated events and concerts.
“What I hope is that if there are situations that come to light, that we would be able to learn how to be better as a festival,” Skromeda says of how the organization plans to use information gleaned from the platform. “If we have any blind spots that we could have control over… if there’s any way we need to adjust our safer-spaces policy or any of our other practices.”
REES was launched in 2020 to enhance safety and reduce barriers to sexual-assault reporting on post-secondary campuses. Founder and CEO Mary Lobson says the platform has since expanded to partner with corporate workplaces and community events. Music festivals are a new frontier.
“There’s not a lot of data related to sexual violence, harassment, misconduct or assaults occurring in the festival space, but we know that it’s happening,” Lobson says, pointing to a 2018 study from the United Kingdom that concluded one in five festival-goers and 30 per cent of female attendees had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour.
“This creates pathways for people to come forward so that if someone identifies a washroom or a particular location or time of day that’s problematic, (the festival) can use that information to say, ‘OK, what can we do differently?’”
Links to the REES platform are available on the festival website (winnipegfolkfestival.ca) and smartphone application. After creating an account, individuals are taken through a step-by-step reporting process. Submissions can be made anonymously and there’s no requirement to follow up with a formal police report. User information is encrypted and the festival will only receive anonymous aggregated data.
Previously, the folk festival — which attracted 74,000 attendees in 2022 — managed on-site safety issues through volunteer crews and a campground partnership with Red Tent, a safer-spaces organization.
“We wanted to have some better resources,” Skromeda says of the decision to partner with external organizations. “While our volunteers were amazing… this isn’t our area of expertise.”
Still, anyone experiencing a problem in the festival or campground is encouraged to seek out a security volunteer, who can provide direction to the aforementioned resources.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.