Story time: The first time I was sexually assaulted it was a friend of a friend; we’d met earlier in the day but I hadn’t paid much attention. Later, my (male) friend and I ran into him at another show. He started chatting with us, mostly focusing his attention on me. Before I knew it my friend was boxed out of the conversation and this guy was repeatedly invading my personal space, causing me to back up a few steps every so often. Suddenly I realized my back was against a support column. Without warning he put his hands on the wall behind me – effectively trapping me – and started aggressively kissing me. I froze. When he stopped, I laughed uncomfortably and looked around at my friend for help. He was standing off to the side with his gaze averted. I ducked under my attacker’s arm, made some excuse about not liking the band, grabbed my friend, and got the hell out of there. It was my second Warped Tour. I was 13.
Story time: Each year, I made it a mission to buy at least one album from a band I’d never heard of; I’d spend over an hour circling the booths to pick the most promising records. This year I found myself really digging the latest release from Crash Ballad (name changed). I ended up deep in conversation with the guy behind the booth, who told me he was their new keyboard player. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “Where’s the rest of the band?”
Him: “Oh, they’re at a signing.”
Me: “Why aren’t you there?”
Him: “I’m brand new so they don’t want to confuse the fans.”
Sure. We started talking music theory and he invited me behind the booth. After 20 minutes he asked if I wanted to go see some shows. While walking to the Ernie Ball stage, he put his hand on the small of my back every time he asked me a question, rubbing my shoulder several times. Halfway through the Hawthorne Heights set he invited me back to his band’s van. I asked if my friends could go; he said sure, and asked for their names. When he realized they were male he immediately backtracked, giving some vague response about crowded spaces and limited wristbands. Finally, bells rang. This guy didn’t care how much I knew about music theory. He didn’t care about my band. In the band? Right. He was probably their merch guy, and he was lying and using his (fake) status as a musician to get me alone. It was my fourth Warped Tour. I was 15.
Thing is, neither of these experiences stopped me from attending Warped. I was 12 when I first went in 2003, and it blew my mind. I’d never seen so many people who looked like me (or more accurately, who I wished I looked like). I’d never heard so many bands in one place. I’d never experienced the camaraderie I saw in the thick of the crowd. I’d never felt so…included. Warped Tour was better than Christmas for me. I went every year from 2003 – 2009, and again in 2012. This nearly-continuous exposure gave me a unique perspective; since the lineup changes every year, so does the crowd. One year I’d feel like a grandma among teens (hello Attack Attack!), and the next I’d be the youngest one there (we still love you, Rancid). In spite of the ever-shifting demographic, several things were consistent: good music, high energy, a sense of community…and sexual harassment.
Unfortunately my experiences are two of many. One year I saw teen boy after teen boy sporting a shirt with “SLUT” emblazoned across the chest; turns out one of the bands was selling them. Another favorite was “Spread your love, not your legs,” a message that manages to simultaneously slut-shame and imply that somehow only girls are responsible for sex (did we miss the birds and the bees, boys?). Another year I listened with growing dismay as one of my favorite bands harangued a girl one of them “smashed” the night before, picking apart everything from her weight to her “slutty makeup”. When they entreated girls in the audience not to “cake it on” like the “fatty” from the night before, the crowd roared – but when I looked around, every girl I saw looked either uncomfortable or outright disgusted. In 2009 I was standing on the edge of a mosh pit with my girlfriend when someone deliberately yanked her top down and shoved her into the pit. Nobody helped. Several guys pointed and laughed. In 2015, musician Front Porch Step was removed from the tour amid allegations of sexual harassment and soliciting nudes from minors.
It’s glaringly obvious the scene has a problem. After the Front Porch Step allegations broke, Kevin Lyman, founder of Warped Tour, took to Twitter asking for suggestions about how to address the issue. I responded, pointing him towards the sexual abuse support group I’d been volunteering with, A Voice for the Innocent – and he listened.
Thanks to Kevin and a lot of hard work from the AVFTI, in the summer of 2015 I fulfilled a lifelong wish and worked three dates of the tour for A Voice for the Innocent. Since we’d come on board last minute we didn’t have an elaborate setup, but the most important pieces were there: our message and our resources. We spoke to fans and bands alike about speaking up against sexual abuse, and handed out thousands of flyers listing resources for anyone who has been affected by it. The response was overwhelming and as a result, AVFTI and Warped Tour are launching an in-depth partnership this summer to #SaveOurScene – an unprecedented effort to curb sex crimes in the music industry through education.
As a repeat Warped attendee, abuse survivor, and advocate for other victims, this is my dream come true. I’ve watched as the scene I knew and loved became something reprehensible, to the point that I didn’t even see myself as a part of it anymore. I stopped crowd surfing because I was tired of being groped. I stopped meeting people at shows because I was tired of being relentlessly (and sometimes violently) hit on. Finally, I stopped buying records from bands I could no longer support because of how they talked about girls and women onstage – I knew if they met me, a female fan, they’d see me as just another potential score. The AVFTI/Warped Tour collaboration has reignited a hope I thought was long dead, the hope that maybe we can turn the tide, that we can make the music scene a place where everyone will feel safe.
Ask any girl who’s involved if she has stories like mine. If she doesn’t, her friend does. Guys I talk to usually brush it off with, “I’m not like that though. I respect people!” That’s great! But when you see this kind of behavior, do you stand up and say something, or do you sit there and think about how nice you are? Because it doesn’t matter how many nice guys (or girls!) attend shows if they’re silent. It doesn’t matter how respectful you are if you don’t stand against those who aren’t.
Kevin Lyman isn’t the silent type. AVFTI founder Jamie Sivrais isn’t the silent type. Our volunteer team isn’t the silent type. And you shouldn’t be either. Whether you’re a musician or a fan, join us this summer in our efforts to change how the music scene treats sexual harassment and abuse. Share your stories and listen to each other’s. Speak up when you see bad behavior, because that’s how we’re going to #SaveOurScene – one voice at a time.