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Girls Against: the group taking on sexual assault at gigs

23rd January 2017

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In 2017, sexism shouldn’t be thing - but in the era of pussy-grabbing presidents, cry-baby Meninists and institutionalised-apologists for sexual assault, it most certainly is.

This is definitely apparent in the live music arena, where a shameful amount of women have spoken of sexual harassment and violence levelled at them.

In the riot grrrl tradition Girls Against, a group of teenage feminists, decided enough is enough and started to work for change.

Following a whirlwind year we spoke to founder Hann about the problem with sexual assault at gigs and what Girls Against hopes to achieve.

Since founding in late 2015, Girls Against have taken their campaign fighting sexual harassment and assault at live music events to high places, offering support to victims and making strides in helping venues handle these issues better. 

It’s something that needs to be addressed, as Hann explains, “We get varying stories from people every day. It's mainly less violent ones where the other person won't leave them alone, makes lewd remarks and keeps touching them.

"Sometimes though we get really violent ones - both are equally as important and both deserve to be defamed just as much as the other; some kinds of experiences are just more common.”

Hann herself knows all how ‘common’ it can be. The genesis of Girls Against came from her own experience of assault at a Peace gig.

“There was no direct person who made us want to start Girls Against. It was more the response online after my story about being assaulted was shared. It got hundreds of retweets and a response from the band themselves, who I had seen that night. We were just taken aback and thought 'wow, this is a much bigger issue than we thought'. We just wanted to help other people and see what we could do that might change something.

“To be honest, it wasn't really a conscious decision - it was more when I started with this and I was asked about it and I just went 'oh, I guess I have to talk about this now'. It's never really been a huge problem for me though; I am lucky enough that talking about it actually made me come to terms with it in my head.”

This simple act of starting to talk about it openly has started a large discussion.

“It's almost exactly a year since we started and we're over 14,000 followers strong. This started out as just an idea on a rainy Tuesday night - it's insane to think about the amount of influence we could and do have.”

This influence hasn’t just brought forward victims, but some of the biggest names in the industry. The campaign has gained support from bands like the 1975, Slaves, Royal Blood and Wolf Alice. Their badges have had cameos in numerous music videos and their logo has even adorned the main stage at Reading and Leeds festivals.

“It's a bit of an out of body experience whenever we get the notification that someone has followed us. There's only been a handful that we've got proper excited about following us; it's more when we meet them in real life or we see them giving GA a shout out online that it becomes more real.

"I think when The 1975 showed their support it was probably the most excited we've ever been because we got to meet them all together, and a love of the band is originally how we all met so it was quite special from that perspective.”

There’s a reason that NME placed the four girls at number four in their People of The Year 2016 list.

Their activism draws a direct parallel with the riot grrrl scene of the 90s and their ‘girls to the front’ gig philosophy. A big moment in their short history was getting the nod from scene legends, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin front-woman Kathleen Hanna.

“We were so happy when Kathleen Hanna followed us. Of course it was an inspiration both in the subject matter and the grassroots kind of ideology as well. It makes us laugh when people say that we're too young to be speaking about such an issue; we looked to those older than who are supposed to sort this kind of thing out and no one was doing anything about it so we took matters into our own hands.”

Regardless of age, the work of Girls Against is vital - which is proven by how busy it now keeps them, and also the bond it has created between the members and those who connect with them.

“I was just saying the other day that I've loved how busy Girls Against has made me. I've always got something to do and I'm always going to meet or call people because of it. We've all made so many friends through it and have really matured as people because of what we have to do every day. We've also got to meet some of our idols, which is pretty cool too.” says Hann.

“Collectively we'd met once for about three hours before Girls Against but now I consider the rest of the girls my best friends and we tell each other everything - the group chat is 50% gossiping, 50% actual work.”

Obviously the most important aspect of our chat, and the campaign altogether, is all about helping people cope with incidents of sexual harassment and assault at gigs. In light of this, I asked Hann about any advice she has for people going through this trauma themselves. 

“I say the same to everyone, and that is to take your time and to process it in the way that works for you. Everyone is different and so is everyone's coping mechanism, and how they'd get over something like this is different. For me, it was easier to speak to someone online who I'd never met about it than speak to my family or friends. Some other people like to deal with it by themselves and others like to air it immediately on social media and to their friends.

"None of these options are wrong or better than the other. It's all about you and what works for you. You are the priority because you've been through a horrific experience that no one should have to go through.”

It is this personal understanding and non-judgmental approach which makes Girls Against such a valuable resource for those needing help. 

Only with dialogue and groups like Girls Against can we all make a positive change to make gig-going environments a safer place for everyone. After all, no one should be assaulted anywhere, especially not when trying to enjoy their favourite band live.

If you would like to find out more Girls Against or offer your support you can find them on their blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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