The XX Factor

After 27 Sexual Assault Reports, Swedish Music Festival Replaced With Man-Free Event in 2018

Is removing men the solution to sexual assault at fun events?

The organizers of the largest music festival in Sweden announced over the weekend that they have already canceled next year’s event in light of the many sexual assault reports that followed the four-day Bravalla festival. Police received four reports of rape and 23 reports of other sexual assaults that allegedly occurred at the festival last week in Östergötland county. “Certain men … apparently cannot behave,” organizers said, according to a Guardian report. “It’s a shame.”

Law enforcement officers are not optimistic about their chances of finding and prosecuting the perpetrators, one of whom allegedly made a woman have sex with him after she revoked her consent. The head police investigator on the case told the Guardian that there are only “weak descriptions” of the assailants in many of the cases that were reported hours or days after the crimes allegedly occurred.

Last year’s festival was plagued by sexual assault allegations, too. Five women said they were raped and dozens more said they were sexuallt assaulted at the event. That was after police gave Bravalla attendees bracelets that said “don’t grope” in response to previous incidents of sexual assaults at regional music festivals. After Mumford and Sons played Bravalla last year, the band wrote on Facebook that its members were “gutted by these hideous reports” and wouldn’t play the festival again “until we’ve had assurances from the police and organisers that they’re doing something to combat what appears to be a disgustingly high rate of reported sexual violence.” This year, just 45,000 people bought tickets to the festival, down from 52,000 in 2016. The head of the German organization that owns the festival said the event “stopped being about music and became almost completely about crime and violence,” leading to the plunge in ticket sales.

The problem isn’t unique to Bravalla. In 2016, at another Swedish festival called Putte i Parken, 35 women reported being groped on their breasts or genitals or otherwise sexually assaulted. Most of the alleged victims were under 18; one was just 12 years old. Previous waves of sexual assaults at Swedish festivals led to anti-immigrant uproar as residents accused police of covering up sexual violence to protect refugees or undocumented immigrants who may have been among the perpetrators. This reaction tracks that of German right-wing groups that took up the mantle of fighting rape culture after years of spurning claims of a sexual violence epidemic when it turned out that just over half the suspects in a wave of sexual assaults in Cologne were asylum-seekers. It took the specter of brown men violating white women to get those groups on board with tightening laws around sexual assault.

In response to the Bravalla festival attacks, Swedish radio host Emma Knyckare tweeted that she wanted to see “a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome” that would go “until ALL men have learned how to behave.” A day later, she wrote on Instagram that the “man-free” festival will take place next summer, in place of the canceled Bravalla festival. “Since it seems to be OK to discriminate against women all the time, maybe it’s OK to shut out men for three days,” she told a Stockholm tabloid. There used to be a man-free festival in the U.S.: the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It was a beloved haven for lesbians and queer women for nearly four decades before shuttering in part due to rising protests against its trans-exclusive policy. Any gender-exclusive space in 2017 will likely face similar protests, though “man-free” offers Knyckare a bit more flexibility than “women-only.”

It is profoundly sad to imagine that the best or only weapon against sexual assault is removing men or canceling a fun event altogether. Shrugging off sexual violence as an inevitable consequence of the existence of men punishes women in both the short and long terms. Women will miss out on fun, convenience, and, in some cases, career advancement because some men are rapists, and they will continue to be victimized by men who learn that they can blame their gender for all their bad behavior. Gender integration has been blamed for military sexual assault, allowing politicians to use the epidemic of gender-based violence in the armed forces as an argument for keeping women out of combat roles. Women-only train cars and ride-sharing services have been offered as solutions to the dangers women face when they leave their homes. After the sexual assaults in Cologne, planners of Carnival—Germany’s Mardi Gras equivalent—designated a women-only “safe zone,” implying to male attendees that the rest of the party grounds were fair game for victimizing drunk women. Instead of beefing up security, holding perpetrators accountable, and investing in anti-sexual assault education for men, politicians and festival owners alike would rather women quarantine themselves to single-gender spaces while men treat the rest of the world as their own personal sexual playgrounds.