By Natalie Pressman
Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Conversations about sexual violence need to be ongoing and inclusive in order to achieve safe spaces.
That’s where Project SoundCheck comes in. The 2-year-old organization works to support festivals and large events to thwart sexual violence. Their goal is to change the culture of large events towards safer, more comfortable spaces for everyone.
“We’re really looking to represent the Ottawa community in all its facets,” says project manager and Sexual Assault Network Ottawa coordinator Stephanie Lomatski. “Whether that be from a festival perspective, a gig perspective, from a volunteer perspective, a survivor perspective, we want to be able to put all of those into the project.”
Project SoundCheck delved deeper in their first ever Artist Callout workshop last month. The event asked professionals in Ottawa’s music scene “what makes a space safe?” so we could begin to envision steps toward making all spaces that way.
“This type of thing always starts on a grassroots level,” says Chris Landry, a co-participant of the event and band member of Flying Hellfish. “It takes a while to trickle up, so some of the big clubs and more mainstream venues may take a little longer.”
The Artist Callout workshop was a conversation I was lucky to be a part of. It facilitated dialogue and allowed for informal creativity with markers and play dough as tools for expression at every table.
If there were a theme of the event, it was accountability. The artists were quick to recognize their role in turning down shows when they felt venues facilitated potentially dangerous situations and using the view they have of the crowd to intervene.
They also acknowledged the responsibility on the part of venue owners and show goers to make these conversations a regular part of a night out.
“Sometimes it just comes down to explaining it in terms of dollars and cents,” says Landry. “You have to break it down to say, look if more people feel comfortable at your bar, more people are going to come to your bar.”
For venue owners, this means noticing dimly lit corners, monitoring the crowd for potential danger and having diverse staff and security to avoid feelings of marginalization and ensure that everyone feels they have someone to talk to if they need to. From a concertgoers’ perspective, participants of the workshop brainstormed a platform to host audience reviews of shows.
“Showgoers need to hold venue owners accountable.”
“Showgoers need to hold venue owners accountable,” says City Councillor Jeff Leiper explaining that reviews get back to the people in charge and negative press incites change.
“Just saying did you feel safe at the show? What was good at the show? Could artists or venues be doing better? Just opening up that communication and letting audiences have a role into this work.”
Project SoundCheck started three years ago as a result of Dr. Kari Sampsel’s research, which noted the correlation between mass gatherings and sexual assault. She observed that about a quarter of all reported sexual assault cases occurred at large events. With so many other people at the events, intervention is too easy for the assault numbers to be that high.
Project Soundcheck looks to educate organizers, volunteers, artists and all festival participants to encourage intervention and reduce the risk of sexual assault.
“Bystander intervention is shown to make a difference,” says Lomatski. “If you’re telling people what potential risk factors look like, then people will hopefully intervene.”
Visit www.projectsoundcheck.ca to learn more about Project Soundcheck.