At Coachella, One Group Is Taking On Sexual Assault and Harassment Prevention. And It’s Just Getting Started
When Coachella attendees arrived at the festival’s first weekend last week, they were greeted by a new addition to the annual event: the “every one” initiative, an organized effort to “develop a festival culture that is safe and inclusive” with gender-neutral bathrooms, increased accessibility for those with disabilities, and a small army of support staff who provided everything from water to emotional and clinical support for victims of sexual harassment and assault.
That last problem in particular was addressed by physical safe spaces, which featured on-site counselors and licensed health professionals, as well as myriad self-care services.
These spaces and their associated messaging about consent, codes of conduct, and accountability were created in response to the rampant problem of harassment and abuse at Coachella and other festivals. When a writer for Teen Vogue attended in 2018, she interviewed 54 women and found that every one of them had been harassed at the annual three-day event. The report was alarming but also not surprising—after all, such predatory behavior can be exacerbated by large crowds, a hedonistic vibe, lowered inhibitions, and substance abuse.
In an attempt to rectify this problem, as well as address the needs for additional ADA compliance and more, Coachella organizer Goldenvoice launched the every one program to “develop a festival culture that is safe and inclusive.” As part of that, a group of women was enlisted to create safe spaces that provide emotional and practical help to anyone who needs it while fostering a more accountable, helpful environment.
The “soteria.” initiative, named after the Greek goddess of safety and deliverance from harm, is the creation of Los Angeles consulting collective woman., a four-person team with decades of entertainment industry experience. Housed in two tents, one in the campgrounds and one inside the festival grounds, these sanctuaries for last weekend, as well as this weekend’s events, are staffed by support staff and licensed health professionals, catering to a steady stream of Coachella attendees who need help dealing everything from harassment to anxiety triggered by the huge crowds.
The spark for soteria. came when the women of woman.—veteran DJs Michelle Pesce, Ana Calderon, and Daisy O’Dell, and event marketer Kate Mazzuca—shared their horror stories from the nightlife world and decided to create their own safe, inclusive space in the predominantly male-run industry. While that didn’t pan out, they remained determined to bring the concept to the music festival scene, not just for women but members of all groups.
“This was pre #Metoo, pre #TimesUp,” Mazzuca tells Fortune. “We were actually at a lunch together when the news of Harvey Weinstein broke. It was one of those moments where we were like, ‘Oh my God, the world needs this now more than ever. These massive gatherings are scary for a lot of people, so what can we do? We launched on a small scale with SAFE App at FORM festival and [with] Summit L.A. and people were unbelievably receptive—like, ‘We can’t believe you guys are here. This is incredible.’”
Bolstered by that success, they researched other ways to create the best safe spaces possible, bringing in Executive Director Eleuthera Lisch, a longtime social justice expert who worked on the Obama administration’s My Brother’s Keeper youth program. These efforts came together before the first weekend of Coachella this year, when the soteria. initiative informed the setup of safe spaces and training programs for their services and protocols with security guards, the every one team members, medics, and hundreds of other festival workers.
“We’re obviously focused on sexual harassment and assault, but also de-escalation,” Pesce says. “There’s a lot of issues, so we’re getting messages out there so people are reminded about certain behaviors, having a code of conduct. We focused a lot on getting sexual consent—one of our main signs that’s very Instagrammable is ‘Stay hydrated, wear SPF, get consent’—and stepping up and checking in on each other.”
“We have 70-plus people working in shifts and you can access our clinicians 24 hours a day,” she adds. “There’s also self care, from aromatherapy to coloring books, yoga mats, or just weighted blankets to kind of calm yourself in a loud, hyperstimulated environment. A lot of people were really thankful for that.”
That area to decompress became especially valuable to attendees who were struggling with their surroundings but didn’t meet the threshold of security or medical attention for injuries or overindulging in alcohol or drugs. “We’re there for things that could be pretty minor, like ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed’ to things that could be pretty major where we need to involve the police,” says Mazzuca. “If somebody is falling down drunk, that person gets brought to [the medical team]. But once someone has worked through that, if they’re still feeling emotionally distressed, soteria. can take care of that on the back end.”
Due to HIPAA laws, woman. can’t divulge how many people came to them for aid during the first weekend other than to say they were “very well utilized for the services we provide, across the board.”
They can say people frequently stopped by the tents to seek sanctuary and privacy, where provided services include private bathrooms, soundproofed trailers, air conditioning, earplugs and consent condoms, and snacks of oranges and bananas. Parents at the festival with their kids also came by to thank the team, they said, sometimes with tears in their eyes because they were relieved.
Another big contributor to every one’s success came from the ambassadors’ visibility. Team members wore bright teal shirts and every one pins to stand out, making their presence known, both to spread awareness of their services and increase accountability so the crowds would be inspired to self regulate behavior.
“Our base is really, ‘Don’t be the jerk, be the helper.’ I have a 6-year-old and that’s how I talk to him,” says Mazzuca. “It’s on you to hold yourself accountable and to hold the person next to you accountable. The hope is that as people see us more, they’ll also think, ‘Well, I can step in and offer someone some water, I can get them to shade.’”
“We talk a lot about the support we can give people [after they’ve had a bad experience] and one of the things we’re really working hard towards is the preventative work so that those experiences don’t happen in the first place,” Mazzuca adds. “It’s sad we have to be here, but we’re so thrilled that it’s being embraced. People obviously needed it.”
For this weekend’s second round of Coachella and, following that, Goldenvoice’s country-centric Stagecoach festival, Pesce and Mazzuca say they won’t have to make many tweaks, outside of planning to have more staffers at certain times of day when they noticed an uptick in visitors. After that, they’re not sure what’s precisely next for the initiative but they’re hopeful that this is just the beginning.
“We’re doing FORM next month and we’re in talks with other festivals, but we can’t share which yet,” says Pesce. “Weekend one of Coachella was just figuring out, ‘What have we created here?’ Our goal is to get the word out. letting other festivals know so that they step up, whether it’s using woman. or another organization. This is needed, this is what’s happening and this is where we’re at in 2019. We see it happening in the future, and we’re inspired by that.”