A friend or one of those people I would like to have as a friend but whose politics, I fear, might get in the way, was talking about the last new year’s confest. She commented on how sleazy it was and how unsafe she felt. In true confest spirit, she organised a workshop inviting the organisers of the festival to discuss ways of promoting safety and establishing norms of behaviour. Suggestions included outlining very clearly on the tickets what was acceptable behaviour and what wasnt as well as instituting highly visible safety officers. I’m not sure how far the workshop/meeting got in both those areas but she did assist a couple of people eject a man who was masturbating outside someone’s tent – apparently a serial offender who’s been to many confests.
As she involved the organisers, I hope that those suggestions were taken up. At least, the information on the ticket idea could be implemented but I doubt that the safety officer idea would fly and without enforcement, I doubt that predators would be deterred. But then, after having been to confest many times, I think the problems behind the general sleaziness are more complex and indeed systemic.
Confest is unpoliced and hence there are no direct consequences. It suffers from the flaws of a festival which depends on the goodwill and community spirit of the attendees to look after each other. To the extent that this is a hippy festival, there is a fair amount of goodwill but because people come from a service provider state context, there’s also a general lack of skills in how to implement the goodwill especially with regard to intervention.
Confest has no cultural memory and hence cannot prevent predators from returning. The festival has become big enough that it has become anonymous. Predators arent named or recognised and so they can return each time. Provided they stick within sleazy parameters as opposed to outright sexual assault and they choose their victims carefully, they can pretty much get away with it each time.
Confest provides the ideal victim pool. Because it’s a hippy festival, every year, a large number of new impressionable and vulnerable youth attend who are the perfect victimes. They have nebulous concepts of love and acceptance, an inability to set boundaries firmly, a general desire to not kick up a fuss and a complete inability to deal with conflict. As well, people who have a bad time dont return but as they come from all over, any negative experiences are not dessiminated. Plus confest, over many successful years has a reputation of being safe and friendly – still the experience of most attendees, unless you happen to be young and vulnerable.
Confest establishes an openly sexual atmosphere that is very attractive to predators. Albeit this is without the intention to do so but nonetheless, general nudity is still titilating in this straitjacketed society and especially to predators. Facilities such as the massage exchange tents, the hot tub and steam tents have become notorious hangouts.
So, here’s the part I say, dont get me wrong, I love confest. And I do, I love confest because of the people I go with and the fuss free camping in a lovely natural environment. I love confest because if I want to, I can leave the campsite when it gets too claustrophobic and chat with people in the chai tent. Most of the people I know who’ve been to confest feel the same way too.
But if you’re a woman or a girl who has problems defining your boundaries very clearly, have problems telling people to fuck off, have come alone or with very little support, have abuse issues in the past that may be triggered off by unwanted attention, you’re probably going to have a really crap time at some point.
And as much as I’m reluctant to say it, I feel that a lot of the predator problem can be solved by having a central security office, a couple of beefy guys (with dreadlocks hopefully) on duty at all times at problem sites such as the common bathing area, the massage tents, the hot tub and steam rooms and an immediate ejection policy.