Not sure if a safer spaces policy is for you?
The term safe(r)spaces has sparked a lot of debate in and out of the live music scene. As Shawna Potter (2019) puts it, “there is no such thing as a safe space”. We know we can’t guarantee everyone’s safety 100% of the time. We know that ideas are meant to be challenged and being exposed to different people, views and beliefs are part of any healthy community.
As much as we’d like to, it’s not possible to guarantee that negative behaviour will never happen. But what we can do is acknowledge that it does happen, and do our best to stick up for the people who are being harassed, assaulted or discriminated against. In doing so, we can improve the gig experience for audiences, performers and staff so that our events welcome the right people, create the right atmosphere and deter those who threaten it.
Everyone should be free to have fun. But, like at the swimming baths, certain guidelines need to be in place to make sure fun takes place in a safe environment. Freedom to have fun needs freedom from violence, intimidation, prejudice and fear.
When thinking about how to maintain freedom and fun, you don’t have to use the phrase ‘safer spaces’ if it does not feel right for your venue. In our ‘Five Step Guide to Writing a Safer Spaces Policy’ we include a range of options for you to consider. You will see in the sample policy that our personal favourite is ‘Your Right to Party: Our Manifesto’, which includes two separate policies: an anti-violence policy and a gender diverse and priority performers policy, as well as information about safety and accessibility.
The value of a transparent policy/statement/agreement
Policies can support an ethos of equality by ensuring that everyone’s freedom is valued. No one person’s freedom should come at the expense of another’s. A good route to upholding multiple freedoms is through clearly outlining the kinds of behaviours that don’t impinge on others’ freedom, so people can act in accordance with the guidance.
Policies provide an objective measure against which someone’s behaviour can be weighed, if you think it is ‘off’. This takes the pressure off individual staff/collective members to make decisions based on what they think they ought to do. In tight-knit scenes this helps because it depersonalises the situation - ‘hey it’s not me saying you’re out of order, it’s the policy and we have to abide by it’.
An unspoken rule places a lot of responsibility on individual staff/collective members to make decisions. Not everyone has the same skills, knowledge and experience so decisions might be made inconsistently. This means different outcomes for different people. Having a policy can bring consistency which will help the reputation of the venue. One of the venues we spoke to had a regularly reviewed safer spaces agreement. They found it enabled them to respond well to incidents: “we just get… notified about people having unsafe experiences in the space … and most of the time they’re dealt with in a way that everyone’s really happy with”.
Without a policy there is the risk that an ‘in-group’ or clique will develop, with ‘others’ being marginalised. This can mean that already privileged groups maintain their privilege at the expense of those who are already excluded by society. Having a policy can help to lower the chances of privilege begetting privilege, making for a more inclusive venue.
Policies provide guidance and information on what is good gig behaviour and how the venue will respond if something bad happens between audience members. This means there is no guesswork for audience members (or staff/collective members). As one of our interviewees who runs a venue said, “Don’t be a dick… that’s completely subjective, isn’t it, so that’s why you have to have it explained”. Information can also enhance feelings of safety, especially for those who are more likely to be at risk (e.g. women).
Policies are an opportunity to let your community know what you are doing to help everyone have a great time at the gig. They show that you care about everyone’s freedom, fun and welfare and want to contribute to their flourishing. A policy can add to your reputation.
We have created a zine specifically for punk and DIY collectives about the value of a of transparent policy. Feel free to share.