Safety First: How To Protect Yourself At Concerts And Festivals
You may or may not remember the date of October 17, 2009. It's an event I will never forget. It's the day that a 20-year-old girl, Morgan Harrington, disappeared from a Metallica concert at The John Paul Jones Arena. It would be three months before her remains would resurface, and the terrifying truth would unfold of her demise. It would be another six years before the man responsible, Jesse L. Matthew Jr. would receive his sentencing and fate.
There has always been something about this that I could never let go of. I worked in the city of Charlottesville at the time and watched it unfold, I felt the sorrow and confusion as volunteers, her parents, the police, and FBI searched tirelessly for her. I wasn't that much older than her and simply unsettled by the reality. I've had a lot of time to think about it. He didn't just take a life, a daughter, a friend, he took something that we cannot disregard in the finality of his capture or his admitted guilt, he took one of us.
As concert goers, we seek out safe spaces when it's time to end the night. A safe ride home when a night out leaves us incapable. They give us apps for it, coupons for money off, and occasionally the call is made for us. Never giving it a second thought, we climb in and breathe a sigh of relief that we made the right decision.
But what accompanies that thought now? A quiet fear. A silent prayer that the person driving you home is responsible for you and will not betray you. I feel so much anger about this, but I'm turning that anger into a responsibility to use this tragedy as a reminder of safe practices and precautions we can take to be accountable for ourselves and cautious in our decisions.
Find an accountability partner. The clock runs out on your evening and you're ready to make the call to get home, this will be the friend you tell that you're leaving and how you're getting to your next destination. Did you call an Uber? What is the drivers name, car model, and what time did you get picked up? Maybe even send the license plate info if possible.
Leaving these details can be vital if you for any reason, don't make it home. Also, how long is the trip? Putting a time on the trip will let your accountability partner know to follow up if they never receive that "I'm home" text or phone call. If this partner does not leave with you, leave as much information with them as possible so that it is as if they had. When questions come up, these are the answers that will find you the fastest. If your accountability partner doesn't seem to be in a responsible state, find someone that is. Send the info to an out of town friend, your parents, your buddy that didn't make it out that night, just so someone can know as much info as possible, in case the need arises.
Have a way to identify yourself other than formal identification. In cases of abduction purses and wallets are the first things tossed out. In cases of carelessness they are also the first things lost. Find some way to list your information on your person as well. Maybe it's a unique tattoo. If that's not for you, maybe it's a necklace you never take off with initials, a watch or ring that is engraved on the back side with identifying info, a beaded bracelet with your phone number spaced out on it in beads, markings on the inside of your clothing that wouldn't be immediately noticeable or visible, any of these simple additions may have a chance of helping you be recognized, identified, or help you secretly ask for help.
Use social media. Ah yes, the annoyance of going live or too many check-ins. We know these people. BE THIS PERSON. If you're somehow at risk, use your phone and connect to applications like Facebook or Instagram and start throwing out signals. Check into where you are. Go live on either application and show your surroundings or speak them aloud on the stream. This will get attention whether it be from your followers, or the establishment your tagging/broadcasting from. This advancement in technology can be used in many ways, your safety should be one of them.
Create and commit to a backup plan. Maybe you've agreed to meet your friends at the water station or the exit doors after the show, but the hundreds of people filing out make getting there impossible. Agree on a secondary location, and stay there when you reach it. If you find yourself alone at it, start asking for help. Enlist someone working the show for help, or start making calls, if your phone is dead ask someone for theirs, but stay put. Make sure the group agrees on this secondary plan of action and will do the same.
Concerts and festivals continue to make advancements in security and for the most part, are successful in doing so. As attendees, we have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to do what we can to adhere to these precautionary measures and help out when situations go awry. We can't go back and save Morgan Harrington, but we can learn and take measures to prevent more unfortunate and unnecessary tragedies.
Morgan's mother, Gil Harrington, turned the tragedy into awareness and prevention by creating the group Help Save The Next Girl, a non-profit to raise awareness and a resource to turn to when someone you love goes missing or may be in danger. The music community should commit to doing everything we can to protect ourselves and each other. And hopefully in doing so, take back our safe spaces and the worry-free enjoyment of our experiences.