Is a crowded situation a hub for harassment?

In crowded environments, such as busy streets, public transportation, or social events, the potential for harassment arises due to anonymity and a lack of personal space. This can lead to verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. Verbal harassment involves unwelcome comments, catcalling, derogatory remarks, or offensive jokes based on characteristics like gender or race, making people feel violated and unsafe. Physical harassment breaches personal boundaries through unwelcome touching or groping, causing distress and anxiety. Sexual harassment, a prevalent issue in crowded settings, includes unwanted advances, lewd gestures, or assault, with lasting effects on victims' well-being. 

What measures or policies are in place to prevent harassment in crowded areas? How are these laws communicated to the public, and how are they enforced? What resources or support services are available to individuals who experience harassment in crowded areas?


Incidents of Harassment during Public Gatherings

SheThePeople exposes a few incidents where crowd mongering has led to public display of attacks. At the Miranda College Diwali Fest in India, a group of individuals climbed over the walls and gained unauthorised access to the college premises. To engage in inappropriate behaviour towards women, including cat-calling, groping, and promoting sexist slogans.

Numerous women who took pictures and shared them online during Eid experienced the deplorable act of being rated and auctioned off on social media. They were shamefully objectified, treated as commodities to be bid upon.

It was discovered in an investigation that within the past five years, 34% of female respondents and 6% of male respondents encountered instances of sexual harassment at a festival. Moreover, 9% of women and 1% of men reported experiencing incidents of sexual assault.

According to a 2018 YouGov survey, approximately 20% of individuals attending UK festivals have encountered sexual assault or harassment. Among female attendees, this figure increases to one in three, but only 1% of these women reported the incidents to festival staff, either before or after the event.

Following reports of four rapes and 23 sexual assaults on-site in 2017, the Swedish music festival Bråvalla was cancelled. It is important to note that sexual violence extends beyond rape. In a separate incident at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park, Gina Martin discovered a man had taken a picture of her underwear from beneath her skirt while she was waiting to watch The Killers. This incident prompted her to launch a successful campaign to criminalise upskirting in England and Wales, which was officially enacted in 2019.

Since 2017, Dr. Hannah Bows from Durham University has been conducting research on sexual violence at festivals. Based on her limited survey, she estimates that up to 250,000 women experience assault at festivals annually. These incidents range from catcalling and unwanted touching in crowded areas to being followed and raped in campsites.

Another YouGov report reveals that nearly half of all female festival attendees, approximately 43%, have encountered unwanted sexual behaviour. Furthermore, 22% of all festival-goers, regardless of gender, have faced assault and harassment.

The more recent tragedy at Houston's Astroworld Festival, where nine individuals aged 14 to 27 lost their lives, has prompted renewed discussions about the need for national regulations and what actions can be taken to prevent another fatal surge in the crowd.


Crowd Safety Mechanisms in Foreign Countries

  • USA: In 1979, a tragic The Who concert incident occurred at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum, resulting in the loss of eleven lives. The victims were individuals between the ages of 15 and 27 who were caught in a crowd crush. Following the tragedy, the Cincinnati Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety was established. Wertheimer, who served as the chief of staff at that time, subsequently created the consulting company Crowd Management Strategies. He reports that before this, there had been no other federal law on crowd safety except for the National Fire Protection Association’s 101 Life Safety Code, considered the gold standard. Engineer Tracy Vecchiarelli, the NFPA's standards lead for building fire protection and life safety, stated that the code undergoes revisions every three years and has been adopted in over 400 jurisdictions and agencies, ranging from state fire marshals' offices to local governments.
  • Ireland: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 considers the act of spiking someone with the intent of overpowering them for sexual activity as a severe criminal offence. This offence carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years, regardless of whether an actual assault occurred. Ireland hosts numerous concerts, festivals, public meetings, and major events annually. Article 40 of Bunreacht na hEireann (the Irish Constitution) guarantees the right to assemble or peacefully meet without weapons. The Gardaí, under Section 21 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, have the authority to place barriers on roads up to a mile (1.6 km) away from a location where a significant event involving a large crowd is taking place. Section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 grants the Gardaí the power to search individuals attending an event where barriers have been erected. If the person insists on attending, the Gardaí may confiscate intoxicating liquor, disposable containers, or any other items that could potentially be used to cause harm.

Despite these codes, no law or policy seems to be directly addressing the harm that fellow participants of the crowd may cause one another intentionally. Crowd Management has greater scope than just Crowd Control. The goal behind managing a crowd must also entail a pre-vision of what might possibly go wrong during such an environment of closeness. Relevant conditions must be laid out and strictly made to be upheld to avoid any kind of misdemeanor.


Policies in Nepal regarding Crowd Safety

Two Articles in the Constitution of Nepal are most pertinent when we are concerned with public gatherings.

  • Article 17(2): Every citizen shall have the following freedoms: (b) freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms.
  • Article 32(2): Every person and community shall have the right to participate in the cultural life of their communities.

These provisions in no way allow incidents of harassment during such assemblies to go unpunished. 

Every year, Nepal experiences a significant number of holidays dedicated to jatras and other festivals. These occasions often attract large crowds, increasing the likelihood of public harassment. In the context of the previous Holi festival, Chief District Officer Rudra Devi Sharma issued an appeal on behalf of the Bhaktapur District Administration Office (DAO) urging individuals participating in the festival to refrain from engaging in activities that are prohibited by law. The appeal stated that actions such as forcefully smearing colours and throwing balloons at people, causing inconvenience to pedestrians, obstructing vehicles on the road, and attempting to extort money from them are considered punishable offences.

Unfortunately, such pleas have limited impact in situations where personal boundaries are violated in physical reality. The absence of an effective system to manage the crowd and address incidents of misconduct means that individuals who seek to participate in festivities are left to bear the consequences.



Crowds pose challenges for addressing assaults due to their large size and the anonymity it provides perpetrators. Reporting an assault is difficult as finding security and locating the perpetrator within a crowd is time-consuming. Festivals often have low police presence, relying on private security companies that may lack proper training to support victims. The temporary nature of festivals can also lead to changes in safety reporting spaces. Sexual harassment at festivals is not isolated but connected to the everyday experiences of women, including leering, harassment, and sexism, which have become normalized.

Harassment is unacceptable everywhere. We cannot let occasions incurring a mass become free gateways for making harrying justifiable. Efforts must be made to raise awareness, educate on appropriate behaviour, and establish reporting mechanisms for prompt action. Cultivating a culture of respect, empathy, and accountability in crowded spaces is crucial for preventing harassment and ensuring everyone's well-being.