Politics of the Pit

Where Do We Go Now? The Aftermath of Rapestock

Was a time when a chick in a slampit was a rarity. One badass bitch. It was cool that she'd get into the thick of things. Guys dug that; they respected it. They'd surf her from front to back and back again, hands passing her quickly along with an occasional grab, but usually a boost. It's the kind of crowd Kid Rock envisions when he urges you to "get in the pit and try to love someone."

But then there was Woodstock '99 (Boobstock, Tittystock, Rapestock), where moshing wasn't just a release of aggression or a reaction to the music, and the pit sure as hell wasn't any place to love someone. It was a breeding ground for a male-dominated mob mentality, where girls with women's bodies riding the crowd weren't equals who could hold their own, but fresh meat to be poked, prodded, and sometimes penetrated. Eight cases of rape and sexual assault, allegedly occurring both in and out of the pit, have been reported to the New York State Police; countless more haven't. Rome City Police indicted a 26-year-old state prison guard for assaulting a 15-year-old in the concert's final hours; however, the violation occurred not on concert grounds but in a nearby gas station, where the girl, a Woodstock attendee, had gone to use the restroom.

State police have made no arrests to date, the Voice confirmed last week, and one case has been dropped due to lack of adequate information. Despite optimism expressed by Lieutenant Jamie Mills of the State Police Public Information Office, the outcome doesn't seem promising.

Woodstock trailer-and-ground abuse gauntlet: "If you'd seen it, your blood would have gone cold."
Woodstock trailer-and-ground abuse gauntlet: "If you'd seen it, your blood would have gone cold."

"No perpetrator has been identified, and we have no suspects," says Senior Investigator Dennis Dougherty, who heads one of two departments handling the seven remaining cases. "We haven't received any tips from anyone. We encourage anyone with any information at all to contact us. We'll continue to work any lead until the cases can no longer be prosecuted." That would be a five-year statute of limitations, just long enough for the bastards to come back for more felonious fun at Woodstock 2004.

This isn't fair to the 24-year-old Pittsburgh woman who was assaulted in the pit during the Saturday (July 24) Limp Bizkit set, stripped of her clothes, pulled down from the crowd, raped, then surfed to security. And it's equally unfair to the 20-year-old Buffalo woman who was assaulted in the campgrounds, and whose father posted the following on the Woodstock.com message boards: "Everything was great at Woodstock until the early hours of Monday morning when my daughter got separated from her three girlfriends. A clean cut college looking guy with dirty blonde hair pulled my daughter into a tent and raped her. There were people around and [they] must have heard her screams and the struggle going on inside... ." Though responding posts have provided little more than expressions of sympathy and declarations of outrage, the plea did prompt nine men and women to create the Web site and nonprofit organization Fans-Everywhere (fanseverywhere.org). Geared toward collecting information about the Woodstock assaults and raising money to assist in those cases, FansEverywhere is a "confidential platform for people to submit their tips," which the organization then turns over to the state police.

"I've received e-mail from girls 14 years old on up who said that they were fondled or that they had sex with somebody but didn't want to," cofounder and spokesperson Liz Polay says solemnly. "I have e-mails about girls who were surfing the crowd who had men sticking their hands inside them, their fingers inside them." She adds, "I've also gotten e-mails to the effect that 'These girls wanted it. What are you trying to do? These girls were drunk and on drugs, they deserved it.' " Because FansEverywhere continues to receive reports of violations at shows since Woodstock, the organization has since expanded its original scope. "One of our preventative measures," Polay says, "is to educate women and men about how wrong this is."

The National Organization for Women has focused attention on the promoters rather than on fans. Noting that a rapist is responsible for his actions, Galen Sherwin, president of the New York chapter, adds, "You can't look at a rape without looking at the context in which it occurs." NOW has sponsored several protests and petitions against the promoters, but is not (as rumor had it) participating in a lawsuit against them for neglecting to report known assaults to police during the festival. The promoters have released a statement denying the accusations. "I do think that there are grounds for a lawsuit," Sherwin says, "but it's a difficult allegation to prove."

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has also taken action. President Scott Berkowitz says they received at least five calls "within hours of the assaults happening." Some have direct relationships to the state police cases. Another kind of call came from promoter John Scher, asking what could be done. "He felt pretty bad about what went on," Berkowitz says. Ultimately, Scher, in conjunction with Hybrid/Epic Records, agreed that RAINN would receive 1 percent of proceeds from Woodstock 99 CD and video releases; a blurb appears in the liner notes. Scher and Berkowitz also discussed working to include RAINN at future events.

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