Festival Alert: Five Events with Harassment Reports

Global festivals can face issues of sexual harassment along with cultural celebrations, prompting awareness and safety measures.

This year's Songkran festival was just as enjoyable as ever, but with a renewed focus on safety.

Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt underscored the importance of maintaining both the fun and security of Songkran in Bangkok. To achieve this, Bangkok has implemented various safety measures, including advanced CCTV systems equipped with AI capabilities. These systems facilitate crowd management and identification, complemented by the deployment of Body-Worn Cameras among officers, all centrally monitored to ensure swift responses to any incidents.

Yet, despite these proactive steps, societal challenges persist. It's important to acknowledge that while these events are deeply rooted in cultural tradition and meant for celebration, they can also be tainted by instances of sexual harassment, often due to large crowds, festive chaos, and alcohol consumption.

Such environments may increase the frequency of harassment or cause it to be overlooked. Here's a closer look at several global festivals where concerns regarding respectful conduct and harassment have been raised.

Songkran Festival, Thailand

Originally a traditional Thai New Year's celebration, Songkran involved sprinkling water to symbolise washing away negativity. Recently, it has become a massive water fight, raising issues of inappropriate touching and harassment, often under the guise of playful water splashing.

The festival includes rituals where water mixed with a white paste was applied to the face, neck, and torso by elders as a protection rite. Another common sight during Songkran is the use of Din-Sor-Pong, a natural talc from limestone, used by attendees to mark faces and bodies, adding to the festive atmosphere.

This practice can sometimes blur lines of consent, as the jovial chaos makes it easier for boundaries to be crossed unknowingly.

Carnival, Brazil and other locations

Some of the world's most famous carnivals are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, New Orleans, USA, and Venice, Italy.

Participants don colourful costumes and masks, often representing historical or mythical figures, and dance to the rhythm of music.

While Carnival is celebrated with grandeur and is known for its parades and costumes, there have been instances of sexual harassment during the festivities. The large crowds and the revelry atmosphere can sometimes lead to non-consensual physical interactions.

La Tomatina, Spain

La Tomatina is an annual festival held in the town of Buñol, located in the Valencia region of Spain. It's essentially a giant food fight where participants throw tomatoes at each other.

This tomato-throwing festival is popular and generally focuses on fun and messiness. However, the wild environment can make it easier for incidents of groping and other forms of harassment to occur amidst the confusion.

Oktoberfest, Germany

As the world's largest beer festival, Oktoberfest in Munich draws millions, but it has also seen cases of harassment, often linked to the festivities' spirited atmosphere and alcohol consumption. It's held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October, lasting for about 16 to 18 days.

The citizens of Munich are invited to join in the festivities, which includes horse races, food, and of course, plenty of beer. This festival attracts large crowds and there have been reports over the years of sexual harassment, often related to the high consumption of alcohol.


For example, in 2022, Oktoberfest in Munich drew over 5 million visitors. However, it also saw 55 reported cases of sexual assault, including three rapes. These numbers represent only officially reported cases, as many incidents go unreported.

Holi, India

Similar to Thailand’s water festival, India’s Holi, known as the Festival of Colours, is celebrated by throwing coloured powders and water at each other. It usually falls in March, marking the arrival of spring and the end of winter. While it is a festive time meant to celebrate spring and new beginnings, there have been numerous reports of women being groped or hassled under the guise of the festivities.

However, the presence of these issues doesn't define these festivals in their entirety, and the vast majority of participants enjoy these events without incident. Awareness and education about consent and respectful behaviour are critical in addressing and preventing harassment at these and other festivals.

Moreover, some festival organisers are increasingly aware of these issues, and are implementing measures to increase safety and ensure that the celebrations remain enjoyable and respectful for all attendees.