In the Pit, We’re All Equal. Except When We’re Not.

At Rockfest 2014, Aaron Lewis of Staind stopped playing guitar in the middle of a song, grabbed the mic and pointed into the audience.

“All right, listen up you fucking assholes, that fucking girl right there is like 15 fucking years old, and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she is on the fucking crowd. Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit.”

The crowd went, “Wooo!” and some people threw devil horns.

Lewis continued: “If I fucking see that shit again, I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass.”

The crowd went “Woooo!” and threw the devil horns again. Yes! Beat his ass! Yes we will!

“Now, girls, feel free to crowd-surf safely.”

And they continued with the concert and the crowd wooed and threw devil horns some more.

I’d like to tell you about how, at rock concerts, this is a common reaction to an uncommon occurrence. We all share a love of the music and exchange that energy with each other in a respectful way—that moshing is ultimately a form of dancing, that most men will not put up with purposeful molestation or abuse of women, that the guys who start bottling and groping are often described as, “spoiled, drunk fraternity perverts” (I asked a metalhead friend for exact wording.) Those bros are not supposed to be part of our rock tribe. “Go back to your Dave Matthews concert,” seethed my Metalhead Friend, rolling his eyes.

In the pit, we watch out for one another, and all people are equal–except when we’re not..

Sure, there have been some memorable crowd interventions from musicians, such as when Eddie Vedder, at a Randalls Island concert in 1996, threatened to walk off stage when he noticed people in the pit violently shoving some girls—in particular, a girl who was being crushed against the barrier. I asked Metalhead Friend to relive that moment with me: “Oh man, he was so pissed. He was going to walk off stage if they didn’t stop hurting this girl, and he was serious about it. He told the whole band to stop playing and just yelled at these kids. And it’s the Vedder-Man, who’s not going to listen to him?”

Vedder’s concern about the safety of the mosh pit crowd was an eerie foreshadowing; in 2000, nine people would be crushed to death at a Pearl Jam concert.

Other musicians who have been outspoken against moshing violence—interrupting sets to scold their audiences like Lewis and Vedder–include Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins (two fans have died in Smashing Pumpkins mosh pits, go figure) Fugazi, the Dead Kennedys, Reel Big Fish, and the metal band Manowar.

And yet, for every musician who stands up and threatens to stop the music because of audience members who insist on hurting other people, there are many, many instances of outright rape and assault at mainstream concerts that have been either unaddressed or denied entirely by festival organizers.

Most notably, several girls who claimed to have been violently assaulted at the Woodstock ’99 festival, in front of witnesses, were never taken seriously. The details of those incidents are hard to read and require a trigger warning. In one case, during the Korn set, a girl was yanked into the pit, passed back and forth among several men who then stripped her from the waist down and proceeded to penetrate and rape her. The incident was witnessed by a volunteer counselor from the charity group, Family of Woodstock, which was located on the festival site to provide assistance to the crowd.

In another instance at the same festival, a girl reported to police that she was penetrated by men’s fingers and “foreign objects” during a Limp Bizkit set.

Festival organizer Michael Lang’s response? It’s not possible for a woman to be raped in a mosh pit because there’s not enough room. “I don’t think it’s conceivable,” Lang said. “You can barely move in a mosh pit – it’s worse than a subway at rush hour.”

Lang’s partner, promoter John Scher, derailed. “What about 199,000 kids that came and had a great weekend? Everyone is ignoring them.”

These responses were disappointing. Lang’s contention that mosh pits are too busy is exactly the reason why it’s completely possible to trap a woman and pull her pants off and continue touching her without her permission, especially if several of your bros are helping out.


Not legally considered a weapon, you can use this self-defense keychain to stab a potential rapist in the throat if necessary

Not considered a legal weapon, you can stab a potential rapist in the throat with this self-defense keychain

The molestation of women in mosh pits isn’t relegated only to rock concerts. Iggy Azalea wears three layers of protective clothing at her concerts (two pairs of underwear and tights) to avoid the frequent fingering she has received from audiences when she crowd surfs.

“Just because you bought my album for $12 doesn’t mean you get to finger me when I come to your city,”

she said in an interview on a New York radio station. Azalea has mostly ceased crowd surfing and stage diving because some of her male fans felt they had a right to put their hands all over, and into, her body.

Moshing took an unpleasant turn during the hardcore punk era of the early 80’s. Hardcore bands encouraged the audiences to break teeth and bust heads open. Blood, battle scars, and war stories from the mosh pit became an essential part of going to a live rock concert, particularly after moshing spilled over into the mainstream genres. The problem for (especially young) women is that they are sometimes physically unable to extricate themselves from the vortex (also known as the Wall of Death).

“I kind of miss the old Pantera kids who would just throw each other,” said Ivan L. Moody of Five Finger Death Punch.

I agree, man. I’ve never felt unsafe at a rock concert—I’ve always felt that I knew how to handle myself, and that I trusted my fellow metalheads to make sure I’m okay. I’ve been to a Pantera concert in which kids were kicked in the head repeatedly, but at the end of the night, we laughed it off and showed each other our bruises. Strangers apologized to one another.

I see the lack of community and safety more frequently in mainstream concerts and larger festivals, where there is significant bystander effect—we assume there is safety in large crowds. And there should be. But the law of averages at these larger concerts means that the rapey/not-rapey ratio changes. There also appears to be a a lot of ignorance about what constitutes as rape or sexual assault when mosh pits require a lot of excessive touching of other human body parts.

But putting your fingers inside a woman you don’t know is sexual assault, even if she happens to be on top of you.

In the cases where women are assaulted, it’s mostly the men who are able to stop it, to lean in and yell, “Let her go!” I’ve seen it many times. There’s an inherent sexism in that; men respect other men and are more likely to listen to them. A combination of fear and mutual respect exists between men in a mosh pit, where physical strength always wins. And if that’s the case, we need to continue to encourage our fellow male headbangers to intervene on our behalf. A lot of the reactions to young women who are crying in the middle of the mosh pit is a nasty jab, one I’ve heard often before: “That drunk chick who can’t take it.” Some of these young men at concerts lack the context to comprehend a young woman expressing authority.

“For the most part, metalhead guys won’t touch a girl like that,” said Corey, vocalist from the death metal band, Hooker Dragger, when I asked him about the treatment of women in mosh pits. “And maybe it’s just me—well, I know other guys, like the guys in my band [who would also do this]–but man, I will not put up with that shit. I don’t care if you’re my friend or my girlfriend, it doesn’t matter, if some fucker is grabbing you, then I will say something, and if he doesn’t stop, I’ll punch that guy in the head. I don’t care if you say, ‘Well, I can take care of myself.’ Maybe you can, but I hate that shit. It makes me fucking angry.”

I don’t go into mosh pits anymore (although sometimes I’m pushed in or someone stage dives on top of me). What used to be an adrenaline rush is now mostly annoyance and frustration with the people around me behaving like savages, pointlessly endangering young girls (who are often drunk or high out of their minds) around them. What used to feel like a mutual release of energy now feels like a contrived chaos, a re-enactment of an old quaint 90’s play. I mean, mainstream “hard” rock like Staind hardly lends itself to crazed thrashing.

And while there are very thoughtful musicians and fans who will drop everything to make sure you’re okay, there are thoughtless pigs at those concerts, too. A young 15-year-old girl should be able to crowdsurf, to have that exhilarating experience of floating across a sea of people beneath her–but those hands should be supporting her, ultimately carrying her to safety.

What saddens me most is that what used to be a real community seems to grow colder and more individualistic as we corporatize and divide the music industry. We throw ourselves upon a crowd as a bizarre trust exercise, and we lose, for a moment, all control–only to find that each time, we will land on a remarkably firm surface of the outstretched hands of the rock community. If we are to going to make good on this promise to give the next generation of rock music all the help it can get, young teenage girls need to feel safe falling backward into our crowd. We need to carry each other.

Rebecca Chance
Rebecca Chance is a writer and editor living in New York, often referred to as the "dour voice of gloom." Email (for a good time) or for more appropriate reasons, like pitching an article, whether it's about irreverent pop culture or a damn serious social issue.
  • AlexisO

    I loved seeing Aaron Lewis interrupt his song and address the crowd. In my younger days I was at every concert and festival mostly in the rock and metal genre and I always made sure to get Pit tickets because I wanted to be close. I also used to crowd surf and unfortunately there were several times were I was grabbed and groped and there wasn’t anything I could do about it except not crowd surf anymore.

    I hope more musicians stand up for girls who want to participate because no one else will. The security guys guarding the stage stand there until you get close enough to be dumped over the barrier and then they typically heave you up and shove you out. It’s a shame to say but if you’re a female, you’re on your own.

    • WrongAsRain

      It’s so true–wtf security? After some huge problem occurs, like the rapes at Woodstock 99, they were like, “Well, it was too crowded for us to do anything about it.” Okay, what are you here for?

      • AlexisO

        Exactly! Apparently they’re there to breakup fights or look for drugs. Blatant Sexual Assault doesn’t matter.

  • relentless fuckery

    I’ve been groped, grabbed, and slapped while trying to crowd-surf in my younger days. I actually got in a physical altercation with a guy at a Static X show in high school; the crowd had surged forward really quickly and I was actually being crushed by people much larger than me. I couldn’t speak or breathe and so I scratched the elbow that was jabbing into my neck. The dude called me a bitch and tried to push and slap me but there was no room. So I donkey-kicked him in the shins, climbed up some shoulders, and crowd-surfed out. I’ve always wondered why it was even necessary; how about we just act like civil human beings in public and, y’know, NOT crush/grope/rape people?

    • WrongAsRain

      And that’s part of the problem–that the “rule” for getting out of the pit is to physically push and shove people or ride out, so some guys think (I’m guessing) “All physical boundaries are erased here in the pit.” But they’re fucking NOT.

      Sometimes the way we act in crowds says the most about us. Is there some time-gone-by issue with mosh pits and we can’t safely do this anymore? I hope not. I feel like the spillover of mosh pits into mainstream music really increased the shitty behavior, and maybe there’s no going back to those “days when we just threw each other.”

      I am fortunate to not have any personal mosh pit horror stories. The worst was when a bunch of smaller girls just refused to hold me and dropped me on my face (at a Bikini Kill show).

      • relentless fuckery

        yeah, I miss the days when it was “slam dancing” and all you did was dance around and run into each other.

  • botenana

    The thing is that Rockfest attracts the scummiest crowds I have ever seen at a festival. Okay, it’s not fair to limit it only to KCMO because festivals nationwide see an incidence of scumbaggery but man, Rockfest takes the case. The only reason this one came to national attention is because it was Aaron Lewis in the middle of his show.

    The first year I moved to KCMO, I made the mistake of walking home from a bar in Midtown while the Rockfest crowds were making their way home. It was the most harrowing walk I have ever been on. When I read the papers and watched the news the next day, I realized how lucky I was. Each year was full of stories of thefts, rapes, assaults and other crimes these idiots would put the city through.

    Behold, my first old lady comment ever: It doesn’t feel like the old days.

    Or maybe I’m just more aware of what these so-called “fans” do in the name of having a rock-n-roll time.

  • allis illusion

    Actually, Iggy Azela said WOMEN were equally responsible for sexually assaulting her, and fingering her at shows.

    (In fact, I believe she said that more women do it than men, because its like “hey, I’m a girl too – so its ok if I sexually assault you’.)

    This is important to realize. Abuse isn’t about what junk you have.

    Abuse is about being a shitty person, and women are more than capible it.

    • Blahblee

      I agree that in the pit, abuse is abuse, no matter what the gender.

  • dick

    I like how the general violence is glossed over to turn this into a feminist issue. If you take part in this sort of thing, you’re just stupid. And that’s it. I don’t care if that’s cool to do in metal culture or whatever, frankly I find a lot of these cult of personality fads to be stupid and obnoxious anyway, but if you’re taking part in something that is known to get people injured and killed I don’t really feel sorry for you when something bad happens.

    • Beige Allen

      How about when you are standing far from the mosh pit and a group of dudes drags you into it? Are we women to blame just because we bought a ticket to go to a show? And when did going to a concert turn into open consent for whatever a stupid man wants to do to you? If I go skydiving any my chute malfunctions is not the same as going skydiving and having my chute fail because some asshat cut my chute cords or handed me a sabotaged chute.

  • RIconservative

    So a woman jumps into a giant crowd with the intent of having hundreds of hands all over her body, but she is upset when they touch her private parts? Ummm don’t crowd surf then.

    As for the people being molested in large crowds, raped, pulled into mosh pits…etc. These are serious crimes. Take pictures if you can, cal the police, make a report, testify if they find the guy. Finally, sue the band, the promoter and the venue. Being at a concert does not remove the restrictions of civilized society. Laws still need to be enforced. Believe me, once it starts to cost people money they will find a way to make it safe for everyone.