| Police Investigate Reports of Rapes at Woodstock |
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 1999; Page C1 The legacy of Woodstock '99, the three-day music festival in Upstate New York that disintegrated into a melee of vandalism and destruction on its final night, has grown uglier amid allegations that several women were raped during the event.
A New York State Police spokesman confirmed yesterday that detectives are investigating reports of four rapes at the festival, which was held over the weekend in Rome, N.Y. Crisis intervention workers said they witnessed many more, and that several of the sexual assaults took place in the mosh pit, the extremely crowded area in front of the stage where audience members dance to the music by thrashing about and deliberately bumping into each other.
David Schneider, a rehabilitation counselor who lives in Jessup, Md., attended the festival as a volunteer with Family of Woodstock, an organization that offered a "people find" and other emergency services during the event. Schneider, 28, was off duty when he took in a performance by Korn on Friday night. He was standing at the edge of the mosh pit, about 30 yards from the stage, when he saw women who had been crowd-surfing – hoisted into the air and passed around above the heads of the tightly packed crowd – being forcibly pulled down into the pit.
"I saw someone push this girl into the mosh pit, a very skinny girl, maybe 90 to 100 pounds," Schneider said. "Then a couple of the guys started taking her clothes off – not so much her top but her bottom. They pulled her pants down and they were violating her, and they were passing her back and forth. There were five guys that were raping this girl and having sex with her."
Schneider said he saw similar assaults against at least five women, who, he said, visibly struggled to free themselves. "They were pushed in against their will and really raped," he said. "From my vantage point, it looked like initially there was a struggle, and after that there were other people holding them down.
"No one I saw tried to go in and rescue them," Schneider said. He said security guards near the stage were aware of the assaults, but because of the density of the crowd they were unable to intervene. He, too, felt helpless to stop the assaults, he said. "There clearly wasn't anything I could do. They're big brawny people and it seemed like most of the crowd around them were cheering them on. . . . It was so disturbing. You're thinking, if this girl was being raped, wouldn't all these people try to stop what was going on?"
After the assaults, Schneider said, some in the audience helped the women make their way toward the security workers.
Sandy Lattimore, emergency services director of the Rome office of the American Red Cross, said yesterday that she had treated victims of sexual assaults that had taken place in the mosh pit. "These things have left scars on these girls," she said. "I don't know why it had to happen. I don't know where we went wrong."
Police investigator David Krause said one assault allegedly took place in front of the East Stage during Limp Bizkit's set. A 24-year-old woman from Pittsburgh told police that two men assaulted her with their fingers and "some type of foreign object" before one of them raped her.
"Due to the congestion of the crowd," read the police investigation report, "she felt that if she yelled for help or fought, she feared she was going to be beaten."
Yesterday the event's promoters sought to play down the reports of rapes. Promoter John Scher said he could not confirm that the assaults had taken place. "There was an awful lot of good that happened this weekend," he said. "What about 199,000 kids that came and had a great weekend? Everyone is ignoring them."
Both Scher and his partner, Michael Lang, questioned whether it would be possible to sexually assault someone in such a crowded space. "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."
Both Scher and Lang conceded that the alleged assaults may have been filmed by video cameras that scanned the audience throughout the festival, providing crowd shots for a pay-per-view broadcast. Lang said he had watched videotapes of the performances by Korn and Limp Bizkit and said he saw no evidence of any sexual assaults beyond what he termed "groping."
"We'll do everything we can to cooperate, and we are preparing to give the videos to the police," Scher said. "If someone was sexually assaulted in any way, the person who perpetrated the assault should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Rosemary Vennero, crisis services director of the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley, said her organization's rape crisis center had counseled four sexual assault victims. She said two of the assaults took place on the concert site, and that one of those was in the mosh pit.
The combination of heat, readily available drugs and alcohol, and the lack of food and sleep, said Vennero, was "a perfect breeding ground for sexual assault – and when I say that, I mean anything from groping, touching and molesting to rape and sodomy."
Police said that at least two of the alleged sexual assaults took place on the festival campgrounds, just beyond the concert site.
Yesterday, the official Woodstock Web site contained the following posting: "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 must have heard her screams and the struggle going on inside. She spent the best part of Monday in the hospital, exams – counselors – HIV medications – state police, etc. – complaints have been filed – his DNA is now on file, but we need help, if anyone saw or heard anything please e-mail me. . . . Anyone who provides info leading to the arrest and conviction is entitled to a $10,000 reward. Please – "
State police said 44 arrests were made during the three-day festival weekend. Woodstock organizers said about 1,200 people were treated each day at on-site medical facilities. Rome Memorial Hospital would not release information on specific cases but reported that it treated 123 Woodstock attendees. As of yesterday, eight were still hospitalized.
Dozens of women voluntarily removed their shirts and bras during the festival, both in and outside the mosh pit. Schneider said that none of the women he saw assaulted had taken off her own top. Schneider added that during the Dave Matthews Band's set, some men in the mosh pit began grabbing at a fully clothed woman who was crowd-surfing. By the time she got to the front of the pit, he said, her breasts were exposed and all that remained of her T-shirt was its collar.
"Sexual assault such as groping is not uncommon in mosh pits," said Paul Wertheimer, head of Crowd Management Strategies, an organization that provides safety guidelines for concert promoters.
"What would not be allowed on public streets is allowed at concerts," Wertheimer said. "I've seen the trauma that results from when women are attacked and stripped of their clothing. I've watched security guards stand by and watch without doing anything to stop it. And I've had debates with security people who want to blame the women – they think that if a woman goes into a mosh pit and body-surfs, that they are somehow inviting that kind of thing."
Lattimore said yesterday that she was too upset to discuss the alleged rapes. But she did have some suggestions for female moshers. "One thing I think these girls should do, they ought to look at the way they dress when they go to these things," she said.
Lattimore was not suggesting that women who wear a certain type of clothing are somehow inviting sexual assault. Instead, she was offering practical advice. "The girls that wear the cute little dresses should know that those provide easy access."