ONE in five British festival goers has been sexually assaulted or harassed at an event, a study has found.

Campaigners said the figures, believed to be the first of their kind, should be a wake-up call for the industry to start treating sexual violence as seriously as other crimes.

The poll showed 22% of Britons who have been to a festival faced some kind of unwanted sexual behaviour, rising to almost one in three among women (30%) and almost half (43%) of women under 40.

The most common forms of unwanted sexual behaviour experienced were unwelcome and forceful dancing and sexualised verbal harassment.

Eleven per cent of women had experienced sexual assault while they were conscious, compared to three per cent of men, and four per cent of women said they were sexually assaulted while unconscious or asleep, compared to two per cent of men. Only two per cent of those who were assaulted or harassed reported the incident to the police.

The poll, in which YouGov surveyed 1188 festival goers, also revealed that 70% of those who experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival said the perpetrator was a stranger. Only 1% of women reported sexual assault or harassment to a member of festival staff, either before or after the event, although 19% of men reported their experience to staff.

Tracey Wise, founder of Safe Gigs For Women, said: “We’ve struggled to find anyone with any definite statistics on this before. It gives us something to show to festival organisers so we can say, ‘you need to take this on board’.”

Jen Calleja of the Good Night Out Campaign called the research “shocking but not surprising”, saying it “helps prove what we already know through anecdotal evidence”.

She added: “We know the vast amount of harassment and sexual assault is not reported and we know this comes down to stigma, fear of not being believed and a minimisation of what harassment is.”

Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said festivals “have a duty to make their events as safe and secure and enjoyable” as possible, but that people have a responsibility to report problems.

He added: “People shouldn’t feel that they need to tolerate the type of behaviour [at festivals] that they wouldn’t tolerate in the street. And if people don’t intervene, then this behaviour becomes normalised.”