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When It Comes to Raves, What Should Harm Reduction Look Like?


Part of the concern is the widespread use of drugs

Dancing the night away often has people use stimulating and mind-altering substances. Cocaine, MDMA, ketamin and GHB are just a few that can be found at raves. Alcohol is also used at raves and is known to exacerbate the effects of drugs. To the unwitting raver, this can have disastrous consequences, and one may create a bad combination not knowing any better.

People may also become overstimulated or feel “too high.” Getting too high, feeling nervous or fearful for your well-being can be all too common for some. Overdose is another real risk when it comes to drugs. Poor judgment on what you’re taking and how much to take can be a huge mistake. A recent Edmonton event saw 18 people treated on site by medical staff and 11 transported to hospital. Those that choose to use benefit from clarity.

Reagent testing at events helps people know what’s (mostly) in their substances. Information on what the drug is like and how it works with other drugs offers a clearer picture on their choices. Teaching people to dye their GHB can prevent accidental dosing. Supplying clean tools to snort with can prevent the spread of diseases. Drugs may be powerful, but knowledge is powerful too. However, lowered wits and inhibitions come with other dangers too.

drug testing shambhala

Shambhala is committed to on-site drug testing.

Another major concern was the prevalence of sexual violence

Edmonton Police Service cited “drug facilitated sexual assaults” as a threat to public safety. The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton or SACE told Global News their crisis calls spike after EDM massives. Mary Jane James of SACE attributes these spikes to the mixture of drugs and alcohol around young people partying.

James tells Global News they “have clients reporting that something happened at the rave. . . and continue to, access our services because of experiences of sexual violence that have occurred at raves.” The use of drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions and awareness. Since people may get into situations they don’t remember, it can be hard to prosecute those responsible.

Others may also forget the importance of consent. The onus of sexual violence is on the assailant who is choosing to be a predator. The conversation around consent and the creation of social cues that rely on consent is essential to a community in dividends.

A crowd at the Alberta Legislature in 2013 takes part in Slut Walk to protest ‘blame the victim’ mentality for sex crimes. Jason Franson/Edmonton Journal

If that is truly beyond people then it’s up to us to look out for one another. Establishing places where people can feel safe, relax, and calm down, volunteers can offer water or snacks, and people can rest away from the party. Outside of this space, volunteers may keep an eye out for intoxicated individuals. Friends may keep an eye on each other, too. Checking in with someone can stop an assault before it starts.

A key part of the problem is less the rave, and more circumstantial

In 2017, four EDM events that took place at the Shaw Conference Centre saw 29,362 in attendance. 84 were medical patients, 17 were transported to hospital, 286 were ejected and 17 were arrested. Those numbers come together to reveal that out of every attendee only 1.4% of them were problematic. When it comes to the most recent event in 2018, only 0.8% needed medical help, were ejected or arrested.

Community and Public Services Committee, City of Edmonton

Regardless, the safety of the public and individuals is paramount. Many arrests and medical interventions were no doubt drug and alcohol related. Safer practices around substance use can prevent medical emergencies before they start.  A more conscious community can better protect those who are vulnerable from sexual violence. The environment that people party in changes into a more open and vocal dialogue.

These methods discussed are just a few different ways that harm reduction can manifest into reality. There are little tips and tricks that can help someone navigate the stimulating and high speed environment of a rave. Without an open discussion and ways for people to become more informed, not even the brightest lasers can bring people out of the dark. It all starts with promoters, venues, and city administration holding space for education.

What are some of your essential harm reduction tips?  Do you think harm reduction should be in the forefront? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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