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The normalisation of sexual harassment and assault in bars and nightclubs

Our contributor Phoebe on why we need to denormalise the expectation of sexual harassment and assault as a risk of nightlife.

When I think back to the sexual harassment I experienced whilst at university, a large portion of it happened in bars and nightclubs. As a university student, a substantial amount of time is spent going out, with socials and student nights being a regular occurrence. Sadly, for many students, entering a bar or nightclub also involves the prospect of harassment. This has become an unfortunate side effect of going out; many people report that it’s now something they just expect to happen. Whilst reflecting on this issue, I realised that sexual harassment (and in some cases, assault) is largely normalised and ignored when it happens within this environment. This is unacceptable, everyone deserves to go out and have fun without fear of sexual harassment or assault.

If you were in a supermarket and someone walked past and groped you, you would almost certainly consider this sexual assault and I’d like to think there would be consequences. However, this is a common occurrence in bars and clubs where sexual harassment and even assault is going unchecked. When did inappropriate sexual behaviour become culturally acceptable in this setting?

Why is sexual harassment in bars and nightclubs so prominent?

It’s likely that sexual harassment and assault is more prominent in bars and clubs because the dark setting comes with a certain degree of anonymity. Perpetrators may feel that their actions will not have any consequences and thereby are more confident harassing people. University nights out also involve a substantial amount of alcohol, with heavy drinking being a huge part of student culture. Not only does this allow perpetrators the confidence to carry out their actions, it also places victims in an especially vulnerable position. So, if we know that bars and nightclubs are the ideal place for this behaviour to occur, then why isn’t anything being done to prevent it?

Moreover, groping, grabbing and grinding within this environment have all become so normalised that it is repeatedly dismissed as a ‘joke’ or ‘a bit of fun’. People seem unaware that this constitutes harassment and is inappropriate in ALL settings, including bars and clubs. Since this behaviour has been tolerated for so long, many people have sadly turned a blind eye.

What needs to be done to end sexual violence on nights out?

Better education regarding consent and what qualifies as sexual harassment or assault in schools and universities

Universities have a responsibility to facilitate mandatory lessons about consent, sexual harassment and assault. A comprehensive understanding of consent and what qualifies as sexual violence could begin to tackle the issue. This could prompt an open conversation amongst students regarding the severity of the problem and would encourage students to reconsider their behaviour, reflect and make necessary changes.

It seems that all too often in our society, we focus more on teaching people how not to be harassed or assaulted, as opposed to teaching people how not to harass or assault people. We are told “Put more clothes on, otherwise you’re asking for it”, or “Don’t drink too much, otherwise someone will take advantage of you”. This mode of thinking is seriously misguided since it takes blame away from the perpetrator and places it onto the victim. Victims should not be forced to change their behaviour to avoid being targeted, it should be the other way around. Better education surrounding what qualifies as sexual harassment and assault is a great starting point in trying to tackle it.

More vigilance from staff in these venues and awareness of sexual harassment and assault.

Since we know that bars and nightclubs are the ideal environment for inappropriate sexual behaviour to take place, staff in these venues need to be extra vigilant in identifying potential instances. I have a distinct memory of being groped by someone in a night club, directly in front of the bouncer. Sure enough, nothing was done about it. A short training session for staff in these venues could go such a long way in minimising sexual harassment and assault in these settings. Venues need a no tolerance policy, which could encourage staff to speak up and do something when they bear witness to sexual harassment and assault.

A safe space in the venue where victims can go and seek support.

A designated safe space where victims can go if they need support would be highly effective. Many people are made to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable during nights out due to the behaviour which is all too often displayed. The knowledge that a service like this is available could help people in feeling safer and more secure within the venue, making their whole experience much more positive. This service would enable victims to report incidents and get the appropriate help. Having these designated safe spaces would allow venues to convey their lack of tolerance for sexual harassment and assault.

Thank you for reading, I think it’s time we all try to de-normalise this behaviour and be proactive in creating a change.

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