Undercover cops is not the answer: nightclubs need to do more to protect women
Plainclothes police will not make women feel protected in nightlife, but there are steps venues can take that will, reports Aneesa Ahmed
Content warning: This article contains themes and details of police violence, sexual harassment and assault that may be distressing to women and people who experience misogyny.
Most women who participate in club culture have been sexually harassed in some capacity. Women cover their drinks, visit venues with male friends, stay in large groups, and yet nothing we do seems to ever be enough. While there obviously does need to be large scale social change to ensure that sexual harassment is eradicated; nightclubs and live music venues need to step up and acknowledge their role in stopping rape culture.
It should not be our responsibility as women to worry about being harassed when men have a worry-free night.
According to a 2017 YouGov poll, 72% of young people have experienced sexual abuse of some variety when out on the town in restaurants, cafés, and clubs. Worryingly, 79% of women said they feared offensive remarks, contact, or actions while they go out. Such high rates of sexual harassment highlight the prevalence of misogyny and rape culture within the night-time economy. The sad fact is: Nightclubs are dangerous for women.
“I’ve had enough quite frankly,” one woman, 22, told Mixmag. “I’m so gassed for June 21 but at the same time so concerned for my own safety.”
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The disturbing murder of Sarah Everard has reignited discourse within mainstream and social media about women’s safety and sexual harassment. In the midst of the outrage, news emerged of a scheme which involves piloting undercover and uniformed police patrols around nightlife venues to 'protect women'.
This has been met with backlash by women, partygoers and women’s protection and rights organisations, and rightly so. Concerns over police presence in private venues stem from reports of police officers committing assault, rape and being perpetrators of assault and harassment culture. Evidence of recent cases includes a now former PC admitting to downloading child rape footage, a Met officer working the cordon near the site where Sarah Everard’s body was found sharing sickening memes making light of her murder by a police colleague, and an off-duty West Midlands officer escaping jail after a court heard he used police training techniques to violently attack a woman in the street and reportedly called her a “fucking slag” when she managed to flee. Last week a spokesperson from the Centre for Women’s Justice responded to the pilot programme by saying: “Many women will now be quite rightly asking: ‘But who will protect me from the plainclothes officer?’”.
Instances like this highlight how the police force does not have women’s safety in mind and that institutional police reform is required before they can regain the trust of people. Concerns about the police force using the reasoning of ‘protecting women’ as an excuse to access these spaces and demonise nightlife, target club goers and use stop and search powers - another maligned police policy that has been criticised for being discriminatory by the Equality Human Rights commission - are also a major contributing factor in deterring people from the proposed scheme.
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So, if not police presence, what can be done to ensure the safety of women in nightclubs and venues? To put it simply: nightclubs need to take direct and immediate action. The pandemic has proven the importance of public health and safety and in the ‘new normal’, alongside ‘stopping the spread’, women’s safety should be a top priority - arguably the highest one.
Academics have found that when women attempt to speak out for themselves, they are met with furious backlash and expose women to risks and place the labour of managing unwanted incidents onto women directly. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘feisty femininity’ and has proven to be harmful towards women, highlighting the need for clubs and venues to step up.
Undeniably, major social changes are required to ensure complete safety of women, and nightclub and venue management can be crucial in implementing these changes long term. Taking firmer precautions and implementing a complete zero tolerance policy will set a much-needed tone to men who visit these spaces.
Several women told Mixmag that they believe that the venues’ security team and bouncers should have a greater responsibility in “policing creepy men”.
In an ideal world, they cuttingly contended that “men wouldn’t be allowed in public spaces and venues so that women can just enjoy their night”, however they are aware that a more feasible approach would be for venues themselves to take greater action and impose harsher consequences for men who harass and assault women.
Harriet*, 21, said that their local nightclub has panic buttons across the walls and a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.
“This is something that I feel should be adopted by venues and clubs everywhere, while it doesn’t eradicate sexual harassment, it does set an important tone that deters it from happening.”
Several other changes to the clubbing experience were suggested by women, including more streetlights; a medical room style ‘safe room’; better training for all staff including bar tenders; and sensitive security cameras.
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Bouncers themselves must also take greater action and remove men who are harassing women and be trained in dealing with distressed women. Many clubs’ security teams focus on misuse of drink and drugs and not on assault, which perpetuates and normalises this type of assault. In some venues, bouncers have been trained in defending against terror attacks. While this is a great step in safeguarding; a similar militant approach needs to be taken for sexual harassment.
Several women told Mixmag that bouncers often do not take their claims of sexual assault seriously, with one woman stating that she complained about being harassed and the bouncer expelled her from the venue and not the harrasser. Bouncers not taking the matter seriously, when we’re told that they should be taking care of us, leads to women being made to feel like it's part of a normal night out, which is a worrying phenomena.
It would be in the best interest of all nightclubs to use this time between now and the end of lockdown to make concrete plans to ensure women’s safety. The Greater London Authority has developed a plan for tackling violence against women that includes safety in public spaces; it would be good to see some changes made in the night-time economy to lower the 72% to 0.
If you have been impacted by any of the themes covered in this article, visit Victim Support orRape Crisis
AFEM sponsor a confidential support service for anyone affected by sexual harassment within the electronic music industry provided by Health Assured expert counselling. Call 0800 030 5182, (Outside the UK: +44 800 030 5182)
AFEM has also created a Code of Conduct against sexual harassment and gender discrimination for the music industry. Find out about it here
*names and have been changed
Aneesa Ahmed is the Editor-in-Chief of Redbrick. Follow her on Twitter here
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