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What to do if you get sexually harassed in a nightclub

The scene has acknowledged that sexual harassment is a problem, but what are the practical solutions?

  • Words: Sirin Kale | Illustration: Dilraj Mann
  • 20 October 2016
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“I’ve always been aware of the problem of sexual harassment in clubs, having experienced it myself,” says Chloe*, 26. “But I never really knew what to do. I didn’t realise that it should be reported to bouncers, even if it’s just a small incident. After educating myself I now know, but I think clubs don’t do enough to tell people that’s what you should do.”

It’s not the job of women and LGBTQ people to fight dancefloor harassment: it’s the job of everyone, from ordinary clubbers, through to venues, promoters, security, and talent. But, if you are being harassed in a club there are practical things you can do. I spoke to Ester van Kempen, from the Good Night Out campaign, which works with venues to prevent and tackle harassment on nights out, to find out more.

You’ll sometimes hear people dismiss club harassment as innocent flirting. Let’s be clear: loads of us go on nights out to pull, and that’s cool. But be respectful of each other. “Anyone should be able to make a move [on another person], but you can tell pretty quickly if someone is accepting of that behaviour”, van Kempen explains. “If someone’s innocently flirting, they’ll walk off a bit embarrassed if you say no. But if they’re a harasser, they’ll keep pushing and may get aggressive. That’s the difference.” She goes on, “What you need to realise is that often this isn’t about sexual attraction. It’s a power game. They believe they have a right to do this because you’re a woman, or LGBTQ.”

"It’s not the job of women and LGBTQ people to fight harassment: it’s the job of everyone"

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I’ve been in situations where someone’s making me feel uneasy, but they haven’t actually touched me. In those situations, it can be easy to feel like you’re overreacting. But if someone keeps staring at you and following you around, they’re still invading your personal space. I ask van Kempen what to do.

“You can definitely reach a point where someone’s staring too much at you,” she confirms. “It’s about what makes you feel uncomfortable.” What to do in that situation? “One approach would be to find the bouncer and say, ’This guy is making me feel uncomfortable. I don’t necessarily want you to kick him out, but can you keep an eye on him and see if he’s doing it to other women.’”

And if someone actually grabs you? “It’s against the law to sexually assault anyone verbally or physically,” she confirms — and that includes an arse squeeze. “If you can’t see security, find anyone who’s working at the venue and hope that person will be taken dealt with.”

Realistically, most of us aren’t out clubbing on green tea. But even if you’re high or you’re drunk, you can still report harassment to security. “It shouldn’t be an obstacle to you reporting,” van Kempen argues. “It’s not up to the club to play judge and jury. You should still go up and say what happened.” The most important thing? “Your priority is to stay safe. If you feel like a situation is escalating, speak to security and stay with your friends.”

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