By Rachel Wall
Sexual harassment in nightclubs, bars and pubs is an unfortunate, but very real feature of some nights out for women. When you feel an unwanted hand on your body, hear a sexually overt comment that silences you, or even the chillingly subversive words, ‘it’s just a joke’, the night doesn’t seem as fun anymore. Moments like these are common, and often go unnoticed or unchallenged.
It’s clear that actions like this can create an environment where sexual assault and harassment is normalised. Because sexual harassment exists on a spectrum of gender-based violence, when small things go unchallenged, it builds an asymmetrical structure of power that allows for more overt cases of sexual violence, abuse or rape to occur. This is why it is so important to isolate and scrutinise the instances of sexual harassment that have become so normalised and embedded in everyday life. Harassment is an act of discrimination that doesn’t discriminate: all people can be affected by it. Bristol Zero Tolerance understands the intersections of oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) and therefore how harassment can adversely affect everyone in different but intersecting ways.
For this reason Bristol Zero Tolerance, is inclusive and works to eradicate violence, harassment, exploitation and abuse in Bristol, including in the night time economy. We are working on an initiative involving businesses in a scheme that commits them to making their venues spaces that have a Zero Tolerance to gender-based violence of any kind.
As part of this project we have been researching similar campaigns that already work in Bristol and throughout the country. For example Bristol city centre has achieved the Purple Flag award and there are many organisations in Bristol and beyond that campaign for women’s equality by working to reduce certain aspects of discrimination, such as harassment, abuse or violence. Many organisations offer training for those looking to implement systems for preventing cases of harassment, violence or abuse. We know that harassment is a very real feature of nights out for many of us, but this should be challenged and there is so much amazing work being done around this…
Good Night Out is an international campaign that works with clubs, bars, pubs and venues to deal with, tackle and prevent harassment on nights out. They do this by providing specialist training to the staff of businesses in the night time economy. It’s great because it is preventative in nature: doing this the venue becomes a space where sexual harassment is unacceptable but also if it does happen, it’s dealt with appropriately. So instead of your complaints about unwanted contact or sexual comments falling on deaf ears (as we’ve all experienced) staff will be trained in how to detect and deal with complaints seriously. Good Night Out has been working with venues in Bristol and has already signed up and provided training for some, they will also be working with the Drinkaware Crew Scheme in larger venues across the city to support young people on a night out. We intend to work with Good Night Out and Drinkaware to offer training and support to all venues that sign up to our Zero Tolerance initiative. Originally the Good Night Out project was borne out of the international anti-harassment campaign Hollaback, which is dedicated to ending harassment of all kinds, from online through to street harassment. It works to encourage women to challenge harassment by pledging to do something, to educated themselves and to share their stories. Hollaback provides a platform for people to do this, and thus allows them to have a voice.
The Women’s Charter is an accreditation scheme based in the London borough of Southwark that has gained traction in recent years, with over 60 venues signed up. When they sign up, venues commit to the requirements of the Women’s Charter. Namely that they will: prominently display anti- harassment posters (Good Night Out); ensure that front of house staff have received training to ensure women’s safety; take reports of harassment seriously; take steps to support those who do report and finally, make sure that women leave the venue in a safe manner.
Reclaim the Night is a national campaign that was originally started by London Feminist Network, though nights are carried out throughout the country. Reclaim the Night is an affirmational movement for women to reclaim their place – and their right to feel safe – within public space, particularly at night. These marches have been going on in Bristol for years and are largely sustained by the growing student community. Both The University of West England and The University of Bristol’s student unions joined forces in 2016 to run the night. In conjunction with Reclaim the Night, and to continue their great work The University of Bristol’s Student Union has developed an interactive map on which students can drop pins where they feel safe on a night out, you can add to it here.
Elsewhere in the UK schemes like ‘Ask for Angela’ have received widespread media coverage, and indicate a growing awareness of the problems women face, and how those problems can be dealt with. This is an initiative set up with businesses in the night time economy throughout the UK, to promote women’s safety. ‘Ask for Angela’ is a code women can use to indicate that they are in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation and that they require assistance. They can use it at the bar and will be helped by staff to get a cab safely and inconspicuously. Similarly, both Girls Against and Safe Gigs for Women work throughout the country to stop harassment at gigs by linking up with bands, venues and gig goers and asking them to both identify and challenge sexual harassment.
All these campaigns are unified in their fight to create and diversify the conversation about sexual harassment and how it can adversely affect those on a night out. They demand spaces that are free from any kind of gender-based violence. Their methods are myriad, from proactive, preventative and reactive measures, to online and word of mouth – but fundamentally, the work that is done is vital and is about changing attitudes and behaviours and giving people a voice to not accept harassment as normalised.
Bristol is also in need of a scheme that puts in place a wide range of measures and this is what Bristol Zero Tolerance hopes to do. Venues that sign up will therefore commit to receiving training from Good Night Out on how to deal seriously with cases of sexual or gendered discrimination, whilst also making their venues a place where harassment does not occur. Harassment is serious and you may feel uncomfortable and unsafe when someone touches you, talks to you or sexualises you in an unwanted way, because it is wrong and it should not happen. On nights out, girls do just wanna have fun… but without being inhibited by harassment or violence. That is why Bristol Zero Tolerance are working with local venues to create a safe night out for everyone!