We are approaching New Year, and everybody wants to party. I'm getting a bit too old for clubbing now; I used to go out dancing, before clubs were even called clubs - I think they were probably 'discos' back in the day. Leeds University Students' Union; Nottingham Rock City; the Pink Coconut (no kidding) in Derby; The Underground in Brighton, (the place with the mirrors on the walls that ran with condensation); Renaissance at The Cross in London; some place in Hoxton with a name I can't remember. There was always a nice, laid-back, informal atmosphere, good friends, great music, expensive drinks...
The last time I went clubbing, though, something had changed. A group of thirty-something women from work went to Brighton one Easter weekend. We'd hardly been in the club in West Street five minutes when a group of young men surrounded us, slid up behind us, grabbed our shoulders and started grinding their crotches into our backsides. This was weird. I watched all my friends putting up with it, then I extricated myself from the situation. I was old, married, and there for the dancing. I didn't want that kind of interest, but it didn't seem possible to deflect the men in that club from forcing their... attentions... on us.
That was 10 years ago and things have got worse since then. I have this love/hate relationship with The Everyday Sexism Project; it's wonderful that it is giving a voice to women who have experienced sexual aggression of various kinds, but it is also incredibly depressing, reading post after post about the shocking treatment women are subjected to all the time. Complaints about clubs and clubbing are high on their list. Here are some of examples:
'Last night, my friend and I had just paid to get into a nightclub and were walking up the stairs to go to the main dance floor, when some guy behind me grabbed my shoulder and started thrusting/rubbing himself into me.'
'...when you're on a dancefloor for 10 mins with your friends before your arse is grabbed.'
'Was walking through a club - a boy about my age (20) proceeded to grab my bum. I grabbed his hand and pulled it off of me then started shouting at him. He gripped my hand and restrained my arm up into the air. The club was full of people, no one said anything despite my loud shouting.'
Other examples are written by women whose breasts were grabbed, or who found that hands had crept up their skirts to fondle their genitals. Let's be clear. Groping of this sort is not normal behaviour. It is the criminal act of sexual assault.
Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act (2003) in England and Wales defines sexual assault as having taken place if someone (A):
1. Intentionally touches another person (B),
2. the touching is sexual,
3. B does not consent to the touching, and
4. A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
The women who post these stories generally report that they get no support from their friends, other clubbers, from bar staff or security staff. If they speak up for themselves, they are often told to calm down and stop making a fuss. I wonder why women subject themselves to this kind of treatment. I wonder why they keep going to clubs where sexual assault appears to be the norm. Surely it would be best to avoid those clubs in future and take your custom somewhere else?
In times when the internet provides us all with a voice, where Starbucks can be scared into paying more tax by the threat of a customer boycott and attendant protests, where Amazon can be shown up for packing off all their profits to Luxembourg, women who want to go dancing can use the same remedy. It would not be beyond the wit of some IT-savvy woman to produce a website that names and shames clubs where sexual assault goes on, unchallenged, where club owners and management are catering to rather dubious men, and the women are there to provide groping opportunities. Couldn't we have a kind of Trip Advisor for nightlife?
Women who go clubbing - please make your New Year's Resolution Zero Tolerance to assault in clubs. If women stay away from these places, the management will have to change their policies. You don't have to put up with this when you are trying to have a good time. You are customers, not part of the entertainment.