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A new age of consent?

Words: Katie Gartland

Words: Katie Gartland

Picture this: you’re having a bop with the girls in a nightclub, then you feel someone grabbing your arse. A small glimmer of hope prays that it’s one of the girls returning from the bathrooms, alas, it’s a creepy man waiting to wink at you when you turn your head.

Dublin has been quiet since March. The last five months has seen the closure of our favourite bars and clubs. We’re all dying for a groove on the dancefloor, it looks like it will be a few months yet before clubs can fully reopen. While we wait for Dublin to reawaken, we should take the opportunity to focus on reforming consent culture in our nightclubs.

I know that men, non-binary and transgender people also experience sexual harassment in a club scene. I’m writing as a cis woman about my experience and my cis female friends’ experience on the issue. Being sexually harassed in a club is never okay- it makes the victim feel uneasy and unsafe.

Women’s rights in Ireland have progressed in leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades. Women have fought for the right to choose by repealing the 8th, their sexual assault stories have also been listened to during the Me Too movement. But for some reason, when it comes to a club scene and alcohol is involved, the feminist progression that the women of Ireland have fought hard to achieve disappears. Why are women still being disrespected and objectified on a night out?

Unfortunately for many women a night out comes with some unwelcome surprises. Be it a passing hand on your waist when waiting at the bar, or a more serious assault- non-consensual touching is never a fun experience.

I’ve had my own fair share of this too, from being groped to grinded on or kissed without consent. I’ve established a few key tactics that involve getting the person kicked out and giving them an elbow in the stomach (if necessary). However, sometimes bouncers want proof that a person was inappropriate before kicking them out. Once, when I complained to a bouncer after a man attempted to grope my chest I was left standing outside the office of the club for 20 minutes while the manager scoured cctv images. I gave up when I noticed that the guy had already been kicked out after being too drunk.

A study done by the Union of Students in Ireland this year found that the most common forms of sexual harassment were “unwanted sexual attention and unwanted touching”. Over 50% of the women, 40% of the non-binary people and 30% of the men surveyed had experienced it.

One of the students surveyed said that “nights out are generally full of harassment from unwanted stares to dancing behind you to grabbing at you or even trying to force you to get with them or their friends”.

This study spurred an initiative to end sexual harassment in third level colleges with Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris working with the National Women’s Council. This is very welcome.

However, little work has been put into implementing consent in Dublin’s nightclubs. In other cities, nightclubs have begun to tackle sexual harassment by for example, giving a consent talk at the door or with the use of social media messages and protocols. New York’s House of Yes prep their club-goers by giving them a talk about consent as they enter the Brooklyn club.

New York’s House of Yes prep their club-goers by giving them a talk about consent.

A statement on House of Yes’ website says “Consent is everything, on and off the dance floor. Always ASK before a physical interaction and be sure to get a clear definite “yes” before getting intimate. It’s ok to say no at House of Yes”.

Kremlin, an LGBTQ+  bar in Belfast uses a similar tactic. The nightclub attempts to tackle sexual harassment by telling customers to respect the community and reminding them that they’re guests in the venue upon arrival.

Another strategy for ensuring sexual consent is used by Seattle’s Decibel Festival. The Festival hand out small cards that say “consent is sexy” on entering the grounds. They act as a reminder to festival-goers that Decibel doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment.

To achieve a safe space for all, mindsets will have to shift. We should take key ideas from other cities, like a talk about consent and respect at the club door while enforcing other measures. More bouncers need to be employed and trained to be aware of harassment on the dance floor. Instead of leaving a victim while trying to prove an incident happened on cctv, they should reassure the victim so that they can report without shame or worry. Posters and signs are needed to highlight and remind club-goers about consent, reassuring women and reminding potential creeps not to be shit.

Nightclubs have fallen short for women who want to enjoy a night out with friends without experiencing non-consensual touching or harassment. But now Dublin has a great opportunity to provide safer social spaces for women before nightclubs reopen.