Meet the women fighting sexual harassment in nightclubs

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The battle against sexual harassment has moved from the streets to the nightclubs. It’s part of a larger movement against the growing celebration and normalization of rape culture in fashion and music scenes.

All around the world, initiatives are working to stop what they say is a thriving rape culture within nightclubs.

“The nighttime economy is often treated like a meat market. It seems to be understood that if a woman is out at night, she’s fair game,” says Julia Gray, who is the co-director of the anti-street harassment group Hollaback London.

Hollaback London and their Good Night Out campaign are part of an initiative to put an end to harassment in nightclubs, working directly with club management.

Left: The Hollaback London team of Julia Gray and Bryony Beynon. Right: Hollaback London’s Good Night Out poster.

“Ultimately, what is needed is a societal shift in attitudes towards harassment and assault,” says Gray. “We aim to achieve this by training the venue staff and raising awareness for customers, communicating that unwanted touching or verbal comments don’t have to be tolerated.”

Gray says it’s about changing the perception of what is normal and what is acceptable in the public sphere.

The Berlin-based campaign “Verstehste?” is aiming to do just that. “Verstehste?” translated as “Get it?” is run by a group of student activists.

Photo: A “Verstehste” supporter in Berlin.

“We are trying to raise awareness that just because the lights are out and music is up, sexual harassment is not one bit more acceptable than in the streets or the workplace,” says Max Raudszus of “Verstehste?”

“Ich Verstehste,” or “I get it” in Berlin.

“Verstehste?” is about acknowledging that every individual should draw their own lines. The group encourages people to speak up when being harassed or when they see someone else being harassed. They target club-goers directly and leave stamps on their wrists reading “Ich verstehste,” or “I get it.”

But not everyone gets it. One member of “Verstehste?” spoke about an incident when a guy placed his hand on her shoulder and asked if she would like to have sex with him while she was passing out fliers for the campaign. After giving him a flier pointing out why his actions were a form of sexual harassment, he repeated his question:

“This means that you want to have sex with me?”

When Israeli club-goer Gili Ron took to Facebook to vent about sexual harassment, it resulted in a widely-shared post looking at nightclub culture in Israel. This is a translation of an excerpt of her post:

It starts with them sneaking towards us one by one, and slowly a circle of men closes on us and they get closer. People from right and left push one another to get even closer, and practically started dancing on top of us, beginning to send out their hands, grabbing and touching.
This isn’t a new thing, and girls like us, who don’t get easily scared, we acted by the book: we didn’t make eye contact, we danced with our faces toward the floor (to make sure no one thinks we are interested in this attention). We switched places among ourselves. We changed locations in the club. We stood by a wall. We even used male friends as a human shield.
And of course, when it became unbearable, we talked directly to the over-enthusiastic dancers and asked, begged, shouted — ‘NO! We are not fucking interested! Go back to your friends!’ Nothing helped. Everywhere we went, guys, in t-shirts, buttoned shirts, tall, short, young and old, didn’t give a shit about us, and acted with enraging violence! How is it possible that someone thinks that my will and autonomy over my body don’t matter?!”

Her “No! We are not fucking interested!” turned into a successful anti-harrasment initiative called Don’t Kill My Vibe. The initiative reaches out to club owners to create a voluntary code of ethics against sexual harassment, which will encourage customers to complain when they are harassed and train staff to deal with such events.

It’s about transforming nightlife culture from one of fear to “a fun, energetic, pleasant and sexually charged nightlife,” says Keren Greenblatt, a legal advisor at Israel Women’s Network and a part of Don’t Kill My Vibe.

All three initiatives, from London to Berlin to Tel Aviv work locally and have diverse approaches and solutions to change the conversation about the almost banal and everyday experience of sexual harassment in nightclubs.

What’s the nightlife culture where you live? Is this something you experience?

Click “Write your response” below to join the conversation or tweet us at @ajplus with the hashtag #SexismAtNight.