If we want to make clubs safer, especially for women, we need a shift in priorities. It’s no secret that councils hold the threat of revoking licences over club’s heads, but few venues in the UK have lost their licence because of sexual harassment or assault. Pretty much all security measures – searches on the door, only one person allowed in a toilet cubicle at a time, bouncers walking around with little torches – are in the service of disrupting drug use.
Your run-of-the-mill nightclubs could learn from the organisers of London's sex parties – events that typically consist of a dance floor with playrooms used for BDSM play and other intimate sexual escapades – who recruit trained consent monitors to keep a watchful eye on proceedings. Clearly uniformed but separate from security, they mainly tell people where the toilets are and how to get to the main room, but they also trawl the club checking in on people’s wellbeing and looking out for sexual harassment and assault.
VICE spoke to staff from a few different club nights who told us about what their job entails and all the times they’ve had to intervene to make sure people stay safe in the service of having a good time. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.
‘The only form of consent is verbal’
“A typical consent violation – the one we see most often – is breach consent, [meaning] overstepping [the] established boundaries of consent.
“I threw a guy out when one girl had consented to oral sex; she’s giving him a blow job, moved back and he started putting on a condom. She said, ‘No, we’re not having sex.’ He grabbed her hair and carried on with oral sex, but then he went to do it again. Now that was a clear consent violation because she said ‘we’re not having sex, only oral sex’. She was quite shaken up. His excuse, which I’ve heard many times, was that she looked at him a certain way. Visual cues can never be given as an excuse for consent.
“I had to throw someone out once when two females were playing. One of them looked towards a guy and he took it as an okay to grab her hair. She was obviously freaked out. I came and dealt with it. His excuse was, ‘Oh, it’s the way she looked at me. She was consenting.’ I said, ‘No. The only form of consent is verbal.’ And it can of course be withdrawn.
“I'm also a nurse in A&E. We see people coming in who've been spiked. Nine times out of ten, in fact probably more commonly, there's no [illegal] drug involved. It's alcohol, purely alcohol. You know 'doubling up'? They say, 'I'll get you a vodka tonic.' Then they get a double and a double shot then pour the shot into the vodka tonic. So you're getting a quad.
“People talk about G getting put in drinks, but alcohol's the most common way of spiking in a club by far. And the easiest – people are accepting of drinks.” —Alex
‘Every time there was a girl bent over, he slapped her on the ass’
“The other week there was a massive group of women that were all playing together, they labelled themselves majority as lesbian, some were bi. They were having this real girl on girl play moment. There was one guy that was so excited, he came over and was watching. It made his day.
“I could see what was going on. At first I kept side shifting, getting in his way. Then when I realised that he wasn’t quite getting the hint, I turned round and very kindly said, ‘I realise this is really exciting for you, but this isn't cool.’ He and I ended up laughing about it, because I was like, ‘I'm going to acknowledge that you're a boy and this is very cool for you, but realise [what you’re doing].’ He got it and went away.
“I did a private event and there was a lad who was very young – they were all young and very posh. He just walked about the place and every time there was a girl bent over, he slapped her on the ass in a way that was like ‘Boys, boys, lads, lads, lads’. I ran at him and shouted, ‘Get the fuck out of my dungeon now. You’re not welcome here.’ He looked so shocked, he couldn't believe somebody was talking to him like that.” —Mia
‘He was fighting the security, then he started fighting the police’
“I believe that we should all be monitoring our spaces, it’s just a community duty of care. One guy kept on persistently cruising on girls. We were calm with him, saying: ‘It’s not fine what you’re doing. The girls don’t seem interested. You’ve been warned.’ He just kept on doing it. He didn’t want to leave and when he was outside, he was fighting security. The police were going by while he was fighting the security and he started fighting the police.
“One of the most serious ones was when I was told about a guy who seemed dodgy. I said I’d keep an eye on him. I was a floating monitor so I told someone else to keep an eye on him too. Eventually we kicked him out. Somehow, through the venue security, he got back in. He started briskly walking around the club trying to evade us.
“So it was me and two other monitors trying to find this guy who was clearly breaking all the rules, wasn’t meant to be there, and was now trying to escape us. It’s sort of funny, but also like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ We did catch him outside in the smoking area and were able to fully get him out, make sure he wasn’t coming back and was banned.” —Matt
‘The woman's body language seemed wooden, her face was expressionless’
“I’ve been a monitor for six years professionally. There have been many instances where there isn't a clear-cut sign of a problem, so difficult judgement calls have been made to interrupt something based only on my 'feeling' that something is wrong. An example was when there was a basic impact scene – spanking – taking place. The woman's body language seemed wooden, her face was expressionless and she seemed to flinch from his touch.
“The man took out a condom, which indicated to me he wanted to penetrate the woman, at which point I approached and asked him to stop as the person he was playing with didn't seem to be responding in a way I'd usually expect. He became aggressive, but agreed to step to the side while I spoke to his partner.
“It turned out that she had no experience of BDSM and only agreed to play with the man because he had pressured her to do so after he bought her a drink and she lost sight of her friends in the club.
“They barely did any kind of pre-scene negotiation, there was no mention of sexual contact. I called security to have the man removed and then luckily managed to reunite her with her friends. As disruptive as it can be to interrupt, I would rather do so and be wrong about it than to simply dismiss my concerns as over cautious and potentially ignore a serious consent violation.” —Rich