In September 2017, New York City took a step in the direction of ensuring that it’s long-touted title of “The City That Never Sleeps” would be around for good by creating a new city agency called the Office of Nightlife. Designed to help bars and nightclubs better navigate the bureaucracy and permitting nightmares of City Hall, the effort was spearheaded by Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr., who represents parts of Bushwick, Brownsville and Cypress Hills in Brooklyn. Soon after, he shepherded a piece of legislation that would repeal New York’s nearly-century-old cabaret law, which forbid dancing in bars without a cabaret license—a vestige from the anti-speakeasy era, often used by mayor Rudy Giuliani to harass bars that received noise complaints.
Thirty-four-year-old Espinal is a young up-and-comer in New York City politics, and this past Tuesday, he announced his bid for the public advocate’s office. But while he still serves the 37th district as a councilman, he’s moving forward with more legislation focused on making nightlife venues and bars zero-tolerance spaces for sexual harassment.
Beginning Halloween weekend, Espinal partnered with the Bushwick club House of Yes to launch a campaign that would put pro-consent posters in prominent view within a handful of venues that were sure to be packed for the holiday revelry. (Anya Sapozhnikova, co-founder of House of Yes, told Bedford + Bowery that Halloween weekend is “kind of the most consent violation-y weekend of the whole year,” making it an opportune time to roll out this scorched-earth policy for harassment.) “Consent is Mandatory” read the posters, with the word “Sexy” in between, struck out with a bold X. Any business owner willing to participate in this grass-roots consent awareness campaign can download a PDF of the posters from their site.
Simultaneously, Espinal introduced a suite of three pieces of legislation to the City Council that would make displaying posters like these mandatory in nightclubs and music and event venues. (A spokesman for the councilman told MUNCHIES via email that it would be "modeled after the House of Yes version," and would "declare a space 'harassment-free,' and tell patrons that any harassment should be reported to security or support staff.") It would also demand that employees, from bartenders to security guards, at those venues receive bystander intervention training to help prevent assault or harassment. The legislation proposal notes that a similar program called “Safe Bars,” in Washington, DC has already seen trained staff intervene successfully in harassment situations.
“Having these posters will remind patrons they have the power to say no,” Espinal told Bedford + Bowery. “It will keep staff more mindful to look out for situations they might find uncomfortable.”
His proposal would also require sufficient video surveillance equipment be in place in nightlife spaces to be sure that any potential incidents have a record. The Office of Nightlife would also be responsible for making training materials and consent guidelines available on their website. The posters would be displayed in the same way as a food allergen notice or choking first aid poster. If the Department of Consumer Affairs doesn’t see the signs posted in plain view, or if records aren’t kept that prove that staff has been adequately trained, the legislation proposes that the venue would face fines up to $500. The Committee on Consumer Affairs held a hearing to discuss the bills on Tuesday.
House of Yes has a stringent consent policy in place as-is, which is displayed prominently in the venue and on their website and point of ticket sale:
"Behave with beauty, connect with intention.
We are obsessed with Consent.
If someone is violating your boundaries or harassing you, please report them to a security guard or any staff member.
We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment.
If you feel something, say something, and we will help."
On its site, House of Yes also lays out the 101-level basics of understanding consent, both as a party-goer and as an event producer or venue owner. For the reveler, they suggest coming up with a script in case of harassment or assault before you even get to the venue. “Now is the BEST time,” they say, “not when you’re being creeped on as your LSD is kicking in.”
Party on and party consensually, New York.