Reports of Rape Are Surging at Bars and Clubs. How Do We Respond?
Exclusive police figures obtained by Broadly show a 136 percent increase in rapes reported in London's bars, clubs, and pubs. We investigate the sexual violence plaguing nightlife in the UK capital.
Illustration by Grace Wilson
When Emily, 27, was sexually assaulted on a night out in London, she initially tried to handle the situation on her own. "I was at the Roundhouse to see Nas in June 2015, and I headed to the bar to get a drink. It was packed—you could hardly move—and this really drunk guy behind me started groping my ass. I turned around and told him in no uncertain terms to get off me, and he said something like, 'You love it, I'm just being nice to you.'"
Moving away and ordering drinks at the bar, she thought her ordeal was over—until he reappeared and continued to assault her. "I started feeling really upset, and I turned around again and asked him to stop and he was just laughing, like it was funny or something, and whispering in my ear. What made it worse was that I'm pretty sure there were people around me who saw the whole thing, and no one intervened or did anything."
He was just laughing, like it was funny or something, and whispering in my ear.
Later, still feeling shaken by the assault, Emily called up the police to report the incident. "They were really good, actually. I'd been worried it wasn't really sexual assault, because you always think that sexual assault is something that happens in a dark alleyway or something, but they told me it was." Although police took a statement and checked security footage from that night, "ultimately there wasn't enough evidence" to catch the assailant, Emily says.
Although Emily's story is horrifying, it's far from unique. What happened to her is just one incidence of a statistical surge in sexual assaults and rapes taking place across London's bars, clubs and pubs. Reports of rape and sexual assault in London's nightlife scene have more than doubled in the last five years, according to exclusive data obtained by Broadly under British freedom of information laws from London's Metropolitan Police.
The figures show a dramatic rise in recorded sexual offences in or immediately outside of licensed drinking premises across the capital. In the period between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2016, there was a 136 percent increase in reports of rape in bars, pubs, bistros, and licensed clubs across London. The same period saw a staggering 119 percent increase in reports of other sexual offences, which includes incidences of sexual assault.
These numbers relate to incidents reported to the police, rather than those resulting in convictions.
Official figures also show a sharp increase in arrests arising from these reports of rape and other sexual offences. Arrests made in bars, pubs, and licensed clubs relating to all allegations of sexual offences rose by 66 percent over the last five years.
There was also a 90 percent increase in arrests made specifically in relation to reports of rape. Despite this, only 32 percent of those arrested on suspicion of rape had criminal charges brought against them in a one-year period between 2015 and 2016. While the Met Police didn't have figures for how many people were found guilty, current rape conviction rates hover around 5.7 percent. What this means is that very few of those accused will ever see the inside of a courtroom, let alone a prison cell.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the Roundhouse is one of the venues listed in their crime statistics.
Keen to prevent anything similar happening to other women, Emily emailed the management team of the Roundhouse to suggest that the venue sign up to anti-harassment initiative Good Night Out, run by campaigners Hollaback London!.
In emails seen by Broadly, a member of the Roundhouse team promised Emily they would "check it out." However, when Broadly asked over the phone if the venue had indeed joined any anti-harassment initiatives, staff said that it had yet to sign up to one.
"We take any matter concerning audience safety and security very seriously and we work closely with our security contractor Showsec International and the police to prevent such instances taking place at our venue," says Mark Butler, the head of venue operations at the Roundhouse. "As indicated by our response to Emily, reports of such incidents are extremely rare here due to the tight security operation in place. We have not had any reports since these incidents, nor in the years prior."
Of course, the fact that women aren't reporting sexual harassment or assault to the police or club management doesn't mean it isn't happening. Claudia*, 27. was on a night out four years ago at London mega-club Fabric when she felt someone grab her ass as she walked through the dance floor. Wheeling around, she saw the man responsible and confronted him angrily. "I shouted at him something like, 'What the fuck are you doing? How dare you touch me?'"
Terrifyingly, the situation devolved into violence. "He was pissed off that I shouted at him, and he moved as if he was going to punch me. There was a circle on the dance floor of people holding him back from hitting me. It was really scary."
Understandably shaken up, Claudia left immediately and has never returned to the club. "I don't feel safe ever stepping foot into Fabric again," she says, and explains that she now prefers to go out to smaller venues with a more visible security presence. When asked why she never reported the incident to the club or the police, she responds, "I just wanted to get away from there. I didn't think there was anything that they would or could do about it. I didn't know if anyone really cared because I thought these things must happen so often. I just went home."
For women like Claudia, security guards stationed throughout the dance-floor and notices asking people to report incidences of harassment would make her feel safer. "I think if this happened now I'd be more likely to report it through social media to the club and tell them to put something on their website asking people to be respectful of women and training security guards in what to do," she says. "Because when it happened to me, I literally felt there was no one who could help me."
Met Police figures provided to Broadly show that there were 358 reports of sexual offences at licensed drinking premises made over a year-long period stretching between 2015 and 2016—almost one for every day of the year, and a 121 percent increase from the same period between 2011 and 2012. Over the same one-year period between 2015 and 2016, police recorded 52 reports of rape—more than double the number of incidents logged between 2011 and 2012.
The figures may seem low for a city known internationally for its nightlife, but the reality is that London's night-time economy is on the down and out. Half of Britain's clubs have shut their doors in the last decade, many of them beloved London clubbing institutions. Given that there are fewer clubbing options for Londoners these days, you would expect sexual crime to decrease proportionately—not increase at such a sharp rate.
It's possible that the higher reporting rate doesn't reflect an increase in sexual assaults, but rather the fact that women are growing increasingly confident that they'll actually see justice in some form. Bryony Benyon, the co-director of the Good Night Out campaign, which seeks to end harassment on nights out, tells Broadly that she's never surprised when reporting rates show high numbers. However, she is hopeful this is because more women feel comfortable coming forward—in part due to the success of campaigns like hers, and innovative approaches such as the Women's Safety Charter from forward-thinking local authorities.
Regardless of the cause in the rise, the statistics reveal how endemic sexual assault and harassment are in nightlife. In Benyon's view, venues lack an incentive to tackle sexual violence—in fact, there may be a strong motivation not to report incidents. When pubs, bars, or clubs encourage women to report harassment, the venue will likely end up notifying the police.
"This actually penalizes premises that support women who make police reports, because if too many crimes are reported in a venue it can trigger a review of that venue's license," says Benyon. "I've heard cases of women being told to leave the club before calling the police because managers are so scared of this happening. It's not a good approach."
In their defense, the Met has made efforts to improve their response to sexual crimes. In 2013 the Met instituted a major reorganization of its specialist rape unit, Project Sapphire, after a high-profile string of failed investigations. And in June 2015 commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe pledged to hire an extra 200 specialist officers to deal with the surge of sexual abuse cases reported to the Met Police (although they failed to meet their targets).
While Benyon believes the Met have made progress, she says there is still a long way to go. "The Met Police offer some training to venues but it's very overly focussed on the idea that 'vulnerability' is down to women drinking too much and making themselves at risk, rather than looking at why women who are drunk are deliberately targeted by perpetrators of rape and sexual violence."
Benyon continues, "Regardless of things like alcohol consumption, we are actually only really vulnerable when there is someone in our vicinity who will do us harm."
"We welcome the increase in the number of rape allegations made to police throughout London as we believe it reflects a greater confidence amongst victims that they will be listened to," argues Detective Superintendent Steve Chandler of the Sexual Offences, Exploitation, and Child Abuse Command of the Met Police. "All reports of rape are thoroughly investigated and each victim has their case deal with by a specially trained officer," he adds. Chandler further notes that the increase in reporting in London corresponds to a national increase which has been evident since 2012. However, when Broadly asked the Met Police for the figures showing the national increase in reporting—the very figures they referenced in their statement—they were unable to provide them, despite repeated inquiries.
That's when it hit me that harassment was happening at my party, and I was mortified. You can't just ignore that stuff.
Club promoter Seb Wheeler, who runs the popular London dance night Tropical Waste, says that more needs to be done to combat sexual harassment and violence. "We started throwing parties two years ago, and at first it's just your friends who come—so you assume everyone's really sound. Then in February 2016 we did a party and someone contacted me on Facebook afterwards who [sic] I didn't know to tell me their friend had been sexually harassed and they didn't trust security to deal with the problem.
"That's when it hit me that harassment was happening at my party, and I was mortified. You can't just ignore that stuff."
In response, Tropical Waste instituted a security policy that makes it clear that anyone harassing other guests—in any way—will be asked to leave. "We put up posters explaining the policy at our nights and post details on all our social media pages. We've also got new, super-friendly security at the venue who we work closely with and brief in advance about the policy."
Wheeler feels it would be helpful for promoters or venue operators to be given specialist training in how to deal with sexual harassment and assault. "If there was a training day for promoters I'd definitely go down to it. We [promoters] should take more responsibility, because I've had so many female friends be harassed—it doesn't matter what club or party it is—and this behavior is seen as so normal on nights out. It's like the elephant in the room, and it's unacceptable, really. If we don't do something about it, we're failing our audience."
The sad reality is that sexual violence and harassment is totally normalized in our nightlife. For many women, it is a part of their night out, just as much as a night bus that never arrives or a kebab house overflowing with boozed-up punters at 3 AM.
Erin*, 29, was groped in the Dolphin pub in Hackney in November. "I was with a group of five women, but we weren't really 'looking.' When I was at the bar, I felt someone grab my butt—not lightly, a proper squeeze."
After confronting her assailant, she became involved in an aggressive verbal altercation with him and his friend. "A bouncer came and threw us both out. Outside, I shouted that he'd grabbed my butt, and the security let me in without a fuss."
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I ask whether she complained to management. Erin responds with words that I've heard depressingly often in the course of my interviews for this piece: "I didn't think it was important enough to. Plus, I just wanted to get with my night."
When reached for comment, The Dolphin manager Angus MacLeod told Broadly, "The incident described is obviously not acceptable and illegal. We have a zero tolerance policy over such incidents and other unacceptable behaviour and it will normally result in being barred from the premises and/or calling the police." He went on to add, "Thankfully, strict door policy, visible and active security make such incidents relatively rare."
Meanwhile, the ass-groping sleaze bags of London's nightlife scene continue to make their presence literally felt. In the period between researching and writing this piece, I went on a night out in Shoreditch in east London, and personally witnessed a visibly wasted office bro in a pink-and-white striped shirt slap my friend's ass.
Does it need to be like this? No. Are London's clubs, bars, pubs, promoters, security staff, and police doing enough to tackle the problem? Sadly, probably not.
* Name has been changed
EDITOR'S NOTE: Fabric was contacted pre-publication for comment. After publication, a spokesperson sent through the following statement which we have included as it contains useful information for women visiting the club.
"Unfortunately we are aware of people like Claudia having these kinds of experiences at the club, this is why we launched our anti-harassment campaign back in 2013 and have since gone on to be part of Good Night Out. We have posters in the venue and extra security on the dance floor but appreciate that sometimes these aren't always seen and some customers are not aware of our policy. We would like to reinforce our message, that if this happens to you here then please speak to us about it, we're here to help and will deal with it for you. We often take action to remove individuals who are perpetrating this kind of harassing behaviour in the club, it's an issue that we take seriously here."
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- sexual harassment
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