By Gamal Hennessy
Every year in New York, nightlife patrons walk into bars, clubs and lounges about 65 million times. The vast majority of them make it home safely every night. Unfortunately, on rare occasions, predators and fanatics use the night to prey on the isolated and the defenseless. The results are terrible for the victims and negative for the nightlife as a whole. NCI is working to combat this problem by developing a safety guide that we plan to release in the spring of 2013. As a preview to that publication, we are offering a few brief tips on ways to prevent sexual assault in the nightlife environment.
Incapacity and Isolation
Experts state that there are several elements that predators look for before they select and interact with their intended victim. First, they try to find someone who is separated from their friends or who can be easily lured away from the group. Second, the potential victim is either drunk or is willing to accept drinks that could be laced with GHB or similar substances. The combination of incapacity and isolation gives predators the ability to overpower and move a victim out of a venue with little or no resistance. Security can’t tell if these two people are best friends or if they just met or if they never met. Other patrons in the area won’t know if the man carrying a woman out of a club is her boyfriend or her future rapist. If she is drunk or drugged, she may not be able to resist or even speak. There have been documented instances of a victim being guided out of a venue by a predator in plain sight of witnesses because incapacity and isolation work so well.
There is no practical way to eliminate predators or fanatics in nightlife. It is often very difficult to even identity a potential threat in the chaotic environment of a club. But there are five steps that people can take to deter and avoid assaults while they are out;
- Group movement,
- Designated watchers,
- Deterrence images,
- Retained awareness
- and responsible indulgence
Group Movement: This simply means that people go out together, remain in the same general area together and leave together. This prevents anyone from being isolated and abused. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t dance, meet other people, exchange numbers and generally have a good time. I’m not saying that the whole night should be one huge exercise in cockblocking. I am saying that there is strength in numbers when it comes to preventing sexual assault.
Designated Watcher: Similar to a designated driver, the designated watcher drinks less than the rest of the group and makes sure that no one falls unconscious, gets overcome by a group of fanatics, or stumbles out of the club at 4:15 without any idea of where they are or how they are getting home. Again, this isn’t an invitation for a wet blanket to play morality cop and ruin everyone’s night, but if you go out in a group and the whole group gets blind drunk, then the security of the group can’t be that effective.
Deterrence Image: If you are separated from your group, or if you are the designated watcher, you will need a way to deal with people who might cause problems. Sexual criminals in nightlife are similar to predators in nature. When choosing someone to attack, they often choose the person who appears the least able to protect themselves. They target the weakest of the herd. In a nightlife context, that means they will target people who are drunk, preoccupied, confused, or who project weakness through non-verbal signals in their body language. Victimology experts Chuck Hustmyre and Jay Dixit suggest that attackers are less likely to choose targets that are organized in their movement, confident in their posture and comfortable in their surroundings.
Retained Awareness: Patrons can’t deal with situations that they can’t perceive. If you get so drunk that you don’t know where you are, you are more likely to wind up someplace that you don’t want to be. A stumbling drunk identifies herself to every fanatic in the room as an amateur and a potential victim. Maintaining awareness of your surroundings as you party is an integral part of being the nightlife native. You can have a good time and keep your eyes open, but you have to make that choice at the beginning of the night.
Responsible Indulgence: The basic concept that patrons can use to protect themselves is responsible indulgence. It isn’t about being afraid to go out or going out looking for trouble. It is about knowing your limits and being familiar with your environment so you can deal with a potential problem if it arises. There is such a thing as having too much to drink. There are activities that aren’t worth the risk that they entail. You can enjoy everything nightlife has to offer and still remember it in the morning. Predators seek out nightlife amateurs and avoid nightlife natives because the amateur is easy prey. As more patrons become natives, sexual assaults will become less frequent.
There are two other things that nightlife natives need to keep in mind when it comes to sexual assault. First, while the majority of victims are women, there have been cases of men being sexually assaulted aw well, so these tips can be helpful to anyone who decides to go out at night. Second and most importantly, the burden of proper behavior does not fall upon the patron who simply goes out to enjoy nightlife culture. It is the responsibility of the potential predator to control their destructive criminal tendencies. When that occurs, preventive measures will no longer be required. But until that night comes, NCI will continue to offer advice and information to help improve and enhance the nightlife experience.