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28th April 2021

Opinion: Police in nightclubs won’t solve the issue of sexual harassment

Laura Thompson has never been to a club, but she still knows a police presence won’t solve the widespread issue of sexual harassment
Opinion: Police in nightclubs won’t solve the issue of sexual harassment
Reclaim the Night march

There are many things we as a society hate talking about. Yet these always seem to be the topics that need to be addressed the most. Sexual harassment is perhaps one of the most avoided topics, or at least it has been in my experience. 

We’ve been trapped inside for over a year now, and finally social areas are beginning to re-open. With this comes the emergence of a threat to our lives that is far from new. However, it is only now beginning to gain attention from the media.

Every day in Facebook groups, like Mancfessions and UoMLove, I see people pouring their hearts out. A lot happen to be about their horrific experiences with strangers. They think it is perfectly fine to intimidate and violate young people, who are just going about their ordinary lives. 

I have had my fair share of these experiences. Strangers approaching me in the street, offering me drugs, inappropriately propositioning me, or even catcalling me. And I am certainly not alone in this. 

Yet, when we do come forward and speak about these experiences, we get asked: “What were you wearing? What were you doing or how were you behaving?”

Like we were asking for it. Since when did it become the victim’s fault? What would it matter if I was wearing long sleeves and trousers, or a crop top and a skirt? Clothing is not an invitation. Just because you can see my shoulders doesn’t mean I deserve any less respect than anyone else in the street.

Clothing is not an invitation. Just because you can see my shoulders doesn’t mean I deserve any less respect than anyone else in the street.

After an evening class, I remember seeing a sign at the bus stop saying “Don’t walk alone”. It made me think of the buddy system primary school children are made to use on a field trip. Except this was for adults as a public safety announcement. To add to the severity, it was seemingly targeted at women, judging by the image alongside the message. When you have to tell grown adults not to walk alone in case they get approached by strangers, you must realise something is wrong.

What if I have to walk alone? Not everyone has someone to walk home with every night. A lot of people live alone. And especially in the last year when many don’t have anyone to call when they’re out at night.

I used to call my mum back home every time I had a late class. Mainly so I’d look busy, and no one would approach me. It is insane people have to resort to these measures just to feel safe in the dark.

An announcement made by the government sparked my recent outrage regarding the ignorance people show to harassment. They are planning to station plainclothes police officers in and around nightclubs when they can re-open. 

After the tragic events that unfolded after the Sarah Everard case, the government came up with Project Vigilant to improve security at night in social spaces. As pointed out by Tobi Thomas in a Guardian article, Sarah was not on a night out. So why this is an appropriate response is beyond comprehension.

From the perspective of someone who has never been inside a nightclub, plainclothes police officers in clubs offer no extra incentive to try Manchester nightlife. I have never been a clubber. The idea of needing extra police presence in these areas does not instil me with the confidence to try again.

I’m curious why the government feels we need plainclothes police in our social spaces. As if bouncers don’t already exist at nightclubs and bars. I have seen the aftermath of unfortunate visitors having run ins with the bouncers employed to police these establishments. Surely the idea of needing police inside the clubs is just insulting to bouncers? They’re essentially being told they are obsolete, or simply incapable. 

Perhaps the theory behind it is safety in numbers, for the police that is. The more police they have in clubs, the more likely they are going to be there when help is needed.

The most confusing part of this whole Project Vigilant is why the officers are to be plainclothes. Surely a visible police presence would be more of deterrent than officers attempting to blend into the clubbing crowd catching people in the act. 

I personally think the problem lies in our attitude to public harassment and how we deal with it. Not that long ago I was walking home from the shops and a person began to follow me down the road. My immediate response was to speed up and hope they’d just get bored. They didn’t. Instead, they started shouting and cursing at me, calling me all manner of nasty things simply because I wouldn’t stop and listen to them degrade me to my face. I walked past numerous people and even a security guard who did and said nothing to me or the person following me. Eventually they gave up and left me alone so I just walked home to pack my shopping away as if nothing had happened. 

So many people have stories just like me, yet we ignore them. We ignore them when it’s happening and we ignore or even mock them when they come forward and tell us. There are some disgusting replies to the messages on the Facebook groups I mentioned earlier making jokes like, “Oh I told you not to do that again mate” or sometimes even worse. People can’t find that funny surely, and all that does is make people not want to tell their story anymore. Victims end up suffering in silence because they’re afraid they’ll be made into a joke. These problems are very real and we overlook them on a daily basis.

There are roads I won’t walk down anymore because of bad experiences I’ve had there and so many people will be able to relate to this. Why should we have to go out of our way to add an extra 10 minutes to our walk to the shops just so we don’t have to deal with strangers harassing us. 

The problem with issues like this is suddenly everyone will talk about it, and there will be campaigns everywhere to try and help make the streets safe – but after a while it all dies down and people move onto their next big social crusade.

I know we can’t change our society overnight, but we need to acknowledge that this is an issue and try to come up with realistic solutions at a national level to help make people feel more safe in public.

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