Nightlife in European cities should be safe, secure, and inclusive for all. If we succeed, people in pubs and clubs, restaurants, and cafes will revitalize our cities, nightlife economies and tourism will benefit municipal budgets, and peace in public spaces will increase trust in local authorities and law enforcement. However, this approach requires taking care of everyone and leaving no one alone at night without help or support.
Unfortunately, there are many who are forced to stay up all night, ready to leave all the fun when the nightlife is at its peak. Victims of sexual harassment are rarely talked about or even thought about. And even when they’re remembered, it’s all too often because they’re criticized for their dress or behavior, for their freedom to talk and dance only with those they like. Their consent is often not sought and the lack of consent is ignored.
It’s true that sexual harassment has already taken an important place in contemporary human rights discourse. The prevention and containment of this phenomenon are repeatedly emphasized in terms of the cornerstones for the elimination of violence against women. The right to protection from sexual harassment is recognized in the main international instruments, including the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women „Convention of Belem Do Para”. However, most of the attention given to the phenomenon focuses on the elimination of sexual harassment in the field of labor relations and education.
Undoubtedly, sexual harassment in these areas can have incredibly damaging effects and prevent victims from realizing their full human potential. However, it should be noted that human life isn’t limited to the workplace and educational institutions. The EU Council Directive 2004/113/ EC explicitly recognizes the importance of sexual harassment taking place in areas outside the labor market and emphasizes that it can be equally harmful. The European Parliament, in its resolution of 11 September 2018 (2018/2055(INI)), calls on Member States to consider introducing specific legislation against harassment in public spaces. Nightlife is one of the important areas of human existence where women and men need to be protected from sexual harassment and other forms of violence.
In modern urbanized societies, nightlife occupies a central area of human existence (e.g. economic and leisure activities). Therefore, the possible threat of sexual harassment becomes an obstacle for (mainly) women to freely engage in nightlife and thus limits their full participation in society.
Research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has shown that about 8 percent of women in Europe have been victims of stranger violence in nightclubs at least once in their lives. However, the number of reported cases of sexual harassment in nightclubs is low across Europe. Although the Istanbul Convention requires States Parties to take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that sexual harassment is punished by criminal or other means, the legal definitions in the laws of many countries are too unclear to delineate what does and doesn’t constitute sexual harassment. Often the laws state (and this is contrary to the Convention) that sexual harassment is only a criminal offense if it’s directed at a person who is in some way subordinate to the harasser – be it an employee who is dependent on his employer, a student who is dependent on his professor, and so on. It’s obvious that there is no subordination among regulars in the same pub or among customers in the same restaurant. So it seems that there isn’t much reason for the police to intervene when sexual harassment occurs there. That is why the police rarely intervene.
This doesn’t mean, however, that police presence in nightlife entertainment venues should be increased. It should be noted that state institutions only enforce the law when the rules aren’t followed and that state force, represented by the police, is only necessary when there is no actor to stop violations of the law. Sexual harassment in nightlife, in the premises of pubs and clubs, can be prevented by people who are already on the scene – the staff of the nightclubs themselves or bystanders. Local businesses operating nightclubs are both legally responsible for protecting their customers from assault (including sexual harassment) and in the best position to respond immediately to sexual harassment and prevent the incidents from occurring. Prevention and harm reduction must go hand in hand and the appropriate, tailored measures should complement and reinforce each other. It’s important to stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Local nightlife businesses would benefit from establishing clear policies against sexual harassment. The modern sexual harassment-free culture in pubs and clubs could attract more returning customers, especially customers who are willing to pay more for the good atmosphere there and for feeling safe (where they know that the risk of such incidents is low and they can ask for help and support if it happens despite prevention measures). Active cooperation between municipalities, local businesses, mediation and victim support NGOs, and the police (at the local and/or community level, depending on the context) could also be beneficial for all actors. Most incidents that the police have to deal with at night escalate from problems occurring at the premises of pubs and clubs. These incidents are often not addressed by the owners and staff of the respective establishments. Certain algorithms implemented by local establishments could really reduce the night-time crime rate and the workload of the police, thus improving the quality of their work.
However, what makes cooperation quite difficult, especially between nightclubs and the police, is that they sometimes see each other as opponents. The police too often see pubs and clubs as the main source of security problems in nightlife. The entertainment venues too often see the police as an actor whose presence in the venues inevitably leads to certain problems and thus affects the economic profits of the venues. In this context, local authorities play a key role in elaborating and leading a collaborative process with all stakeholders involved (e.g. nightclub owners, police, NGOs, etc.). Participation in this process is crucial for local authorities, as the prevention and mitigation of sexual violence are essential for the economic and social vitality and attractiveness of their cities. Therefore, a co-productive process, jointly developed mechanisms in response to commonly identified problems, and knowledge sharing are essential.
Finally, for the joint development of strategies and concrete measures to prevent and mitigate sexual harassment, the involvement of local NGOs specialized in mediation, awareness raising and victim support is particularly important. These actors can provide the process with additional support and expertise.
Any prevention and mitigation measure must take into account societal changes, paradigm shifts, and changes in the mindset of the actors involved: e.g. local actors, but also the mindset of partygoers, potential victims, and harassers. Stereotypes, social stereotypes and prevailing narratives in societies are important factors underlying sexual harassment. As observed, NGOs and other civil society actors play a key role in bringing about bottom-up changes in societal mindsets. As many European examples have shown, a change in awareness – which should be based primarily on grassroots awareness-raising campaigns – is necessary to prevent sexual harassment.
The SHINE model for preventing and mitigating sexual harassment in nightlife entertainment venues serves as an adaptable tool for municipal authorities, local law enforcement agencies, entertainment venue owners and their employees, as well as civil society organizations, to develop joint strategies and approaches. The model consists of three parts. First, it presents key concepts and definitions of asexual harassment that go beyond the strict legal definition, which can sometimes be too limiting and reductive (e.g. in some cases it neglects what is experienced and seen as sexual harassment by victims), and which could form the basis for a common understanding of the phenomenon. Second, a routine activity-based approach to situational prevention of sexual harassment is offered and some recommendations for social prevention of this form of sexual violence are proposed. Thirdly, guidelines are formulated for the immediate support of victims of sexual harassment. The model is based on the approach that each urban locality has its own specificities that should be taken into account when looking for the best ways to prevent sexual harassment in nightlife. However, it’s also important to create a general understanding that sexual harassment is a form of violence that shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere and ever in European nightlife venues.
The model is based on the approach that each urban context has its own specificities and needs that need to be taken into account when looking for solutions to prevent and mitigate sexual harassment in nightlife. Thus, a one-size-fits-all model does not exist.
Before we get into the key concepts, terms, and definitions, it’s important to make it clear that sexual harassment, regardless of the local context, is a form of violence that mustn’t and cannot be tolerated.