Am giving this post a trigger warning for sexual assault, because in writing this I have triggered myself. To be honest, while I intellectually understood what a ‘trigger’ was, I’m not sure I fully got the emotional impact until I started writing this blog and a memory that had been buried very very deep came hurtling back to the surface. So now I’m going to include that memory because I think writing about it is going to help and will certainly illustrate my point.
Please, don’t read on if there is a chance it’s going to hurt rather than help you.
So, I wanted to cover nightclubs again because you know, they are super sexy, fun places where super sexy people dance to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to super sexy hotels for super sexy sex. Well, we all know that’s not really the case, mostly they are full of super drunk people dancing to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to Premier Inn’s for hopefully consensual disappointing sex. Or just heading home for a kebab and a stare into the abyss. Both of which can be equally fulfilling in their own ways.
I’ve been hitting the dance floors of clubs with terrible names (Porkies, Top of the Town, Pier Pressure) since I was about 14 and of course with the dancing comes the boys. Because nightclubs are where people go to pull, everyone knows that and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever have that motive in mind when I go out. I have first hand evidence that more than hooking up takes place; one of my favourite couples in the world met at Strawberry Moon, as unlikely as that sounds to anyone who has ever visited Strawberry Moon. Dancing, drinking and courting have gone together since well before any of us created our own routine to Relight my Fire. But one of the disadvantages of learning about Feminism is that it also makes you realise that along with perfecting my moves, I have also survived a whole series of sexual assaults for more than 2 decades; some more serious than others.
Just to be sure I wasn’t getting carried away and hysterical, you know, like girls do, I got some help via Twitter and checked out the legal definition of sexual assault. This is what I found from Rights of Women (http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/pdfs/sexual_assault.pdf):
“Definition of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault can be committed by both men and women against either a man or a woman.
An offender is guilty of this offence if:
- The offender intentionally touches the victim AND
- The touching is sexual AND
- The victim does not consent to the touching AND
- The offender does not reasonably believe that the victim consents.
Sexual assault is a non-consensual offence. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must prove that the victim did not consent and the offender did not reasonably believe that she did.”
In order to determine if the touching is sexual, “The magistrate or jury have to decide whether a reasonable person would consider either that the particular act is, by its nature, sexual; or whether it could be sexual, AND either because of the particular circumstances and / or the offender’s intention, it is sexual.”.
Put yourself in the seat of that ‘reasonable person’ (I know it’s hard, but give it your best shot) and have a think about what you would consider sexual; the obvious ones clearly, but then some grey areas, would you include thighs? Then add a sexual intention and it could cover pretty much any part of the body as you only need the briefest glimpse at the internet to know that the world of the fetishist is broad and occasionally surprising. If a foot fetishist grabs your foot is that sexual assault or just assault? I suspect a vague definition is the best way to leave something so nebulous and personal.
So here’s quite a common occurrence in a club; you’re having a dance and a man grabs your ass, you give him your Paddington Bear patented hard stare, he grabs your ass again, you move away, he follows and grabs your ass a third time, you tell him to ‘fuck off’ and he grabs your ass a fourth time. Well, it turns out, that’s sexual assault. Perhaps I should have known that, but honestly it hadn’t really struck me until quite recently. I think that has happened to me pretty much every time I have ever gone to a nightclub, a conservative estimate would put that at around 250 sexual assaults (just the ass grabbing kind) in my lifetime so far. (BTW I know women are guilty of this too, but I can only speak to my own experience which is predominantly male on female assault. Not ignoring male on male, female on male or female on female. Please take it as red that I don’t agree with that either.)
I’m okay with calling those “minor” assaults, but have you ever thought about what else is going on? Well here’s the memory that this blog has triggered…
When I was about 14 my friends and I used to sneak in to a club on a Saturday night pretending we were over 18 via the medium of piles of makeup and big hair (those who know me will know that I haven’t change so much). One of my friends got “friendly” with a man who worked at the club and this helped us to get in without any questions. Well one night it was decided that her “friendship” wasn’t enough and therefore I was enlisted to entertain his friend. Honestly I don’t remember any of the build up, I have no idea how it all happened, they had given us drinks and we’d been drinking before we left for the club.
I remember being locked in a toilet cubicle with a man much older, taller, bigger and stronger than me who had blocked my escape. I have tried to write about it in detail, but I just can’t. Suffice it to say, what happened to me was physically painful, humiliating and terrifying. I was breached in a way that no one should be. I knew that saying no wouldn’t make any difference, I was a virgin and I thought I was going to be raped actually I don’t even think I would have called it rape; I thought it was what was expected of me. At some point thankfully he stopped, I think he realised I was not into it and left me crying in the toilet; I think he took my underwear. My friends were all angry with me because I didn’t have sex with him and they thought we would struggle to get into the club as a result. Because the world is a fucked up place, I believed them and thought I had been stupid. We kept going to that club for months, maybe even years, after that. I saw him pretty much every time…
(Here’s my caveat before moving on… I’m a survivor, that incident happened to me a long time ago reliving it has not been great, but part of me is glad I have. I’ve written all kinds of versions of what you’ve just read and each one has given me a little bit more strength. I have a voice, I have a platform and all I want is to stop that happening to anyone, ever…)
Okay moving on, that’s an extreme example although from what I have seen/read sadly not too unusual. My experience has also involved many “minor” assaults; hand up the skirt, unwanted grinding, boob grabs, a man once undid my bra on the dance floor, I’ve had my hand shoved down a man’s pants and I know I’m not unique in these experiences. Every woman I know has experienced what could easily be argued as sexual assault while out in a club. When I recently mentioned that I was writing this piece I was overwhelmed by “me too” messages.
Because it appears so prevalent, I have to believe that the people who behave in this way would never consider themselves to be perpetrators of sexual assault or any kind of assault. Isn’t it all part of the nightclub experience? It’s just what you expect on a night out right? Well, isn’t it?
Sorry, I have to stop my own rhetorical questions there; because they’re the wrong questions aren’t they. What we should all be asking is this, why is this part of the nightclub experience? Why? Why? Why?
Because we’re all supposed to shrug it off? Because it’s just a bit of fun? I mean what could be more fun than having your hand shoved down someone’s pants… I’m laughing just at the very thought ha ha ha ha.
Don’t forget that everyone who goes to a nightclub wants sex and anyone who wants sex will want sex with anyone who offers it. You wouldn’t dress that way, dance that way, laugh that way, walk that way if you weren’t after sex now would you? So really we’re asking to have our asses grabbed aren’t we?
Now, where have we heard that before?
Right, let me be clear here, I am not suggesting that nightclubs employ chaperones to make sure that no fun physical contact occurs because that would be rubbish. No, what I am suggesting is that a dangerous culture is bred in nightclubs and no one is doing anything to stop it. I have another piece on bouncers in the works to provide evidence of that, because from what I can see the people who ought to be supporting victims and shutting down perpetrators are neither trained nor have no remit to do so.
But I, for one, am tired of having my night out ruined by some idiot who doesn’t understand the meaning of “seriously, fuck off, I’m not interested” and then being yelled at and intimidated for saying it. If I wanted to bump and grind with you, I would do just that. Rubbing your cock against my ass while I’m trying to get my Shakira on is neither sexy nor respectful. Grabbing me sexually, when you know I don’t want you to, really ought to lead to you being at the very least removed from the club.
It is wrong that we are expected to give up control over who can or cannot touch us intimately because we happen to be in a venue where you can both drink and dance. My ass, my thighs, my tits belong to me and if I choose to let you get your hands on them, then that’s fine. But if I don’t choose you, then back the fuck off and let me dance!