So, have prolonged periods of isolation made young people more desperate and eager for encounters, making them more likely to cross the line of consent? Clinical sexologist and relationship coach Ness Cooper says research indicates otherwise, and that the impact of the pandemic indicates a trend away from connections. “While at the start of the pandemic touch starvation was a big concern and how it would affect individuals when they had more availability of social interactions, current research on intimacy suggests that sexual contact and interactions are held in committed relationships more than in a causal hook. -ups,” she notes. “Individuals seem more focused on finding red and green flags when it comes to selecting intimate interactions and act more cautiously.”
Cooper discussed theories about a possible increase in instances of harassment at clubs, but ensured that there was not yet any hard data available to back up anecdotal evidence, and noted that it was too early to fully say what would happen regarding harassment and assault as a result of the pandemic at this time. While reports of sexual assaults taking place in London’s clubs, bars, pubs and music venues hit a six-year high in 2021, despite venue closures linked to COVID for parts of the year, it is unclear whether this is related to an increase in reporting or more cases.
On date rape drugs, Cooper noted that “low past reports should be considered for any new stats that emerge as we become more aware of them and gain more access to how to report incidents.” She continued, “Regardless of the statistics, greater education on how to report and insurance reports will be taken seriously is needed to help support people who become victims of such incidents.”
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Regarding young people, who may not have experienced clubbing in a pre-pandemic world, Ness Cooper stressed that “education about alcohol consumption and how it can affect sexual interactions is very important and can help people understand why their boundaries, beliefs about consent and values may change when they engage in alcohol consumption. During the pandemic, there has been an increase in alcohol consumption, especially excessive alcohol consumptionand this is probably a major factor in any possible increase in aggression.
She went on to suggest that “Statistically, young people’s understanding of consent is very low, and that has been a big factor in getting people to cross boundaries beforehand. [before the pandemic]. Even when I teach adults, their understanding of consent needs to be educated, and the focus is not just on sexual consent. It is important that people have an overview of other areas where engagement in consent should occur.
Ultimately, while it’s important to analyze why bullying may be on the rise so these causes can be understood and thwarted, trial and error is something that cannot and should never be excused. If inappropriate touching is simply ignored, how far can predators push the boundaries before someone draws a line?
Academic, writer and body politics expert Marie Morgane is particularly vocal on this issue, stating that “the myth that certain types of sexual offenses against women are not serious, or are not serious, sustains rape culture. Saying “boys will be boys,” “it’s okay,” or “you’re overreacting” continues to normalize and trivialize sexual abuse. Groping has long been treated as a commonplace offence. This confirms “rape myths” that blame the victim and exculpate the perpetrator. Minimizing crime is part of the problem.
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Morgan continued: “Victims have often been told to ‘let it go’, a phrase used to encourage women to be compliant and just suffer abuse rather than be enraged when someone defiles them or their space. No sexual offense is a trivial thing, and treating it as such normalizes it. From my own experience and that of the women I’ve spoken to, there seems to be a general consensus that groping is “just one of those things” engulfed in unspoken silence. We are aware that this happens to others – even to ourselves – but this awareness is simply common knowledge. Too often attempts to have these infractions taken seriously fail because these issues have become such a normal part of the clubbing “experience” that we see no need or point in reporting them.
Chloe* agreed with this view, telling me that “clubs often don’t seem to care about inappropriate behavior which makes it almost pointless to even bother to report it as I feel like no one wouldn’t care.” She continued: “The anonymity of clubs is also a huge factor as it can make it difficult to identify exactly who is inappropriate. I wouldn’t even know who to approach in a club apart from security, which is not always the most accessible. It doesn’t look like they’d be overly sympathetic, let alone act.
Eleanor* shared the sentiment that clubs can feel unapproachable when it comes to aggression, adding that “club and bar corporations say they have a ‘zero tolerance policy’ on these matters, but the fact is they are closing the eyes”. If victims feel like they can’t report these issues, how can we keep women and non-binary people safe in clubs? As Mary Morgan rightly implies, “Gropping someone without their consent in a club isn’t just a fun joke, it’s rape culture. That is, I want to touch your body whether you like it or not, and I’m not going to ask for your consent. It’s not correct. It’s not normal.” East A big deal.”
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It is important to note that while these boundaries are constantly being broken and there is no real enforcement of what is or is not acceptable when it comes to touching and physicality in clubs, moreover and more people are going to be uneducated and oblivious. the harm they cause to their victims. This begs the question, then: how can we end this cycle of non-consensual torment?
When she asked Eleanor* if she had any suggestions on how to propose real change to this problem, she replied “education! From an early age, men need to be educated about consent and all that goes with it. They need to be made aware of the horrible situations they force women into. They need to be held accountable and more penalties need to be incorporated.” To clarify what ‘punishment’ should look like, she suggested that instead of just being kicked out of a club, offenders should be permanently banned. This way, the place becomes safer for women and non-binary people, and the abuser faces real long-term consequences, rather than a slap on the wrist.
Chloe* suggested that “clearer procedures would help massively, so victims know how to get help. Something like the Ask for Angela system I’ve seen in the ads would be a good start. Chloe* also shared Eleanor*’s view that repeat offenders should be banned from clubs, “to help people feel more comfortable in a club and to feel that action is being taken. Essentially, I feel like greater assurance that action will be taken would mean people would be more likely to report inappropriate behavior.” As Morgan said, “Consent education and education about rape culture is such an important part of this conversation. That’s why sex education overlaps all of this as well.”
Groping and mugging in nightclubs is something that has long awaited its eradication. With more encouragement to report these cases (with Cooper highlighting the influence of the #MeToo movement in particular), more education about consent, and more supportive media coverage, one can only hope that the issue of assaults and inappropriate behavior in clubs be taken more seriously in a post-pandemic world.
Phoebe Snedker is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter
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*Names have been changed