Nightclubs are beginning to address the sexual harassment marginalized groups experience
Suppose you want to have a fun night out with a group of friends, but you’re not a cisgender, heterosexual male. Of course, bartenders are usually apt to thwarting suspicious behaviour, and venues often have bouncers or security for when dodgy situations escalate. Nonetheless, for marginalized groups—namely the LGBTQ+ community, women of colour (WoC) and cisgender women—a night out typically entails a mixture of catcalling, verbal harassment, non-consensual physical interactions, and, in too many cases, sexual assault.
In 2017, just under 30,000 sexual assault cases in Canada were reported to the police, according to a StatsCan report released in July. Of those cases, almost 4,000 were deemed unfounded, meaning “police determined that no crime had taken place,” reads the same report. The Conseil des Montréalaises released an opinion paper titled “Montreal, a Festive City for all Women: Security of Trans Women and Girls at Outdoor Events in Montreal.” It cites studies indicating that, in 2011, 47 per cent of women felt twice as nervous as men walking through their neighbourhoods at night, and 45 per cent of women avoid certain areas at night. These, and many other reports, cannot even begin to quantify the degree of sexualized violence marginalized communities experience and the number of unreported sexual assault cases.
Christopher Roberts, a Concordia student who enjoys Montreal’s nightlife, said they spent a lot of time at Bar Datcha, a popular cocktail nightclub on Avenue Laurier W., one block west of St-Laurent Blvd., one of Montreal’s popular nightlife strips. Datcha is a nightclub that recently partnered with PLURI, a non-profit organization aiming to reduce harassment on dance floors. Through integrated safety monitors visible by the yellow ‘Party Support’ label on their backs, or staff shirts from respective venues, PLURI volunteers are trying to make dance floors more enjoyable for everyone by intervening in harassment situations before they escalate.
PLURI, which stands for Peace Love Unity Respect Initiative, was co-founded by Éliane Thivierge and Celeste Pimm, alongside a small team of other volunteers, in August 2016. The non-profit offers a range of workshops for event organizers, bar staff, and aspiring volunteers that provide “training on how to recognize harassment, how certain systemic oppressions interact with party spaces and bystander intervention,” according to an interview with PLURI.
Party Support volunteers have been present at music festivals such as MUTEK, POP Montreal, Red Bull Music Festival, and Slut Island. PLURI explained that Party Support volunteers are the “middle [ground] between the event patron and security… They are points of contact that are more accessible and less intimidating than security.”
Patrick Gregoire has been the manager of Datcha for the past four years. He said the venue has been working with PLURI’s dance floor safety monitors for over six months, despite only announcing their partnership just over a month ago. Gregoire explained that, at first, the Party Support volunteers were inconspicuous, and didn’t wear any labels that indicated their position. “But we felt that their work is best when people see someone on the dance floor with authority that isn’t security,” said Gregoire.
Roberts explained two instances, both occurring the same night at Datcha, which involved their friends experiencing sexual harassment to the point where bar staff and security intervened. “The wrong people found [their] way to [some] queer people […] and one was grabbing people, including my friend,” said Roberts. “I found a bartender to let them know the situation and, immediately, a bouncer kicked the guy out.” Roberts said the second incident involved a cis male harassing two of their queer friends and, when the situation escalated, Roberts “made eye contact with a bouncer who immediately dissolved the situation.”
Carla, a bartender at Datcha, said she’s very happy about the bar’s collaboration with PLURI. “It’s a plus having that extra team around,” she said. “And the fact that they’re all women—I love.”
Chris, another bartender at Datcha, said he’s been fortunate enough to “work [at] places where [they’ve] always had someone to deal with those issues.” Carla added that the Party Support volunteers try to educate people and deconstruct instances of harassment. “At the end of the night, the girls all sit down with security and the bouncers and go over what happened that night,” said Carla. “It’s really cool.”
Gregoire, as well as PLURI, emphasized the benefit of having initiatives like Party Support. “Before, these things wouldn’t get flagged until it was a problem,” said Gregoire. “[Volunteers] often end up checking in with people who are being harassed before they decide to reach out for help,” explained PLURI. The non-profit organization added that most patrons facing harassment will accept the support offered instead of tolerating these behaviours or removing themselves from the space.
Concordia journalism student and techno music enthusiast Erika Morris said that an initiative like PLURI “makes [her] feel better about these places recognizing an issue and trying to do something about it.” Security has been helpful at times by keeping their eyes on men who harass her, explained Morris. “Sure, it made me feel a bit safer that night, but the next time I went out, I had just as many chances of being harassed again,” she said. Marginalized communities—particularly queer folk—who experience harassment in public spaces, thus creating the need for these programs, “just reflects a higher societal problem,” added Morris.
“I think it’s cool that these people who are volunteers stay sober to try and help people,” said Morris. Roberts agreed that they feel PLURI and the Party Support initiative is an important step towards helping marginalized communities feel safe when they go out at night. “But in the end,” said Roberts, “there’s an overwash of sorrow that reminds our communities that we are being pushed into corners of spaces […]. [We] need more help than ever just to feel comfortable being with each other and ourselves for a night.”
Feature image by Alex Hutchins.