By Gamal Hennessy
There are 65 million entries into nightlife venues every year. The vast majority of the patrons who go into our bars, clubs and lounges make it home safely every night. Unfortunately, on rare occasions, predators and fanatics prey on the isolated and the defenseless. The results are terrible for the victims and negative for the industry as a whole. The recent case of Luis Zambrano highlights both the need for awareness in an adult environment and offers guidance on the best way for ladies to protect themselves at night.
Last week, Inside Edition ran a story about a man named Luis Zambrano. Mr. Zambrano went to Marquee, isolated a 23 year old girl, dragged her out of the club in full view of the crowd and the operators, took her back to his apartment and raped her. Because the entire incident was caught on Marquee’s security cameras, Zambrano was arrested and pled guilty to kidnapping and rape charges.
Experts state that this contained several elements that predators look for. First, the victim was separated from her friends. Second, the victim was either drunk when Zambrano met her or she accepted drinks from him that were laced with GHB or similar substances. This combination gives predators the ability to overpower and move a victim out of the venue. If she is too drunk or drugged, she’s not conscious enough to resist or even speak. Other random patrons can’t tell if the man carrying a woman out of a club is her boyfriend or her rapist. The bouncers can’t tell if they are best friends, if they just met or if they never met. The predator preys on animosity and isolation.
There is no practical way for women to alter or eliminate predators or fanatics in nightlife. It is often very difficult to even identity a potential threat in the chaotic environment of a club. But there are five steps that women can take to deter and avoid assaults while they are out; group movement, designated watchers, deterrence images, retained awareness and responsible indulgence.
Group Movement: Lisa Friel is an ADA for the sex crimes unit in Manhattan. She has experience with cases of sexual assaults that begin in clubs and end in the predator’s apartment or car. She advocates that women use the concept of group movement, meaning that the ladies go out together, remain in the same general area and leave together. This prevents any one woman from being isolated and abused. Ms. Friel isn’t saying you shouldn’t dance, meet boys, exchange numbers and generally have a good time. She isn’t saying that the whole night should be one huge exercise in cockblocking. She is saying that there is strength in numbers when it comes to preventing sexual assault.
Designated Watcher: Ms. Friel also supports the use of a designated watcher. Similar to a designated driver, the watcher drinks less than the rest of the group and makes sure that no one falls unconscious, gets overcome by a group of fanatics, or stumbles out of the club at 4:15 without any idea of where they are or how they are getting home. Again, this isn’t an invitation for a wet blanket to play morality cop and ruin everyone’s night, but if you go out in a group and the whole group gets blind drunk, then the security of the group isn’t that effective.
Deterrence Image: If you are separated from your group, or if you are the designated watcher, you will need a way to drive off people who might cause problems. Sexual criminals in nightlife are similar to predators in nature. When choosing someone to attack, they often choose the person who appears the least likely to protect themselves. They target the weakest of the herd. In a nightlife context that means they will target people who are drunk, preoccupied, confused, or who project weakness through non verbal signals in their body language. Victimology experts Chuck Hustmyre and Jay Dixit suggest that attackers are less likely to choose targets that are organized in their movement, confident in their posture and comfortable in their surroundings are less likely to be singled out. The evidence supports this theory. Zambrano didn’t target the women who were full of energy and dancing around him. He went after the one passed out on the couch.
Retained Awareness: The Zambrano crime also shows that it is very hard to get out of a situation that you are not aware of. If you are surprised, caught off guard or blindsided, you are more likely compound your problems. If you’re going to get so drunk that you don’t know where you are, you are more likely to wind up someplace that you don’t want to be. A stumbling drunk identifies herself to every fanatic in the room as an amateur and a potential victim. Maintaining awareness of your surroundings as you party is an integral part of being a nightlife native. You can have a good time and keep your eyes open, but you have to make that choice up front.
Responsible Indulgence: The basic concept that women can use to protect themselves is responsible indulgence. It isn’t about being afraid to go out or going out looking for trouble. It is about knowing your limits and being familiar with your environment so you can deal with a potential problem if it arises. There is such a thing as too much to drink. There are activities that aren’t worth the risk. You can enjoy everything nightlife has to offer and still remember it in the morning. Predators seek out nightlife amateurs and avoid nightlife natives because the amateur is easy prey. As more women become natives, sexual assaults against women will be even more atypical.
Sexuality is at the core of the nightlife experience. Women are the linchpin to the majority of nightlife business and culture. But that doesn’t mean that they need to feel uncomfortable, threatened or afraid when they go out. It does mean that they need to take some precautions to deter the Zambrono’s of the world.