By Gamal Hennessy
It is a scene that started out with banal familiarity and ended with nauseating violence. A young woman in a club decided not to dance with a man who approached her. He responded to this by following her when she went into the bathroom and beating her savagely. While she lies in the hospital and the venue works with the police to find the criminal, anger and anxiety ripple through New York nightlife. What can women do to protect themselves and still enjoy their clubs?
Roots of Violence
Marc MacYoung is a noted expert on the mental and emotional elements of violent confrontation who has defined four types of violence: territorial, in which violence is used as a tool to remove someone from an area claimed by the attacker; behavior correcting, in which violence is used as a tool to stop some activity that the attacker defines as undesirable; criminal, in which violence is used by the attacker as the means to gain some monetary good; and predatory or revenge, in which violence is used to retaliate against an actual or perceived attack. Any type of violence could occur in nightlife, but revenge violence is the most common form of violence in nightlife since fanatics see it as a legitimate form of expression.
When a fanatic engages in revenge violence, it is commonly in response to something. That something could be an emotional, physical or verbal action. It could be an actual action or the absence of an action. Whatever form the something takes, it boils down to the concept that you hurt his ego, his self-esteem or his standing within his group - whether you stepped on his foot, “hit on” his girlfriend or refused to dance with him. Whatever you did, he doesn’t feel that you gave him the respect he deserves, so now he feels justified in physically punishing you for your “offense.”
The most important thing to emphasize here is that the responsibility for revenge violence does not fall on women or operators. The fanatic alone is to blame. Revenge violence is often committed by people with low self-esteem that existed long before the situation unfolded. The anger, frustration, hatred and self loathing that fuels them often has very little to do with the particular victim. It is a product of his unhappiness with life in general. Unfortunately, these people use violent confrontation to “let off some steam” and momentarily re-establish their feeling of self-righteous power. They need an unwitting volunteer to unleash that anger upon. Some of them find that volunteer in and around clubs.
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 Assistant District Attorney for the sex crimes unit in Manhattan with experience in cases of nightlife sexual assaults. 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 the nightlife context that means they will target people who are drunk, isolated, 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.
Retained Awareness: The concept of an ambush is one of the most common elements in violent confrontation. Put simply, 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. 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.
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 fanatics of the world.
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