Girls in Oxford nightclubs are experiencing groping and assault and over half do not know how to report it, an investigation by The Oxford Student has found.
The findings – backed up by a wealth of anecdotal evidence – show that 60 percent of girls have been made to feel vulnerable by sexually inappropriate behaviour and harrassment in nightclubs. As the figures show 64 percent of girls claim to have been groped whilst out clubbing, students say that venue staff do not know how to deal with complaints. Three quarters of students surveyed report that they go to clubs regularly.
One second year Balliol student stated: “Well, after a while, you come to expect a certain level of inappropriate touching in nightclubs. It’s happened to me, to my friends and not just once. You just kind of accept it as part or the course and don’t let it ruin your night. It’s not right but it’s the way it seems to be.”
A Mansfield student claimed to have been sexually assaulted in a nightclub: “A guy grabbed my ass and then grabbed by head and my neck and tried to kiss me a few times. Yelling him and slapping him was the only way to get him off me.”
Another female student said that last week they were groped by someone in Wahoo. A New College fresher reported a similar incident: “I’ve seen a middle-aged man groping a girl without her consent in Wahoo. A bouncer was in the room but didn’t seem to take much notice.”
One respondent to the survey – filled out by 200 female students this weekend – condemned the Oxford club scene as “disgusting”. She continued: “They seem to think that they can get away with things that in any other situation would be totally unacceptable.”
Another claimed that “sexual assaults and groping are seriously under-reported in nightclubs” adding “girls just don’t know what to do about it or don’t know if they can do anything about it.”
According to another girl, “this ‘grope-culture’ is very specific to certain Oxford clubs. Never have I felt the same predatory atmosphere… If this disgustingly macho attitude has to be ascribed to anything, I would promptly accuse the disgusting crew-date culture that exists here.”
But this view was not universal. One student claimed to have found all Oxford men to be “fit and gentlemanly” while another disputed that the problem was “any worse than anywhere else I’ve been in the country”.
A third year student pointed out that “certain Oxford clubs break the general trend set by Varsity nights at places like Bridge and Wahoo”.
However, our investigation shows consistent failure of nightclub staff to react appropriately to incidences of sexual harassment and assault on Varsity nights.
A joint OUSU-Varsity “Zero Tolerance” policy on inappropriate nightclub behaviour was brought in last week. It says that people who feel that they are being harassed or have been assaulted should report all incidents to nightclub staff who will remove the perpetrator, record their name and share it with other clubs.
But reports from the last week suggest that this policy may not have been implemented successfully.
A Maths student at Queen’s claimed that her friend was “felt up” in Bridge at a Varsity night recently and there was “no one to report it to”.
Another student said: “At Bridge on Thursday, someone I know was being groped, we reported it to a female bouncer and she said ‘I’m sorry for you but it’s not my problem. I can’t do anything’. We asked if she had been trained to deal with sexual harassment and she repeated that it was not her problem.” When contacted, a Bridge manager said they had no comment to make on the issue.
Students described similar incidents at other clubs. A Balliol student reported: “In Wahoo, there was this middle-aged guy who kept trying to dance really suggestively really close and wouldn’t back off. We told a bouncer but he didn’t get rid of him, he just sort of watched us.”
A Wahoo spokesperson said that no specific training is given to staff, and that in 19 months there have been no serious incidences. He said: “Girils ofetn assume they’ve made a complaint and it’s just a passing comment. We’ve had minimal complaints of that nature….Our solution is to continue with a proactive approach to provide a safe environment.”
Allegations of poor handling of these issues go back as far as the now-defunct Kukui. A Mansfield student stated that a bouncer in Kukui told her that sexual harassment was “to be expected” when she complained in accordance with Varsity policy.
A Varsity manager said “they had never heard f any complaints of anything on any of our nights”.
Our survey results show that only 35.5 percent of people know to report sexual assault in nightclubs to nightclub staff. 54 percent did not know how to report incidents and 10 percent would not report it at all.
Yuan Yang, OUSU VP (Women) said: “The valuable research that has come out of this investigation supports the crucial need for Zero Tolerance policy in night-clubs. We cannot accept the situation as it stands.”
But some female students questioned how sound a policy Zero Tolerance is. A third year English student said that she “wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to a bouncer about an assault.”
“I can’t imagine a bouncer taking a drunk girl seriously enough to chuck someone out” said one Physiology student.
Students backed more action against sexual harassment. A History 2nd year said: “It’s not on that it’s allowed to happen. There should be more people watching out for sexual assaults and harassment…There should definitely be a firmer approach.”
Some women who took the survey acknowledged that dealing with sexual harassment is difficult for nightclubs. One respondent argued that because “in clubs, everyone is drunk…sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s actually happened in that kind of situation”.
Others believed that drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable conduct is difficult. One student said: “It’s hard to make a distinction of what’s too far and what’s not. People accept a certain level of non-consensual contact but the line is crossed if they keep going when you tell them to stop”
But other female students asked equated groping with sexual assault. A PPEist said: “Groping, by law, surely counts as sexual assault. I think that because people don’t realise that, they don’t think to report it.”
Sarah Pine, organiser of Wadham Feminists Group said: “I’m sad to see my friends wearingly accept being grabbed without their consent. Being groped, legally, is a form of sexual assault. Being groped is sexual contact without any semblance of consent, or pretension of respect. There is no consent and no excuse”
“Nightclubs need to stop allowing women’s bodies to be treated as public property. Women should feel safe, and not feel that their night out can be an excuse for men to grope them.”
Alan Percy, Deputy Director of the Counselling Service, backed the Zero Tolerance proposal and said that the Counselling Service “always get a number of people coming to us after sexual assaults”. He encouraged club-goers to be “attentive” and encouraged people to “seek support and help through their welfare provision at College or else come directly to the Counselling Service ” if such an incident were to occur.
Yuan Yang urged students to contact OUSU with any issues. She said: “If any students have further issues with night-clubs’ treatment of assault, I urge them to contact OUSU through [email protected], so that we can strive to ensure other students are not put in the same position.”