The Metropolitan Police Department of Washington D.C. has published detailed safety guidelines to assist owners and managers of nightlife establishments in deterring crime and maintaining a safe premises. One goal of the publication is to reduce sexual assaults in nightclubs, bars and lounges. These guidelines are highlighted below.
9 MPD Nightclub Management Guidelines to Deter Sexual Assault
- Management and employees can help to prevent their premises from being exploited by sexual aggressors, who may seek to take advantage of vulnerable patrons. Alcohol is the most common substance aggressors use to facilitate sexual assault. Both the aggressor and the target may have impaired judgment and lower awareness as a result of alcohol consumption, leading to a greater chance of sexual violation anywhere along the spectrum from harassment to violent assault. However, the environment around a sexual aggressor can make a difference in their behavior.
- Young women are statistically most likely to be the target of unwanted sexual attention and ag- gression, but it’s important to keep in mind that anyone may be a target, including patrons of gay establishments. Aggressors often present themselves as friendly, seeking to get to know a tar- get, buying them drinks, or otherwise displaying a romantic interest. Aggressors may also engage in unwanted contact such as pressing up against someone on the dance floor, groping, or “up-skirt” grabbing. If bar staff notice any of these behaviors, it may be useful for them to ask the target if s/he would like any intervention and/or keep a close eye on the situation in case it escalates.
Escalation can also take place off-premises. A common scenario is for an aggressor to initiate an interaction on the premises, isolate the target from her friends, and then persuade or pressure the target to leave with him. Employees should be attuned to behavior that seems overly familiar or aggressive under the circumstances, especially if the potential target is visibly intoxicated or seems to be impaired.
- Establishment personnel should offer to call a cab for the vulnerable or impaired person, and closely observe as patrons leave to see if they seem to be able to navigate safely. Security personnel at the door or outside are well positioned and should observe when patrons leave. They should also take general note of whom patrons arrive with and whether they leave with the same group or someone else. Note that aggressors may seek to get targets drunk or drugged, encourage them to get some air, and then pull up in a car or hail a cab to take them away.
- If establishment personnel sense that something is awry, either when an aggressor is purchasing drinks for a potential target who is visibly intoxicated, isolating her from her friends, or trying to leave with her, personnel should make it clear to the aggressor that they have been observed by asking them in front of others how they’re doing or if they need some help. Staff can also use distraction techniques to separate the target from the aggressor, such as telling the potential target that her friends are looking for her. If possible, employees should make a note of the circumstances, the descriptions of the parties, or any other information that could become relevant at a later time. However, establishment managers and staff should make every effort to keep patrons safe and proactively intervene if they observe any suspicious or problematic behaviors.
- Encourage groups to designate one person as a chaperone and perhaps identify this person with a wristband. This person could be served non-alcoholic beverages at a discount for the night.
- For prevention of assaults on the premises, maintain surveillance cameras outside restroom doors, and consider employing a restroom attendant. Ensure that restrooms are used by the appropriate gender. If the restrooms are gender-segregated, monitor to ensure that men do not enter the women’s restroom (keeping in mind that some people who appear to be one gender may in fact be another). Surveillance cameras should be monitored throughout the night, especially near closing time. Ensure that storage areas and other restricted areas are kept locked and secured. Closed darkened areas create a potential danger.
- Support staff, including porters, barbacks, busboys, and kitchen staff, should receive sexual assault awareness training that will help them be aware of patron behavior and recognize potential perpetrator behaviors that may lead to sexual assault, especially as these employees work in or pass through areas that are dark or restricted. As part of their training, employees should be instructed to immediately report any suspicious or problematic behavior to a supervisor or manager.
- Establishments can send a clear message that there is zero tolerance for sexual assault by posting signs letting patrons know that their safety is a priority, and including on the signs who among the staff a patron can approach if they need assistance.
- Perhaps most important, management and employees should trust their instincts regarding possible predatory behavior they may observe. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Management should communicate to employees, ideally by establishing a written policy, that they support proactive efforts to address suspicious, aggressive, or predatory behavior. If possible, employees should make notes of any situation they observed for later reference if needed.