Dancing, drinking, and going out should be a celebration, but over the past five years London’s nightlife has become a battlefield. Recent Metropolitan Police statistics have revealed that between 2011 and March of this year reports of rape in London clubs, bars and pubs have risen by 136 per cent, and sexual assault in venues in the capital has more than doubled. And it’s not just London – it’s happening across Europe. Last month two Swedish music festivals – Bravalla and Putte I Parken – were hit by over 40 cases of rape and sexual assault, causing Swedish singer Zara Larsson, who played at Bravalla, to tweet: “Damn you people who shamelessly rape a girl in public. Damn you guys who make a girl feel unsafe when they go to a festival. I hate guys. Hate hate hate.” To think that places where women are heading with the express purpose of having fun have become places where we have to constantly be on our guard or be scared or frightened or worried about someone slipping something into our drinks or being touched or harassed isn’t just troubling, it’s fucking outrageous.
But such attacks have worryingly become the norm. Almost every woman I know has a story about batting away unwanted attention – or much worse – at a gig, in a bar or on the dancefloor. Some of them have hardened themselves to it. They ignore the perpetrators, hoping they’ll get bored and go away. Or maybe they’ll smile nicely and put up with it, scared of making a scene and seeing the situation turn ugly. Some of them go home as soon as it happens, their night ruined, and then lay awake for hours, running the scenario over and over again in their heads. Did they say something that was misinterpreted? Was it their fault? Did they unwittingly lead them on? Others can’t shift that horrible feeling of having their personal space invaded by someone who thinks it’s their right to hassle and bother a woman without their consent, because y’know, it’s just a bit of fun.
Many of these cases of everyday assault go unreported or unchallenged. I know because I witnessed one over the weekend at Lovebox festival. At the festival gates, at the end of the night, a man in the crowd started pawing at my friend who politely – even though politeness certainly wasn’t called for considering the fact that she was being groped by a total stranger – turned down his advances. In response, the man and his friends then started calling her a bitch and a slag and becoming physically aggressive. Shocking, but all too common. Instead of reporting it, we laughed it off and went to the pub to steady our nerves and do our best to forget about it.
It’s this kind of casual harassment that women face on a daily basis – and in the very places where they should feel safe. Groups like Girls Against are doing their best to raise awareness and stamp out groping at gigs and bands like The 1975, The Courteeners and Best Coast have all railed those men making women feel unsafe at shows. Yet the Met Police’s stats show that this is a problem that’s on the rise. London’s nightlife might have become a battlefield, but we’re more than ready to fight.