Shout-Up! is the new campaign to stamp out sexual harassment in bars and clubs around Newcastle. But can it really make a difference?
Sexual harassment has been one of the biggest topics of conversation since last year. Once an elephant in the room, the subject is now being tackled in debates across the Western world after the Weinstein allegations and the rise of #MeToo where survivors of sexual assault have stepped out from the shadows and revealed their own experiences of abuse as a way to empower other survivors. However, while talking about sexual harassment is much needed, as is a greater understanding of how insidious it can be, has anything really changed? To date, powerful men in Hollywood may have had to step back from projects after accusations have been made against them but there have been no arrests. There has been no real justice.
Yet, the work goes on with grassroots activism. While the global stage may be getting the attention, there are those trying to take steps to make sure that sexual harassment is not as prevalent, and to make sure that people aren’t abused. One such person doing this is Laura Rothwell, Founder at Crystallised, who is driving the Shout-UP! campaign, a new initiative trying to combat sexual harassment in Newcastle’s nightlife.
The campaign has attracted such attention that it has been given as evidence to a parliamentary enquiry into the harassment of women and girls. It was also cited as best practice by Vera Baird, Northumberland’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
“Shout-Up! was created at the request of Newcastle City Council and Safe Newcastle,” says Laura. “They approached us as a marketing agency and Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland because they wanted to ensure that bars and clubs in the city were acting to ensure their venues were safe for everyone. Initially, the council were interested in exploring the Ask for Angela campaign [a campaign to promote a code-phrase for women who feel unsafe with their dates when in public bars to seek help], and whilst we see the necessity of that campaign we also believe that women should not have to be solely responsible for protecting themselves from harassment.
“It is overwhelmingly women who experience harassment, though of course, men can be harassed too. So we devised Shout-Up!
“Shout-Up! aims to give bar, venue and door staff comprehensive training (delivered by Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland) so that they understand what sexual harassment is, how it can impact on their patrons individually, collectively and how it impacts their reputation as a venue. The training teaches them to create intervention strategies relevant to their organisation and to change mindset, i.e. addressing sexual harassment is a collective responsibility, and venues should be safe spaces for women and men. Additionally, after the training the venues are provided with a great deal of marketing and PR support so that it is very clear, inside venues that they are a sexual harassment free zone.”
Night outs are often for people to let loose and enjoy themselves, yet sexual harassment will play on the minds of many throughout the night. There’s the risk many (especially women) fear when it comes to whether to walk home, what to do when friends get drunk and head off to another club without warning or about how to get rid of the overly friendly guy who won’t take the hint. There’s also fears around drinks being spiked. Last year it was revealed that women felt getting groped was a ‘normal’ part of a night out, and that because of this, such incidents were not being reported to the police. So when there are so many potential issues when someone could feel unsafe, what can venues do to make their spaces safer?
“There are practical things that venues can do in terms of ensuring staff are trained to recognise unsafe situations, be they sexual harassment related or otherwise, which is part of the training Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland are delivering as part of Shout-Up!” Laura says.
“There are mindset and culture ideas that venues can adopt and cultivate, such as never assuming that ‘sexual harassment doesn’t happen here’ or that it’s just ‘banter’, adopting an openly zero tolerance approach to harassment is important, because then anyone in the venue experiencing it knows that the venue team will listen, take it seriously and act. Having a policy on what to do if harassment is reported, having the door staff and bar staff working together to deal with those situations as they arise means it can be dealt with swiftly and effectively. The difficulty with campaigns like Ask for Angela, for us, is that they require women to report the danger and women are then ‘discreetly removed’ from the environment. We think that is the wrong way around, the harasser should be removed not the person being harassed – security staff and bar staff have to be trained to understand the dynamics in such a scenario and act appropriately.”
“The harasser should be removed not the person being harassed – security staff and bar staff have to be trained to understand the dynamics in such a scenario and act appropriately”
It’s refreshing to see the emphasis being put on tackling the harasser rather than placing the focus upon the victim. It’s certainly a change from most campaigns. Just last month, Sunderland Council and charity Balance were accused of being ‘shockingly misogynist’ over promoting a poster campaign designed to discourage young people from drinking. One poster aimed at girls stated:
“In a couple of years’ time your daughter could go to a party, drink too much alcohol and be pressured into having unsafe sex. Talk with her about it now and help her make the right choices.”
In comparison, the poster campaign aimed at boys warned about them getting into fights if they consumed too much alcohol. Yet, if girls are pressured into having sex then they are victims of abuse. Their behaviour is not what should be being condemned.
However, #MeToo and mounting stories about sexual harassment by high-profile figures is drawing greater attention to the issue of sexual harassment. Has this made any difference to the work that Shout-Up! do?
“Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland have been in the region for 40 years this year,” says Laura. “We as a marketing agency have been working with the charity and other feminist organisations for many years, so for us, #MeToo and #TimesUp although wholly welcome, isn’t a surprise. It’s a conversation we’ve been having for many years. However, undoubtedly these movements have brought more attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and have given many women (and men) a voice and a platform to be heard that until now was not possible. Any initiative that seeks to eliminate sexual violence, harassment or coercion in any environment, is necessary.”
#MeToo and #TimesUp haven’t really started a new conversation – they’ve simply brought into light a problem that has been going on for decades. It’s why campaigns such as Shout-Up! also matter hugely. They move beyond conversations and put real action into trying to make change. Ultimately, it is an entire change of culture that we need to tackle sexual harassment. Laura states that the response to the campaign has been very positive and that they are advancing well with their plans.
“We are now on Phase 2 of 3, in many ways, this first year is a pilot year, to see how it works practically in venues and bars,” says Laura. “In Ouseburn the venue teams were onboard from the outset and very keen to make sure that nobody in their venues was under any illusion about their zero tolerance approach to harassment of other patrons and staff. On 29th March, phase 2 launches on the Diamond Strip, 30 staff from 7 venues have received training just this week.
“We’d like to see a shift in public perceptions of what constitutes sexual harassment, an acknowledgment that anyone should be able to go on a night out and not be harassed, followed, pursued and then abused or shouted at if they reject unwanted advances. This is not about stopping people hooking up on a night out, we’re in full support of consenting adults doing as they wish. It’s when that line is crossed, when a woman says no and it is ignored or taken as a challenge, when someone’s personal space is invaded, or there is unwanted touching or worse, that is not okay. There is a quote online on sexual harassment, ‘before you act, think, if you wouldn’t say or do this to Dwayne The Rock Johnson, then don’t do it’.”
Shout-Up! is an act of incredibly necessary activism. Hopefully more initiatives like this will be rolled out across the country. It is absurd that a night out should ever be ruined by sexual harassment, and yet it is something that many people will have faced just going into town at the weekend. If #TimesUp then it’s also about time for our venues to make sure every customer is safe, and Shout-Up! is helping them do just that.
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