Good Night Out – Responding to Sexual Harassment at Live Music Venues

‘After the #metoo campaign, we got so much interest. I would like to encourage people just to do something about it’

We caught up with Ester Van Kempen, Coordinator at the Good Night Out Campaign, which began in 2014 as a grassroots response to sexual violence, with a focus on nightlife communities. 

πŸ’– Okay, so tell me a little bit about what you were doing before Good Night Out?

Before doing the Good Night Out campaign, 4 years ago (& a bit of an overlap), I was managing a music venue called The Montague Arms in Peckham together with my partner, where we were putting on bands & all kinds of evenings/running the pub.

πŸ’– & what issues were you seeing that brought you to want to work on the campaign?

I joined the campaign after the first year that it had been set up.

What I noticed, as someone that goes to live music gigs & working in a bar with middle management, is that there is not enough knowledge on how to tackle this problem within venues by the actual people running them. So the knowledge & education wasn’t there.

I felt like that’s something I really wanted to get involved with behind the scenes.

πŸ’– How did you get in contact with them?

It was Bryony (founder of GNO) who did a training session with us at the Montague Arms when I was bar staff there.

I spoke to her briefly after that. & then maybe like half a year later, when I moved to Brighton, I saw an advertisement on Facebook that Bryony had posted. They were looking to get a chapter set up in Brighton!

At the same time, my friend Liv & I, had been talking about setting something up like that. We really wanted to be active in fighting this problem within the music scene.

πŸ’– So did you notice a change in how the Montague was, after you’d had the training?

Yeah, a big change!

I think maybe not so much from the management while I was bar staff. But I did notice that there was much more clear language. There became a communal language that developed around what sexual harassment & assault is.

So when someone comes forward & says that their bum was grabbed, or someone was staring at them a lot of times, that so easily gets dismissed. But since the training that was seen as a much more serious problem.

As well as this, it started to be tackled a lot quicker, instead of waiting until it escalates.

πŸ’– What kind of challenges specifically do you deal with in the campaign?

Well, there are many challenges, I guess.

Looking at it within the licensed sector, or places where they sell alcohol, a lot of venues don’t see it as a big problem, or a big enough problem to do this type of training.

So we really need to fight to get a spot, & to make people aware that this is necessary work.

& within the training sessions we deal with all kinds of myths. We deal with people from all different job roles & backgrounds. It’s about finding common ground & building from somewhere.

& yeah, making people aware that this is a big, big issue.

A lot of venues don’t see it as a big problem, or a big enough problem to do this type of training […] It’s about finding common ground & building from somewhere.

πŸ’– What advice would you have for venues & customers on how to deal with these kind of issues?

If they haven’t had the training (which is not always possible) I would say always listen. Always try to see it from the customer’s point of view if they come forward with any problems.

But also, if you have a zero-tolerance policy, communicate this to your staff. A lot of venues that we talk to have some kind of policy, but they don’t communicate it. So people that go to the venue don’t know that they could get help.

A lot of people that experience this kind of stuff, minimise it, or are scared to bring it forward because they’re scared of not being believed or getting the right help. They’re scared it might escalate.

A lot of people that experience this kind of stuff, minimise it, or are scared to bring it forward because they’re scared of not being believed or getting the right help

So if the venue can communicate in a poster, or some kind of text – a lot more people will feel that they can come forward with it.

πŸ’– & how about specifically for women, what advice do you have about dealing with this kind of thing?

Whatever you’re feeling, whatever makes you feel uncomfortable, if it’s a person, or a thing, or whatever – it’s valid.

Don’t feel like you have to minimise it. Don’t be scared because you had some drinks, or think that it’s okay. It’s never okay.

So whenever it happens to you, come forward. Talk to the bar staff, talk to security, talk to your friends if you don’t want to do that.

& if you see it happening to someone else – check in. Be an active bystander.

πŸ’– What needs to change for this not to be a problem? Or how do men need to act?

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

It’s not the gig, it’s not the band, it’s not the venue. It’s just a problem in society.

It’s an issue where people feel they have a right, that they can do that kind of stuff, or feel the need to intimidate people. That should stop.

Whatever you’re feeling, whatever makes you feel uncomfortable, if it’s a person, or a thing, or whatever – it’s valid.

I think again, the active bystander part is really important. The venue can have the perfect policy, but they can’t see everything.

So as a society, as people, when we see something happening, we should say something about it.

& even if it’s something you’re not sure of whether it’s okay or not, if it may be totally fine with the person on the receiving end, say something about it – you have nothing to lose.

πŸ’– I’ve had experiences in the past where I accidentally put myself in danger. Have you got any tips for how to get involved & be an active bystander but safely?

Yes. I’ll send it to you. You can use it πŸ™‚ We have a little tip sheet for being an active bystander.

You don’t want to put yourself in danger. But at the same time, if the person responds very aggressively, then that person is doing something wrong. If that person wasn’t doing anything wrong, they could have been a bit shy & embarrassed, & be like ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I didn’t mean to’.

But if they get aggressive, then that is not okay, & you should have been able to get help from the staff.

But at the same time, I think never put yourself in danger intentionally. If you’re not sure, maybe again, check in with bar staff, with friends, with other people around you & get the backup that you need.

& it’s not you that needs to be a superhero.

πŸ’– You & I kind of know each other through the punk scene in London. What has the response been to the Good Night Out campaign? Have you had any challenges? or has it been a warm response?

Well, it definitely changed in the last five years. The Good Night out campaign started in 2014, through Hollaback!, which is an anti-street harassment campaign.

That first year Bryony was really doing the bigger clubs, Ministry Of Sound, Fabric etc.

There wasn’t that much conversation around this topic yet. So there was a bit of resistance.

Now, we’ve really noticed change in attitude towards it. People are more like, ‘Oh, we’ve got budget for this, we really want to make it a priority for our venue, for our community’.

We get a lot of promoters. A lot of people that put on shows within the punk scene or within other communities that want to be like; ‘Well, if the venue isn’t going to do it, I’m putting on the show. So I want to make that change’.

So it’s coming from a lot of different angles now. Where first we had to look for collaborations, now it’s like, we want to be working with you. So that’s amazing & really exciting!

πŸ’– We live in a tech focussed/social media generation. & I’ve seen a lot of bands, & organisations have the idea of implementing anonymized text reporting.

Have you guys ever tried it? What are the issues that you see with that actually working?

On our website we have an anonymous reporting system. We get stuff through & I think it works.

We do get some details of the person, but it’s very clear what they want us to use/what they want us to do. For example, do they want us to contact the venue? Do they want us to use their name?

For the people that have reported to us, I think it has been really successful! I found a lot of times they just found it helpful in the sense that someone’s been listening, that they have somewhere to go to, because you feel like you can’t go to the police with this.

You don’t want to because it’s ‘not that big of a problem’. You minimise it, again for yourself. But to go to us as a campaign, that’s really good.

I would say for promoters, venues etc that want to be doing anonymous reporting… I’m not sure about that. Because with us, we have trained people around sexual violence & it can be really upsetting in terms of the stories that can come forward.

If you don’t know how to really respond to that, it could actually make the situation worse.

I would rather venues & promoters signpost to organisations that are dealing with this, like Rape Crisis centres or women’s organisations that have that knowledge & expertise to help people with these situations.

πŸ’– You guys just got a bunch of new funding, & you’re running a board & all this kind of cool stuff. So what’s next? What are you planning?

The funding we received is really exciting! It’s through Rosa.

We received about Β£100,000, which goes to five partnerships that we’ve built with different organisations.

The Music Venue Trust: with them we’ll be working with grassroots venues to try to look into changing licensing laws.

If we can change licensing laws so that this type of training becomes mandatory, for example, that would be a really, really big, big step.

If that happens, venues all across the UK would need to start looking at how they treat these kind of problems. This would also relieve small music venues that are already struggling. It’s very important that they can get this type of training, without losing all their money.

We’re working with Galop, which is an anti-sexual violence organisation for LGBT+ people.

We’re looking at broadening our campaign where we focus on women to also include LGBT+ people in better ways. It’s always important to gain that knowledge from other organisations.

Attitude is Everything is for deaf & disabled people within music.

So again, grabbing their knowledge & working with them to set up workshops.

Boiler Room TV are much more of a media partner who are aiming to get us to a bigger audience.

& in Birmingham, we teamed up with the Rape Crisis Centre to work with vulnerable women there.

πŸ’– How could someone get involved with the campaign if they wanted to? Or where can they find you?

We have got a website, Or they can send us an email. At the moment we’re changing the website. But yeah, definitely get in touch with us.

We are always looking for new trainers. But we are also looking for volunteers or people that just want to create awareness.

We’ve have loads of resources that can be downloaded, that you can spread around & print off. You can also go campaigning within your own scene, or your own community.

& if you feel like there are venues that you go to that can use this type of training, or can use some advice, then definitely let us know. We’ll get in touch with them, or they can get in touch with us, & we can work together to create safe spaces.

πŸ’– Is there anything else you want to add? Any other questions that I haven’t asked?

What we noticed is that after the #metoo campaign, we got so much interest.

I would like to encourage people just to do something about it … if you feel like you can put on a show or fundraise or anything like that … don’t be scared that you don’t have the knowledge or the expertise.

We as a community, as a scene, can be doing different small things & by doing these small things, we can actually take a stand that this is a problem that we all want to see disappear.

Don’t be afraid to call out a venue or try to have a conversation with them.

Ester wanted to flag some additional organisations that may be useful:

Rape Crisis – National Sexual Violence Helpline 

The Havens – 24/7 hospital for survivors of a recent rape or sexual violence

Safe Gigs for Women – creating a safer environment for women at gigs

Girls Against – a campaign fighting against sexual harassment and sexual assault in the live music community

As well as some badass venues who are nailing it:

Corsica Studios – Elephant and Castle 

Village Underground – Shoreditch

The Victoria – Dalston


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