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Bristol’s biggest battle: SEVs should they stay or should they go?

Bristol City Council Offices. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, Bristol City Council debated approving a new policy that would reduce the city’s two adult sexual entertainment venues (SEV) to zero. Multiple online sources define SEVs as ‘any premises at which a live display of nudity or live performance which is intended to stimulate sexual activity is provided before a live audience for the financial gain of the organiser or entertainer.’ 2021 wasn’t the first time Bristol’s relationship with this type of venue had come into question.

In 2018, Avon and Somerset’s police and crime commissioner, Sue Mountstevens joined Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire in opposing the relicensing of Central Chambers and Urban Tiger. Mountstevens and Debbonaire weren’t and aren’t alone in their dislike of SEVs. Three years later as public consultation is underway, the Bristol Women’s Commission are resolutely in favour of banning these types of venues.

An ITV online article, described this debate as between “those fighting for female empowerment, while on the opposing side are those battling for gender equality. The Bristol Women’s Commission believe these venues perpetuate and profit from “harmful sexist attitudes…and sadly do, lead to violence against women.”

Bristol’s Liberal Democrats took to their blog to tear down the justification that SEVs hinder women’s safety, instead of deeming that these ideals contribute to the objectification of women.

Amélie, an Urban Tiger employee was quoted in the blog saying “As a woman, I feel way safer working in a strip club, walking around in my underwear, than I do going out to a regular club fully dressed.

“Punishing and blaming women for men’s behaviour is dangerous and is simply victim-blaming…I do not believe a nil-cap on SEVs will solve any issues regarding VAWG or women being objectified.” Councillor Dr Caroline Gooch said, “…Evidence from the Avon and Somerset police illustrates that more sexual assaults occur in the main clubs in the city centre than in the SEVs. Therefore, in terms of sexual assaults, the main clubs are a considerably higher concern.”

In the last few months, concerns over sexual assault and spiking within the city’s main clubs have risen. Across social media and local media outlets, articles and examples have been made of spiking victims and perpetrators. Articles such as Bristol post’s article ‘Bristol teen recalls ‘gurning and foaming at the mouth’ after horror spiking incident’ illustrates this.

Furthermore, publications such as The Evening Standard, Bristol 24/7, The Independent, The Tab and The Times covered spiking cases throughout Bristol.

In response, venues like The Louisiana and Kingstreet Brewhouse joined the Bristol Nights ‘Bristol Rules’ initiative to combat toxic attitudes to drinking and spiking. Bristol Rules is a collaboration between the city’s council, universities and venues aiming to advise and support those venturing out to enjoy the “nighttime economy” (Bristol 24/7, 2021).

The project operates a six rule system – posters and 3D signage are visible throughout the city’s venues and popular drinking spots. Its rules include, ‘Out together, home together’, ‘Call it out’, ‘Don’t be a creep’, ‘Respect everyone’, ‘Keep away from the edge and ‘Take it easy’.

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Being ‘streetwise’: footwear thoughts

Trainers on a wooden floor. Image credit: Pixabay

When getting dressed, I habitually think about my potential safety. Glancing in the mirror, ticking criteria off my mental checklist, all in the hopes I’ll get through the day unscathed and unbothered. 

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my footwear. Can I run in these? Are they grippy? Can I get from home to B and back again? But, Sarah Everard was wearing running shoes in broad daylight and Wayne Couzens still murdered her. So what’re we to do, when the things we’re told will keep us safe don’t work? Doesn’t that suggest the narrative’s floored?

Public discourse has codified a safe existence for women, making it conditional and the responsibility placed solely at our feet. Our appearance constitutes large clauses of this code. Don’t wear anything short, don’t smile too much, don’t do this or that or this. Like others, I’ve been led to believe appeasing this criterion will keep me out of harm’s way. 

Sarah’s not alone. Women around the world are disappearing, dying and being harassed when running, walking, clubbing and trying to exist. Research by UN Women UK found that as of 2021, 97% of women have been sexually harassed. With 96% choosing to not report these instances because of beliefs that little would change.

Commonly, these incidences are met with the response that we as women should alter our behaviours, routines and lives to evade harm. We do need to contemplate personal safety, but when people actively endanger our lives the problem is not with us. 

Social media platforms and news organisations assist in the dissemination of this rhetoric. This year, as ‘needle spiking’ hit the headlines, Durham University coined the hashtag ‘don’t get spiked’. This was met by widespread media outrage, but they have not always been so quick to defend victims of spiking and sexual violence. In 2016, a Sun tweet reading “woman drank six jagerbombs in ten minutes on the night she was raped and murdered” sparked a media frenzy. 

Huffington Post responded with an article titled, “A Woman Was Raped and Murdered. Why Is Her Drink Count Relevant? The piece concludes that The Sun was not only complicit in victim-blaming, but reinforced the notion of excusable rape upon the involvement of alcohol. Corrine Barraclough, a Daily Telegraph columnist hit back, arguing that “Attempting to perpetuate the “right to get drunk” is an alarming feminist fantasy.”

She continued to explain, “If you can’t guarantee your behaviour – or protect yourself when blotto – how can you have a right to get drunk?”  Corrine, we’re trying to keep ourselves safe when we’re sober too and that’s not working? Rightly, she highlights that as a society, we have an unhealthy relationship with drinking. However,  she fails to consider that external threats shouldn’t mean we have to remove ourselves from environments and activities that make us happy.

Sarah’s death single-handedly undermines Corrine’s closing statement, “Step off ‘Feminist Fantasy Island’, get streetwise, and start empowering women to make educated choices.” She was streetwise, she made all the ‘educated choices’, yet Couzens still decided to murder her.