Reclaiming the Night

CW: Sexual assault, rape

To conclude the November ‘Reclaim’ campaign, Emilia Andrews reminds us that the night is ours.

Going out forms a large part of the conventional university experience, and with good reason. It’s fun to get ready with your friends, to share excited expectations during pre-drinks of what will become of the night – and who doesn’t love a boogie to Mr. Brightside?

While all of this is fun, going out at night as a woman is loaded with potential dangers, leaving many women feeling vulnerable and unsafe. This is not least because of the predatory nature of club culture. Much of the clubbing experience is not centered around an appreciation of dancing and music; a lot of it is to do with ‘pulling’, and many women feeling the pressure of having to prove their self-worth by getting with somebody. While women are usually able to choose who they ‘get off’ with, it is incredibly common for a woman to experience behaviour which makes her feel uncomfortable; nearly every woman who has been clubbing will have experienced a man grinding behind her without her consent. In a clubbing environment, where hundreds of people are packed in together, it is easy to get away with such behaviour, despite how outrageous and invasive it would appear in the cold light of day.

All too often, cases of sexual assault are justified by claims that through dressing a certain way, women are calling out for sexual attention. Women are socialised into believing that the way they display their bodies is an integral part of what makes up their worth. Too many clothes? Prude. Too few clothes? Slut. She’s asking for it. The problem is not what a woman is wearing, but the connotations, prejudices, and expectations upheld by those who see what she is wearing. A woman’s outfit should never, ever be taken as consent. Still, victim blaming occurs, with claims that women can prevent or reduce the risk of sexual assault by not dressing ‘suggestively’ or by not being drunk.

Unfortunately, this practice of pursuing a woman without her consent does not end in the club. If a woman chooses to go home with a man, this does not act as a substitute for receiving her clear consent. One of the problems with the way in which consent is taught is that it is often over-simplified into a case of yes or no. While the lesson that ‘anything less than a yes is a no’ is entirely true and important to remember, simplifying consent to this little mantra disregards all of the different factors which may come into play, alcohol consumption being one of these factors. At times when somebody is too drunk or unconscious to give consent, even without an explicit ‘no’, consent cannot be assumed just because they have gone home with somebody.

suni reclaim 2

If a woman does overtly express that she wants somebody to stop, it doesn’t matter at which point this resistance is expressed: sex and sexual acts performed without ongoing consent is a crime. By removing a woman’s right to assert her ownership over her body, that person becomes part of the reason why so many women feel unsafe at night

Numerous cases of reported drink-spiking and rape happening at universities across the country, Bristol included, prove that women are not yet safe to go out into the night and enjoy themselves. The need for Hannah Price’s Snapchat campaign #RevoltAgainstSexualAssault, which addressed the issue of sexual assault at the University of Bristol, and events such as the Reclaim the Night march, prove that this is a major issue at our university. This is not normal or to be tolerated. Women should be free to go out and have fun without fear, and to feel that they can trust whoever they go home with to respect their wishes and not take advantage.

The night is ours. Let’s reclaim it.

Placard pictured by Suni Urquhart.

This article was written in response to the ‘Reclaim the Night’ theme, as part of the Reclaim campaign organised by the Bristol SU Women’s Network. To find out more about the events that took place as part of Reclaim, click here.


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