Location, libation and leisure: An examination of the use of licensed venues to help challenge sexual violence
Anti-rape campaign messages have increasingly targeted men in order to educate them on the law of (sexual) consent. The 18–24 age demographic are at increased risk of experiencing sex offences, with over half of these crimes involving alcohol consumption.
The interactions which culminate in alcohol-involved rape often commence in night-time venues, making intuitive sense for prevention campaigns to be based within licensed establishments. The Night Time Economy, however, comprises venues where people go to consume alcohol, have fun, take ‘time out’ and which are characterised and criticised for their promotion of sexism.
This article therefore asks: how useful are licensed spaces in promoting rape prevention discourses amongst young men?
To this end, the article analyses 41 students’ discussions (across six focus groups) regarding a rape prevention campaign that ran in one English city and that directed its prevention advice at males.
In doing so, the researchers argue that environments which incite narratives of loss of control and hypersexuality compromise the ability to counter sexual offending. The researchers also argue that the presence of sexually violent advertising within licenced spaces undermines considerably the call to end gendered violence.
The campaign under consideration in this article made a strategic effort to target its rape prevention advice at men, an important departure from the focus of many previous campaigns. Discussions of how men perceive rape prevention, with a specific focus on the ways in which the Night-Time Economy (NTE) interacts with the communication of those messages, are absent from the literature. Indeed, current focus group participants saw value in having prevention discourses based in bars and clubs in Liverpool, suggesting that such campaigns were well targeted in light of licensed venues being spaces where people meet, use alcohol and potentially end up having sex. However, in practice, few participants were aware of the campaign, despite it being widely promoted. The researchers have argued that this may be the consequence of alcohol impacting on engagement with the campaign’s messages and it being rendered invisible against the sexualised images and entertainment that comprise nightlife (Home Office, 2008; Measham and Østergaard, 2009). Other explanations include participants’ desires to have fun when on a night out and to make determined efforts to disengage from the discourses of risk and surveillance that underpin the day (Measham, 2002, 2004).
Whilst multiple participants were not aware of the current campaign, the researchers still contend that bar and club spaces remain important venues for housing rape prevention discourses, due to the aforementioned; they are environments that capture the intended target audience. That is, young people aged 18 to 24 who are looking to have sex, a proportion of whom have been identified as lacking knowledge of the legal position on sexual consent (Abbey et al., 2004; Beres, 2007; Felts et al., 2012). In addition, a range of regulatory and safety responses currently operate within the various realms of the NTE (see Hadfield, 2015; Hubbard and Colosi, 2015; Transport for London, n.d).
Therefore, continuing to promote rape prevention within NTE environments feeds into a process whereby safety discourses are reinforced across different, yet complementary, night-time contexts. This contributes towards a multi-pronged approach to NTE crime reduction which better sets the foundation for reiterating, and eventually having heard, those crime prevention messages (Flood, 2011; Murphy, 2009).
The most compelling explanation for participants’ failures to notice the campaign was its perceived invisibility against sexualised alcohol advertising and more explicitly violent advertising that links alcohol and intoxication with sexual offending. The latter form of advertising, the researchers argue, undermines any competing rape prevention message.
The researchers would therefore like to see such advertising regulated to enable rape prevention work to be more visible, as well as to counter the role it plays in normalising sexual violence (NUS, 2013). Whilst the impacts of the Mandatory Licensing Condition of prohibiting ‘irresponsible promotions’ are yet to be seen, as we note, there is reason to assume it will not be interpreted broadly enough to include within the remit of ‘irresponsible’, marketing that condones, encourages or links sexual violence with alcohol (Poppleston, 2014).
The researchers therefore recommend the development of a further Mandatory Licensing Condition that explicitly prohibits venue marketing from promoting or alluding to sexual violence. As argued, such advertising feeds into a climate that constrains nights out and helps to normalise unwanted sexual touching within licensed spaces (Christmas and Seymour, 2014). It undermines the call to challenge sexual offending, produces a tension between venues simultaneously endorsing and condoning sexual violence and distracts attention away from rape prevention messages initially.
The researchers acknowledge that this move does not eradicate the reality that many participants may not have noticed the campaign because they were too intoxicated or too focused on the pursuit of escape and transgression (Hayward and Hobbs, 2007; Measham and Brain, 2005). Here, the researchers point to participants’ recognition that licensed venues are not homogenous and that certain bar environments may be more conducive to promoting the campaign. Such venues were understood to be spaces where friends went and could talk, as opposed to being environments where a hedonistic ‘night out’ was sought. These may be night-time environments that individuals enter having consumed less alcohol at home initially (Hughes et al., 2008), thus young people may be less intoxicated and better able to attend to/debate prevention messages within them. The call for recognition of ‘better’ bar and club spaces to promote rape prevention does not override the need to continue to identify non-NTE environments which could also be used to promote rape prevention messages, or which may be suited to promoting them in parallel with NTE venues.
These arguments emphasise the need for further research to recognise the diversity of the NTE and the different purposes for which people go out in the evenings, even in a time when the sanitisation of the NTE is reported to have occurred. Such work may better identify the pub and club venues that are most conducive to promoting rape prevention discourses, with such venues leading on the promotion of gendered crime prevention.
This work was supported by Liverpool City Council and Liverpool John Moores University.