It took one sinister event for 21-year-old Alice* to decide she would never go clubbing in Canberra again.
On a typical Saturday night out with friends after lockdown, Alice and a friend were allegedly attacked while alone in the club’s bathroom by a man they say they didn’t know.
Alice alleges a man entered the female toilets and began swearing at them. When she confronted him, she says he grabbed her by the neck, strangling her, before he threw her into a stall.
“He kicked my face while I was on the ground and I literally thought to myself, ‘this is it, I’m going to die’,” Alice said.
Another young woman then entered the bathroom and called security before the alleged offender was thrown out of the club.
The two young women then left to get some fresh air. When they tried to re-enter the venue, they asked the bouncer whether the man had been arrested or taken away by police.
They allege the bouncer denied them entry and laughed at them.
Alice and her friend said they then went to the police. They claim they were turned away after being told, “we know how it would look if we got the wrong person”.
In the days following, Alice attended a police station to file a report but was told her friend would also need to provide evidence.
Alice didn’t want to put her friend through a potentially lengthy legal process.
Alice is well aware of the challenges of being a young woman and going out clubbing. She’s had her drinks spiked, as have many of her friends.
But this was the last straw.
Alice believes clubs and nightlife venues need to take more responsibility for what goes on within their walls.
Too often, she says young women and men who have been spiked or even just had too much to drink are simply kicked out of the venue to avoid any trouble.
“They have a duty of care towards us,” she said. “In this situation, I honestly believe that the bouncer should have gone out with the man and spoken to police for them to deal with it.
“I cannot fathom how they kicked him out and just left him to wander around.”
Alice is also sick of the rhetoric around it being a woman’s responsibility to keep themselves safe on a night out.
A spokesperson for ACT Policing said they were aware of the alleged incident.
“ACT Policing have run – and will run in the future – campaigns to promote appropriate behaviour in licenced premises,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the ACT Policing’s Territory Targeting Team regularly engages with licensees and security staff to combat anti-social and criminal behaviour.
However, “the safety and security of patrons within licenced premises is primarily the responsibility of the licensee and their staff”.
“Where incidents occur, victims or witnesses should approach venue staff first and, if required, victims can ask for police attendance,” the spokesperson said.
ACT Greens spokesperson for the night-time economy Johnathan Davis said it was saddening to hear about these sorts of alleged “attacks in nightclubs, usually perpetrated by men against women”.
“Clubs can be spaces that provide a sense of community and belonging if they are safe for their patrons. Venue owners need to take greater measures to care for patrons and ensure a zero-tolerance policy towards predatory behaviour.”
Around the world, there are several initiatives aimed at keeping women safe on a night out, some of which have been rolled out in Canberra.
The Ask for Angela campaign – where women could ask the bar staff for the fictional ‘Angela’ as a safe word if they needed help or felt uncomfortable – was highly publicised some years ago.
In 2017, then-Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay launched the ‘Take Care – Safe Space’ in Canberra’s CBD campaign. The program set up a ‘safe space’ with chairs for people to go and rest – similar to what harm minimisation organisation Red Frogs does these days.
*Name has been changed.
If you’ve had a bad experience at a Canberra nightclub, or have an idea about what could be done to improve their safety, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.