To begin with, it was your standard Thursday night in Oxford. After a chaotic sports social, my friends and I stumbled excitedly down to Bridge where we danced the evening away, giggling at the frenzied scene before us. Everything was just as it should be; that is, until I was suddenly apprehended by one of the bouncers. Out of nowhere, he began to shout at me and accuse me of taking drugs, informing me that I must leave. Given that I knew he was lying, I initially resisted and tired to plead my case; this only drove him to grab my arm and forcefully take me outside where he proceeded to empty the contents of my bag. Throughout, I constantly repeated the same thing: that I hadn’t done anything wrong and so could I please go back inside and join my friends. If any of the bouncers had a shred of concern for my safety they would have listened. Clearly they did not. Despite not finding any drugs, and having no concrete reason for doing so, they demanded that I leave immediately. Not only did they prevent me from going inside to get my coat, but they even denied my request to find a friend to leave with me, despite my rather lengthy explanation about the dangers of walking alone to my house in Cowley. I was simply turned away without a second thought.
Thankfully, I managed to get back safely, but this was pure luck. My phone was out of charge, it was 2am and I was facing a 45 minute journey home alone. In the current climate, where discussions around women’s safety are finally getting the awareness they deserve, you would think the bouncers would have prioritised my wellbeing over their need for a power trip. You would think that they would have asked for my consent before physically manhandling me and searching through my personal belongings.
Perhaps, if this were some random, isolated incident, one could argue it was all a simple misunderstanding. However, when explaining what happened to my friends, I was met with a chorus of voices relating to my experience. All around me were young people who had been placed in vulnerable positions that could have easily been avoided. Some had fallen victim to the ‘drugs’ accusation, and were kicked out after none were found, while others were forced to wait alone on the street for taxis, despite pleading with the bouncers to wait inside. These seemingly small decisions can have devastating impacts. Of course, when students are too drunk to enter, clubs have every right to deny them entry; but even in such cases, those in charge must still ensure they are not placing students in unreasonably dangerous situations.
A few weeks ago when my friend was turned away, they failed to check if she had someone to leave with. On the journey home, which she has no memory of, not only did she lose her phone, passport and shoes, but she then had to be escorted home by the police. The point is not that she shouldn’t have been kicked out; the point is that she shouldn’t have been kicked out alone.
Clubs need to do better. As a student, you place your trust in these institutions to create a safe environment which you can enjoy. Last night, the bouncers violated my personal space and privacy; two male strangers used physical force to drag me outside, placing me in a highly vulnerable position. 4 out of 5 women feel unsafe walking home at night. Throwing people out onto the streets for no apparent reason is more than ridiculous. It’s dangerous.
It is time for clubs to change their policies and attitudes. These examples are part of a much wider issue endemic within the nightlife industry. Club managers and bouncers simply do not care about the wellbeing of those who dance away inside their venues. They don’t care about spiking; plastic lids on cups are still nowhere to be found. They don’t care about groping; at the very best men are simply asked to leave, with no formal action ever taken. There exists an attitude of indifference, verging on hostility, lying beneath a shiny exterior. While they promise a night of fun and revelry, they do nothing to prevent it from turning sour. Nightclubs need to actively challenge that which corrupts the liberating and joyous experience they can provide. Because in a city like Oxford where the vast majority of those clubbing are students, and where so many of us still feel unsafe, the need for change is not just pressing; it is urgent.
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