Breaking the silence on sexual harassment in bars

3rd November, 2015 by Melita Kiely

Rape culture is so heavily ingrained in society that it actively needs to be challenged – but is the industry ready to speak out on the issue?


The issue of sexual harassment in bars is an under-explored topic which desperately needs addressing

Picture a woman perching patiently by the bar waiting to order a round of cocktails for herself and her friends. A man appears next to her and offers to buy her a drink, which she respectfully declines. He pursues the proposal with words of flattery, all the while edging closer and invading her personal space until they are within touching distance, much to the woman’s obvious unease.

Despairingly, this recurrent scenario of verbal and physical harassment has become the norm, with victims’ claims far too frequently silenced by counter cries of “overreaction”. The severity of rape culture is grossly overlooked within society; the notion that it is acceptable to grab or grope another person and mask it as “banter” seems to have become widely accepted. But the reality is this type of behaviour still constitutes sexual assault.

Zero tolerance policies

“Sexual harassment is serious no matter what,” emphasises Kate Gerwin, general manager at HSL Hospitality and Bols Around the World 2014 champion. “Just like physical violence, sexual harassment is serious and we [need to] have a zero tolerance policy.”

Alcohol acts as a fuel to lower inhibitions, but can also be a trigger to forget sexual boundaries – but being inebriated cannot pardon such behaviour. Alcohol education charity Drinkaware recently recruited market research agency ICM to conduct a study into alcohol-fuelled sexual harassment among young adult students. The findings exposed that more than half of female students (54%) and one in seven male students (14%) had been on the receiving end of offensive sexual comments, abuse or inappropriate sexual touching on a night out in the last 12 months.

It’s a precarious situation that left 64% of respondents feeling “disgusted”, 54% feeling “angry” and 38% “afraid”. And yet, more than a third (34%) of those students said they did not feel confident their university would believe them if they reported the incident.

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