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‘You don’t win at this’: the ongoing battle against sexual harassment in Bristol’s nightlife

Money is being poured into providing venues with training and resources against the crime, but it’s just the start of a process of creating cultural change, explains the Trinity Centre’s Aysha Tailor-Whyte.

Photo: Aphra Evans

Edition 29

“I’m about to start processing some stuff that happened to me a long time ago, because I’m about to put myself back in that space where it happened,” says Aysha Tailor-Whyte, who coordinates live music and club nights at the Trinity Centre. “I didn’t realise until I visited the space again the effect it was going to have on me. And it happened 12 years ago.”

 “Like any other form of harassment, it’s always going to be there. All you can do is create a culture in your space and in the city to mitigate the risks of this happening.”

Aysha Tailor-Whyte

Aysha and I quickly find common ground in our experiences of sexual harassment on nights out. The difference is that for me, it’s just personal. 

Aysha, on the other hand, has to make the space where she works safe for people to enjoy themselves, a situation compounded by dark corners, huge crowds and intoxicants. She has put on nights where bad things happen, where she deals with the fallout and handles both survivors and perpetrators.

“It’s heartbreaking if you hear that something’s happened, if it’s at a gig and it’s my event,” she says.

Sexual harassment of all kinds is too common in these settings. But the imprint it leaves is rarely discussed: PTSD, anxiety, panic disorders, not wanting to leave the house, not wanting to put yourself in certain situations, and physical symptoms like headaches, muscle aches and heartburn.

Campaign posters by Bristol Nights

“Anyone who’s experienced sexual harassment, you see the effects of it but I don’t think it’s that shocking,” says Aysha. “You know them. You have them.” We both nod.

Bristol Nights campaign begins in earnest

Over March, Aysha was one of many people delivering training on tackling sexual harassment to 1,000 night-time economy workers, defined as those working between 6pm and 6am. The training campaign was coordinated by Bristol Nights, an initiative set up to support the city’s night-time economy, which began with anti-sexual harassment posters appearing around town and in venues late last year.

The funding for the campaign came from the government’s £5 million Safety of Women at Night Fund, which launched after several recent high-profile murders of women in the UK. Last November, the Home Office awarded Bristol City Council £282,000 to tackle crimes against women at night. Of this, £173,000 went towards preventing sexual harassment, including developing and delivering the training Aysha was involved in, and an awareness campaign aimed at supporting night-time venues to tackle the crime.

Prevention rather than cure

For Aysha, one of the less talked about solutions is diversifying. She describes live music as a very white, male industry. In that space, she says, there will be few people arguing for more action on sexual harassment or racism. And as a Black woman, Aysha is aware of how those two problems run deeper when they intersect: the latest ONS data shows Black and minoritised people are significantly more likely to be the target of sexual assault than white or Asian people.

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The Bristol Nights campaign may have begun in earnest, but Aysha sees this as very much the beginning of a shift in the conversation. It’s not that sexual harassment wasn’t discussed at Trinity before, but now it’s openly talked about, with the momentum of the campaign behind it and the crucial linking together of different venues to tackle one problem. “It’s about creating a safer city, ultimately, not just safer individual spaces,” she says.

She is excited to see the ripple effects of the campaign and the training a year down the line, but under no delusion about the limitations of them. “You don’t win at this,” she says flatly. “Like any other form of harassment, it’s always going to be there. All you can do is create a culture in your space and in the city to mitigate the risks of this happening.”

As Aysha well knows, there’s always the possibility that after something happens, the survivor will forever think of the venue where it happened – or all night-time venues – as unsafe.

“But if you’ve given someone resources, and said this is what we’re going to do, this is what you can do – that’s the level of support you can give after the fact,” she says. “Then they’re going to know you take it seriously and then maybe they won’t have that fear of coming back.”

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