We Are Watching Out For You
Where You At (WYA) is a new and free app launching in December that addresses safety in clubs. WYA is the brainchild of University of Oxford students Olivia Leigh and Tamzin Lent, two women tired of feeling intimidated and vulnerable on a night out - or just about any time at all.
Things don’t appear to have changed much even in the #metoo era.
On conducting a survey, Leigh and Lent were shocked, albeit not surprised, to discover that their own feelings of vulnerability in supposedly safe environments were overwhelmingly commonplace. A staggering 51% of 18-24 year old UK females experience sexual harassment on most or every ‘night-out’ (Drinaware, 2015). WYA (@whereyouatwya) have partnered with Save Night Life (@savenightlife) on Instagram to produce a resource that collects incidents and experiences of spiking. This creates a safe space for people to have their experiences recognised with nil evidence of the occurrence.
Young people frequently rely non instant communication to stay safe and confident. However, lack of signal and large volume capacity often make night-time venues an unsafe purgatory. The recent media focus on club goer vulnerability, such as the spiking by injection epidemic, has resulted in demands for more proactive safety. At present, venues have no well-recognised way to deter the sexually-motivated criminal. The ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme is not widely used and does not involve a tracking system. The majority of club goers would prefer to alert their friends in the case of an incident, rather than the venue. Police reports of such incidents are low as there is a difficulty in getting young people to report incidents, never mind an intoxicated clubber trying to persuade hard-pressed coppers on a late Saturday shift that, no, I don’t actually have witnesses, does not mean that a crime has been, is being and is about to be committed.
WYA tackles all of these barriers.
WYA harnesses the power of simple mobile tech to create closed-circuit groups - whether that’s best friends or university societies - to aid the group in staying in close and safe contact across saturated clubs and crowded festivals. In the WYA survey, 98% anxiously looked for friends on a night out. Leigh comments ‘After years of feeling vulnerable and anxious in clubs when constantly losing our friends, we decided to create a safety solution which uses indoor mapping, works without telco signal, and allows us to SOS friends we trust’. Sound a bit like a battlefield comms link for a squad out on patrol in hostile terrain? We hope not! But WYA is an app that is done with people feeling like hostages. The app is utilising the technology to help us do what we’ve always done for each other: look out. Now, we are telling predators: we’re watching out.
The predominant issue with club safety is that there is often no mobile signal in the venue due to physical constraints or overloaded bandwidth. WYA combats this, offering a WYA button Bluetooth solution whereby club-goers can track their friends, without mobile signal, to their exact location. This is done through the use of strategically positioned beacons installed by the WYA team at the venues, transmitting a blueprint to the app user’s phone. Alongside this precise indoor mapping, there is an SOS alert function, allowing users to contact their trusted circle via Bluetooth and send an alert with their exact location. Not only is this fantastic for club-goers, it is also beneficial to the venues themselves. Through the venue being associated with WYA, 98% of students in our survey said they would be more likely to: buy more drinks, stay for longer, and be more likely to revisit.
So far, WYA has seen much success. The app claimed the Downing Enterprise prize for ‘outstanding Pitch’ and has signed a formal Partnership agreement with the night-time industries trade body NTIA. This is a testament to the app’s potential future engagement. Currently, the app has a sub-system called WYA Writes, a community of all-female writers with the freedom to write about all things safety and club related.
WYA’s launch is much anticipated and should cause excitement. This is the first app of its nature, valuing safety, solving the issue of poor signal, and bringing together venues to aid in reform. It’s launch in December will revolutionise night-life experience, making it a much safer one.
Girls Are Scared
The past week has unearthed the rising and ever-frightening risk of being drugged to the media. The concept of losing your physical (and potentially mental) capacities involuntarily through someone lacing your drink is uncomfortable. But this is worse. We are taught to cover our drinks, never leave them unattended, always watch the bartender pour it. But what happens when lacing turns into injecting? What happens when we can’t cover all of our skin? What happens then? Girls are scared.
So far, cases of spiking via injections in Nottingham, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Liverpool are under investigation. These all occurred in night clubs. There is debate among professionals regarding the likelihood that these girls were actually injected with a substance, due to the fact that the needle would most likely have been painful on entry. However, the cases are being dealt with seriously, we are told. The girls all have very similar accounts of the night. The female victims all recall a scratching sensation on their skin at the point of the needle’s supposed entry. Then, blackout. The next thing they remember is waking up.
Girls are scared.
Students have rallied together in solidarity against this epidemic. Two girls from University of Edinburgh founded Girls Night In, a page that was initially created to incite traction around the issue of spiking and to encourage the sharing of related stories. Since the spiking this week, the page has accumulated 3.5K followers and provoked a nationwide University boycott of clubs. This is not in retaliation against clubs, but rather to rally clubs together to take the matter seriously, as well as the police. An example of a positive reaction is Bristol’s Lizard Lounge, who have vowed to put up signs about spiking, what to do if spiked, and the consequences of spiking, as well as considering buying drinks covers as a preventative measure. Tektu in Birmingham have been quick to order 1500 plastic cups with lids, too. Round of applause. Girls Night In, if adopted by enough Universities, will certainly have a lasting impact on clubs. University students are one of very few cohorts with the capacity and rigour to make such an impact in such a short time. When clubs see that students are capable of a national boycott, they will have no choice but to do better. When clubs realise that students have the determination to do it again if not listened to, they will have no choice but to do their best.
Circulating are suggestions to clubs on how to do just this. Bouncers and staff must have had training on how to help a victim of spiking. They must also be able to spot the signs of assault. Bouncers and staff must, at the forefront of their responsibilities, work to keep women safe. This means walking them to their friend or calling them a cab, not kicking them to the curb. Bouncers should, in every instance, remove the assaulter not the victim. Throwing the victim out puts them in a more vulnerable position. Bouncers should keep a record of any assaulter and report them to the correct channel for the offence. Ask Angela, or a venue’s tailored version, must be in all bathrooms. Preventative posters explaining the legal repercussions of spiking someone should be in all bathrooms. CCTV footage should be thoroughly screened on report of an assault. Bags and persons should be rigorously searched on entry to the club. All clubs should have a complaint form on their website with an option to report a spiking at the venue. Venue should increase staff on nights where spiking is unusually high. Sober Marshalls should be positioned throughout the club to help in the case of spiking or situations where spiking looks likely. This is not an exhaustive list. This is only what students have come up with this week.
The moral here is not a happy one. The moral is that we have to be more vigilant than ever. If you do go out, stay aware, look after your friends, and know the signs (below). In this same breath, I’d like to add that we should still all have fun. Such a heavy article can leave you feeling disheartened at all of the atrocious happenings, but as long as you have fun safely there is nothing stopping you! Don’t let the assaulters win. If Girls Night In appeals to you, and I hope it does, join them in their boycott in your city. If you have suggestions about what bouncers could be doing better, share them on your platform.
The more voices the better.
We are a community of writers looking to discuss issues surrounding nightclub safety, women's rights, and the opportunities for WYA.