British Columbia

Women's safety on the Granville strip — what CBC saw on a night out

The Granville Strip is supposed to be a spot to have fun — but is it safe for women?

'I think a lot of the behaviours down here are quite masculine and quite alcohol-fuelled'

This week, Good Night Out Vancouver launched a safety team to make Vancouver's bar scene safer. It's the group's latest anti-harassment campaign to stop behaviours that lead to sexual harassment. (David Horemans/CBC)

A night on the town is supposed to be a time to let loose with friends and wind down after a stressful week.

The Granville Strip in downtown Vancouver might seem like a perfect place to do just that, with a concentration of bars and clubs conveniently located within blocks of each other.

But the nightlife hotspot also has a dark side, as streets crowded with intoxicated people can make certain groups of people vulnerable.

On Saturday night, CBC reporter David Horemans joined Good Night Out Vancouver's newly-minted Nightlife Street Team, a volunteer group that watches out for people leaving bars in the entertainment district.

It didn't turn out to be the assignment Horemans expected.

A man whistled and jeered at the camera behind the organizer. (David Horemans/CBC)

"I expected it to be a bit crazy. I know it's a very intense kind of neigbourhood," said Horemans, who has reported from Sri Lanka and the Middle East.

"But it was completely and utterly worse."

Horemans said he expected to see groups of intoxicated friends spilling out onto the streets. But he was surprised to see some people who seemed completely isolated.

"As the night went on, I kind of saw a lot of people that were on their own," he said.

"As we went along on the patrol, we found this young gentleman, just literally passed out on a bench, head on his knees, and no one was paying attention to him."

At several points in the night, young men came up behind the people behind interviewed, making gestures or jeering at the camera.

"I think a lot of the behaviours down here are quite masculine and quite alcohol fuelled, and those can make people feel unsafe for a variety of reasons," said organizer Stacey Forrester, who continued to answer interview questions despite frequent interruptions.

The CBC was speaking with three partygoers when they were approached by a man who demanded to know why they were speaking on camera. (David Horemans/CBC)

At one point, while Horemans interviewed three women, a man approached from the left hand side and began speaking to them, asking that they come home with him.

"He was very very persistent, and as I'm reaching with my left hand, because I need both hands on the camera, I realize he's in my pocket. We had to stop the interview and move it closer to the police," said Horemans, who asked the man to leave several times.

"Between all of us, we've all been harassed," said one of the women after the man left.

"The stats [for assault on women] are very, very high. And that's why women's safety is really a big issue."

A young woman talks on a phone outside a Granville Street bar in Vancouver's entertainment district. (David Horemans/CBC)

Many women interviewed described the precautions they take when going out with friends — some had code words they would text if they were in trouble, and buddy systems to keep track of their group throughout the night.

But many women also described the difficulties they had getting home.

"They said their biggest fear wasn't the strip, that they could manage it. They said their biggest fear was getting home at night with few cabs and no transit," said Horemans.

"That part of the night, three o'clock in the morning when you're leaving, that's the most dangerous."

Horemans said that at some points in the night he found himself worried for his own safety.

"As I was shooting something with my still camera, a woman came up behind me and tried to grab my large camera off my shoulders and run. This was not normal behaviour that I've ever encountered as a camera person."

"If somebody's willing to try and rob me, and I'm sober. I'm at work. I'm a camera person, who is strong, alert and trained — I can't imagine what could happen to someone who is vulnerable and alone."

A member of the Good Night Out checks in on man on a bench near Caprice along Granville Street in Vancouver's Entertainment District. (David Horemans/CBC)

With files from David Horemans