How can we make Montreal nightlife safer?
Some Montreal bars and clubs are hiring or training special staff to prevent sexual harassment on dance floors
It's one of the first mild Friday nights of the year, and Julia Lopes and a friend are standing outside a venue on St-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal, ready to kick off the evening and celebrate the warm weather.
The two seem excited about the night ahead, but going to a Montreal nightclub as a young woman isn't always a pleasant experience, says Julia Lopes.
"There are so many times where groups of girls get harassed, and you really do feel like you're a piece of meat."
"Times when you just want to have fun with your girlfriends and not be seen as available just because there's no guy around," said Lopes.
A move to change nightlife
Lopes isn't alone in her experiences, and now, some Montreal clubs and bars are taking additional steps to prevent sexual harassment on the dance floor.
For the better part of a year, the Datcha bar and nightclub on Laurier avenue west has been hosting PLURI, a group with a mandate to reduce harassment on dance floors, several nights a week.
Datcha's Adam Wilcox says he's worked in bars for years, and wanted to take a proactive approach to safety for his patrons.
"You see a lot of things in the nightlife, and there's only so much you can do as a small business. [We] were looking for someone who would look out specifically for safety," said Wilcox.
How to keep a dance floor safe
Éliane Thivierge co-founded PLURI — which stands for Peace, Love, Unity, Respect Initiative — after a period of reflecting on their own experiences in Montreal nightlife.
When Thivierge and other PLURI staff are working at an event, they watch the dance floor with an eye out for behaviour that appears to be of a non-consensual nature.
"I might observe someone who is being a bit intrusive, or inviting themselves into someone else's space. I check out the other person's reaction, and see if they are reacting negatively [or] positively," said Thivierge.
If there's any doubt, Thivierge will approach the person on the receiving end of the action, and see if they are OK with the situation. If they say they are being bothered, Thivierge may create a distraction to get them to a safer space.
"It can be friendly, like 'Hey, do you want to go outside for a cigarette together?'' said Thivierge.
Then, if the situation warrants, Thivierge may speak to the person who was creating the discomfort, and explain why their behaviour was problematic.
"It's kind of awkward and counter-cultural to go to someone and say, 'Hey, I'm sure your intentions were good, but there's this one thing you did that made this person feel uncomfortable,'" said Thivierge.
Starting a conversation about consent
People's reactions vary when they are confronted with their behaviour, from patrons who will apologize, to those who deny what they have done and become angry, according to Thivierge.
If a situation escalates, the person may be asked to leave the bar. And Thivierge says there's no one profile when it comes to people who perpetuate sexual harassment.
"If I were working in the Village, I'd probably see men doing this to trans women, or men to other men. I've seen women do it to women," said Thivierge.
A welcome presence
So what do club-goers think of initiatives like PLURI? When questioned, many Datcha patrons weren't aware of Thivierge's presence, but said they appreciate the extra measures to enhance safety.
Elsewhere on the club strip, the initiative was met with similar approval. Jeremy Afrifa was out with a group of friends, and said he would welcome having PLURI at nightclubs he frequents.
"If I ever see something, I wouldn't be afraid to go and tell them to stop. If not, I'll go and see the bouncers and tell them something is wrong. So I wouldn't mind that," said Afrifa.
With more clubs and bars requesting that PLURI train their staff, and with PLURI present at events during Montreal's festival season, Thivierge hopes it's part of a growing interest in educating people about consent and safety in nightlife.
"How we think about it is that we open a window for dialogue that there's a boundary that's been crossed. We want to let [people] know — because often that's what rape culture is — that people don't let other people know that they are crossing their boundaries," said Thivierge.
Close up on Gender is a CBC Montreal series for radio, web and television. You'll hear from Montrealers who are sharing their stories, or thinking and acting differently when it comes to gender in 2019.
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