Content Warning: This article mentions gender-based violence, sexual assault, and police.
There is no shortage of nightlife in Vancouver, with the Granville Entertainment District hosting thousands of patrons every weekend since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions this past spring. Encompassing restaurants, bars, nightclubs, comedy shows, and the arts scene, Vancouver nightlife offers a wide range of activities for folks to enjoy. However, increasing concerns about nightlife safety have been raised by both service providers and patrons alike.
Many have directly witnessed or experienced rampant gender-based violence within the nightlife industry, which often takes the form of sexual harassment and assault against self-identified women, non-binary, and trans folks. The prevalence of such violence has resulted in frequent calls for improved safety measures within nightlife establishments, especially, in light of the recent mass attacks on Granville Street.
Community Safety: An Afterthought Rather Than a Priority
According to Stacey Forrester, co-founder of Goodnight Out Vancouver, the lack of available safety resources can be attributed to the culture of permissibility that is embedded so deeply within the nightlife scene. The notion that strict rules ruin the vibe paired with belief that violence is an inherent aspect of the nightlife atmosphere normalizes the sexual aggression many patrons and service providers in the industry experience.
Troublingly, many venue hosts are complicit in this culture. Establishments are often reluctant to acknowledge the violence that occurs within their walls, typically labeling each instance of abuse as an isolated incident rather than an ongoing pattern. This allows the venues to evade accountability for deficiencies in their safety protocols.
Without a sense of collective responsibility on behalf of the nightlife industry, many women and marginalized folks are simply told to be more vigilant of their safety on nights out. As Dalya Israel, Executive Director at WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre notes in an article by the Vancouver Sun, this view is flawed as it diverts attention away from the root causes of violence. This perspective can be a form of victim blaming, a harmful practice rooted in sexist assumptions about who nightlife is catered towards and why. Victim blaming happens when folks are blamed for the violence they experience, absolving the perpetrators of violence (whether it be individuals or systems) of accountability.
Clearly, this individualized and harmful approach to nightlife safety has not worked. According to a statement released by the VPD, there has been a significant rise in sexual assault reports since COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, particularly, within the Granville Entertainment District. In July of 2021 alone, 16 cases were reported in the city, but those are just the reported cases. Many survivors stay silent or choose to pursue justice outside of the policing system due to the routine mishandling of sexual assault cases. Therefore, it can be presumed that the number of assault cases is, in fact, much higher.
Furthermore, since many support organizations are closed at night and the ones that are open are often at capacity, many nightlife patrons and service providers struggle to access critical harm reduction resources. This issue of accessibility is worsened by the lack of available transit and cabs during late night hours. Taken together, these safety concerns reveal the dire need for substantive change within the nightlife industry.
Goodnight Out Vancouver: A community initiative aimed at making the entertainment scene safer
Goodnight Out Vancouver is a local non-profit organization dedicated to ending harassment within the nightlife industry and creating “safer nights out for all”. In addition to creating informative educational resources and engaging in community advocacy, Goodnight Out Vancouver provides critical safety resources to folks on nights out through the Granville Street Team.
These resources include “water, juice, snacks, harm reduction materials, sexual assault information and resources, naloxone, and portable phone chargers” (Bollwitt). In doing so, Goodnight Out Vancouver offers a safe space for patrons and service providers alike to disclose any violence they may have experienced throughout the night.
In addition, as Stacey Forrester states in an interview with CiTR Discorder, Goodnight Out Vancouver uses an equity lens to identify key issues related to community safety (many of which entertainment venues may not otherwise recognize).
Through this lens they determine practical steps that establishments can take to better protect their workers and customers. Following such guidelines will ensure that both patrons and employees are comfortable and able to enjoy their night without constantly being on guard.
The Future of the Nightlife Industry
As we continue to work towards making nightlife more accessible for women and marginalized folks, an emphasis on safe spaces is crucial.
We urge the city of Vancouver to take concrete steps in ensuring nightlife safety for both patrons and service providers. This can look like an increase in funding to community-based safety organizations such as Goodnight Out Vancouver, working directly with entertainment venues to implement more stringent safety procedures, and increasing the frequency and availability of public transportation at night.
Further, each of these initiatives must involve meaningful consultation with the most vulnerable stakeholders. Then, nightlife can finally be transformed into what Stacey Forrester identifies in her 2018 research article as “safe, sustainable, and democratized sites of entertainment, connection, and true culture change”.
This article was written by Women Transforming Cities volunteer, Alexa Traboulay.
“About.” Good Night Out Vancouver, https://www.goodnightoutvancouver.com/aboutgno.
“About Us.” WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, 29 Sept. 2022, https://www.wavaw.ca/about-us/.
Bollwitt, Rebecca. “Good Night out Vancouver's Granville Street Team Returns.” Vancouver Blog Miss604, 7 July 2021, https://miss604.com/2021/07/good-night-out-vancouver-granville-street-team-returns.html.
Forrester, Stacey. “The City After Dark: A European Approach to Nightlife.” VIURR Space, 2018, https://viurrspace.ca/bitstream/handle/10613/23123/Forrester.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
Kotyk, Alyse. “Man Charged after Machete Attacks on Vancouver's Granville Street.” British Columbia, CTV News, 8 Aug. 2022, https://bc.ctvnews.ca/man-charged-after-machete-attacks-on-vancouver-s-granville-street-1.6018339.
Power, Zoe. “Good Night out Vancouver.” CiTR, https://www.citr.ca/discorder/october-2017/good-night-out-vancouver/.
Ryan, Denise. “Sexual Assault Reports on the Rise in Vancouver, Say Police.” Vancouver Sun, 11 Aug. 2021, https://vancouversun.com/news/crime/sexual-assault-reports-on-the-rise-in-vancouver-police.
“The Good Night out Program Aims to Prevent Sexual Violence | All Points West.” CBC News, 1 Sept. 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-93-all-points-west/clip/15934285-the-good-night-out-program-aims-prevent-sexual.