Is asking for Angela the safest way of preventing sexual abuse in clubs?
Clubbing has and will always be a form of escapism not for the few, but the many. With this being said, sexual violence statistics have significantly risen in the last few years. So much so, that Hayley Child, sexual violence and abuse strategy coordinator from Lincolnshire Police felt an urgent sense of responsibility to create Ask for Angela in 2016. Following the success of trialling it in Lincoln, she joined forces with the Metropolitan Police to implement it in London, in hope of invoking change to the nightlife scene.
Initially, the scheme began with a simple poster being displayed on the back of women’s toilet cubicles. This was an attempt by the police to enforce safety by simply sharing the phrase, “Is Angela working tonight?”. Authorities encouraged local pubs to look into the concept, and with it being encouraged in small towns, responses were well-received. Child commented in an interview with the BBC, “We'd seen that a few individual pubs around the country had done similar messages at the bar saying that if people's dates weren't going well the bar staff would help and call them a cab.”
In 2018, Greater London Authority Conservatives revealed in the years 2016-2017, there were 7,610 cases of sexual assault against men in England and Wales, but 94% of offences were unreported. In the initial stages of creating the scheme, Child explained that her best friend Angela Crompton was her source of inspiration. Crompton passed away in 2012 after being struck with a hammer by her husband of three months. Child found the name “Angela“ fitting for the initiative.
Back in January, I logged into Instagram to begin a pointless hour of scrolling. 20 minutes into my session, I faced black background, with white, bold writing stating “Do you feel like you’re not in a safe situation? then go to the bar and ask for Angela, the bar staff will know you need help and will call you a taxi or help you out discreetly“. Instantly, I began to pose a series of queries as to why Angela has emerged, and why on Instagram.
In an attempt to gain clarity on the current social climate of entertainment, I reached out to Shaxx, a full-time nursery teacher by day and part-time DJ by night. “I think it’s a good concept and is doing what it set out to do – in terms of bringing awareness, but I do think the scheme was downplayed the first-time round. I’ve never encountered sexual violence in the clubs I’ve played at, but there have been times when I’ve witnessed guys inappropriately approaching and I’ve had to step in”. In response, I asked who needs to work on preventing this, to which she responded: “The music I play, in some form, could be encouraging provocative behaviour, but if someone came up to me, then I would most definitely assist without making it seem obvious to get them out. On the flip side, that’s me taking on more responsibilities than my role and I’ve been working at certain events where I’ve witnessed security behaving [in an] eerie [way]”. With that statement, I question how safe clubs are, if those paid to protect are to some extent enhancing the fear.
Mark was a teen boxer and became a security guard. With 15 successful years under his belt, I quizzed him on how club culture has changed.
“The scene remains the same, in my opinion. The problems I experienced in my early years are still present, but the procedures have tightened and rightly so.” Security company CSS posted an article in 2018 about Ask for Angela, highlighting how security guards should exercise their roles in response to the scheme. It explained and encouraged employees to “help, quickly and efficiently”. Mark has thought about the scheme from the perspective of a security guard. “It’s a good concept. However, it’s not as simple as one thinks. I’m hired out by an agency who give me guidelines and prep me for worst-case scenarios, but to an extent, I am powerless, because all I can do is break up situations or physically escort nuisances out. The moment someone seems off to me, I search them at the door to make sure that no physical weapons or substances are on them, but as they enter, all I can do is keep an eye out. I can’t search through someone’s mind.” Similarly, Shaxx says, “I don’t think there’s a way of avoiding this as a whole, we can only aid to prevent certain situations, but to abolish sexual abuse you’d have to reboot everyone’s mental state.”
In 2016, the Met announced that one rape a week is happening in London’s clubs and pubs. A year later, YouGov published a poll showcasing that almost three-quarters of young people have witnessed sexual harassment on a night out. Although Ask For Angela was created with the intention of combating sexual abuse and harassment in clubs, there is something to be said about the underlying issues within nightlife culture itself.
Mental health within the entertainment industry was discussed at length last year. “We are the heroes, we are not allowed to show signs of weakness” was a standout comment from a conversation on Twitter. Bar and club workers have spoken out on the strains of employer expectations not complimenting their pay – notwithstanding their mental well-being. When the scheme went live, there was no mention of the Met protecting nightlife workers. The imbalanced responsibilities given to the employers can be argued to be unjustified, but when it comes to preventing sexual abuse, could it be stated that everyone is accountable?
Laila, a well-versed wellbeing practitioner, shared her thoughts on the scheme. She stated that on a personal level the idea is great, and exudes hope. However, she questions how realistic it could ever be. “How can they assure that the possible victim will be safe in that cab journey? There are multiple implications to this campaign, but from a civil point of view, it is beneficial.” I noticed that both the Met and Child have failed to disclose the effectiveness of the imposed exit strategy. Although ordering and scheduling a getaway taxi for the vulnerable provides them with the comfort of leaving the situation, it doesn’t guarantee they will be safe once they leave the venue. It’s vital at this point to question how efficient is the scheme as a whole. The reoccurring opinion from all my interviewees was the argument of abuse stemming from a mind-over-matter theory.
Shaxx chimes into this point by saying, “Within my teaching role, I’m constantly teaching my pupils about keeping their hands to themselves and respecting others’ space. All lessons are based around playground and friendship, but it starts from early on.” In agreement, Laila concludes with education as being the main driving force of imploring change. As well as this, Laila urges venues to join forces with their local authorities or groups to direct the focus to accountability and believes officials should look into the aftercare offered to victims. “I don’t feel enough is being done in the aftercare provided to the sufferers. I’ve worked in psychiatric wards and a lot of the patients tend to be victims of sexual assault.” For the years 2018-2019, statistics showed a 23% increase of rape offences, in comparison to 2015-2016, across England and Wales.
Issues such like sexual harassment, abuse, and mental health have become a highlighting factor of nightlife. It comes as no shock that authorities felt a sense of urgency to implore the scheme, after seeing how communities in Lincolnshire responded to the introduction. Yet, with London being one of the biggest and most complex cities in Europe, the argument of how successful it could ever be comes to mind. Creating a scheme on a mass scale generates huge demands on staff who simply have no power. It could be argued that a better option would be to hold business owners accountable.
As the new movement of club culture belongs to a new generation, social media will begin to play a bigger part in safety campaigning. The re-emergence of ‘Ask For Angela’ is a start.
Marcia Veiga is a freelance journalist based in London, whose work focuses on exploring cultural issues.