If there are Blurred Lines around sexual harassment, let's clear them up
"Sexual harassment is endemic," says Sophie Tolley, who until last month worked at student club nights around Edinburgh as a bouncer. "You can see it in the way that people behave and in the way that young women react as though it's normal."
Many students say that and they feel powerless to prevent or report it. "Lad culture is part of the problem," says Ruth Hardy, who recently graduated from Kings College London. "'Groping has become a game and a joke."
Despite this, preventative campaigns are often aimed at female students and victims, says Katie Russell, of leading sexual violence charity . "Lots of student unions and universities focus their safety messages on women. It's well intentioned, but reinforces victim-blaming myths and suggests that it's a woman's responsibility to stay safe."
It's important for both men and women to be aware that this is a problem. "There needs to be more awareness about what sexual assault is," says Hardy, "so that guys who do it know that it's illegal." And although increased awareness on all parts can help tackle the problem, it can never be right to blame the victim.
So in a club what counts as a sexual offence?
Sexual harassment: is any unwanted physical, verbal or nonverbal . This includes staring at someone's body, making sexual demands, or stalking someone around a room.
"I try to appeal to people's sense of decency, empathy and humanity," says Russell. "It's not funny. It can be intimidating, especially for a woman who is away from home for the first time in a town that she doesn't know. We should ask people, what are you achieving by doing this?"
Sexual assault: "is any form of unwanted or sexual touching," says Russell. groping, grabbing or pinching someone in a sexual way without their consent. "Underhanding" is and is a serious criminal offence.
These are crimes and shouldn't be accepted as an intrinsic part of a night out. "It's alarming that this kind of behaviour is being normalised," says Russell. "We shouldn't underestimate how traumatic it can be for victims. Anyone who hears about it should be completely outraged and prepared to help."
Alcohol and consent: The law says that someone who is incapacitated by drink or drugs is unable to consent – and a woman hasn't consented to being touched just because she has gone to a club. A criminal lawyer says: "A person can only consent if they agree by choice and have the capacity to make that choice."
It's important to talk to men as well as women about their behaviour after they've had a few drinks. "When we talk about alcohol intake we should also talk to young men," says Russell. "And when it comes to consent, if anyone is unsure, assume that consent hasn't been given."
How can we tackle "constant" sexual harassment in clubs?
More awareness and responsibility from venues: Clubs often don't do all they can to deal with the problem and the extent of it makes it difficult to tackle. "I could spend an entire shift making sure women are ok," says Tolley. "Often, clubs don't have enough staff and a lot of the time people don't care.
"In the training you do to become a bouncer there's nothing about looking out for vulnerable people. Lots of the time bouncers in clubs are from an agency and don't work for the club, so it depends on who's leading the team. It can also depend on who you're complaining about. Once I worked in a bar that had a VIP section. People would spend huge amounts of money and whatever they did, they wouldn't get kicked out."
What can be done? "More awareness could be placed on sexual harassment when training staff," says Tolley. "Something about harassment or sexual violence could be included in licencing terms, which is the stick used to keep clubs in line and control them."
What you can do if it happens to you or a friend: "You could talk to the manager, the bar staff or the bouncers," says Tolley. "If you complain you raise awareness that this is happening in their club. If you're not going to come back because they haven't made you feel safe, tell them."
Specialist charities can help if you want to get advice. "We don't put pressure on people to report to the police or not," says Russell. "We provide support, and not just for people who have been a victim of a recent attack. If someone talks to you and discloses an incident of sexual violence, the appropriate way to respond to that is with respect, belief and non-judgemental support, even if you don't agree with what they want to do."
• The police have a specialist unit who deal with crimes of a sexual nature, called . If you choose to go to the police you can ask to speak to a specially trained .
• There are a number of charities who can provide specialist, free and confidential support if you have been a victim of a sexual offence, including , , and many more local voluntary organisations.
• can provide free medical care and forensic examination after an attack.
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