The girls’ night out: drinking, safety and pubs
Charlotte de Crespigny
Alcohol and Other Drug Studies, School of Nursing, Flinders University Adelaide Australia, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001.
Phone no:+61 8 8 210 5226. Facsimile: +61 8 8 276 1602
Alcohol use is a major health concern in Australia. While people may use other drugs, alcohol is often related to accident and emergency admissions due to intoxication-related injuries and deaths. A major concern is the safety of patrons, both men and women and young and older people, who attend pubs and clubs, and there is particular concern for young women in these settings, however their voices regarding their experiences and needs have so far been absent.
Our research has now shown that there are very great differences in relation to the safety of young women who go to pubs and clubs, certainly in Australia. I plan to present the findings of the research on young women aged 18 and 30 years, and the urban and metropolitan pubs they patronise (de Crespigny, Vincent & Ask, 2000a; de Crespigny, Vincent & Ask, 1998b). Particular emphasis is on the issues relating to risks to their safety, not from the consumption of drugs or alcohol so much but the behaviours of other people, that is the minority of men who sexually harass them or involve them in violent incidents simply because the young women happen to be in that place.
I will then talk about some of the strategies that I am pleased to be involved in such as those employed in Adelaide with the Rape Crisis Unit and the City Council. As a researcher, I am fortunate in that I can actually be involved with those people who are trying to address the issue. The business sector is also forging partnerships in regard to making licensed premises safer and I would like to reinforce the importance of this integrated approach.
Until the issues of safety associated with other people’s behaviour are addressed for young women, they themselves may be less likely to respond to prevention efforts (whether it be primary prevention, secondary prevention or harm reduction) in relation to their own hazardous drinking.
Overview of drinking in Australia
81% of Australians consume alcohol at least sometimes and so it is most unusual for people not to drink socially. It is also important to remember that all drinkers are not necessarily problem drinkers, as the majority drink at low risk levels (NH&MRC, 1992). Most Australians also have their first social drink - which is out and about with friends - by the age of fifteen years.
In Australia 10 grams of alcohol in any type of alcoholic drink is classified as a standard drink, and it is recommended that healthy adult males have no more than 4 standard drinks in 24 hours and females no more than two standard drinks in 24 hours to remain within safe health limits. However, there is now evidence that at least 25% of females aged 16-25 binge drink, i.e. 5 standard drinks in a session (NH&MRC, 1992). In fact recent national aggregated data now shows that young women are now the most harmful group of drinkers in our country if you consider their drinking levels based on the recommended differentials for safe drinking for men and women (Single & Rohl, 1997; NH&MRC, 1992).
While the pattern of drinking is important, so too is the context. Australian pubs have a different history and ‘gender’ culture to the pubs in Europe. Traditionally pubs in Australia have been men’s places. For instance, I am a 51-year old woman and I would never have gone to a pub in my country even 15 years ago. Women used to go along with their husbands and sit outside in the family sedan, and wait for their husbands to drink and get drunk. He would then drive her and the children home at six o’clock closing, or the ‘six o’clock swill’, as it was then called. However, I have three daughters in their twenties who all go to pubs and feel free to do so these days and so it is a new phenomenon for women to be in pubs as social drinkers.
Girls’ night out
Women go to pubs and clubs openly. They go to the front bars, the back bars, the inside bars and the outside bars. They often go in groups of women or groups of men and women, and there is definitely an emerging young women’s culture which has come along with women’s growing perception of their equality in our society. Despite these changes however young women have not been focused on in the extant research and there is little reliable information about the 18-30 year old age group (de Crespigny et al, 1998).
The study I have conducted is normally called ‘Girls’ night out’ which really looks at young women’s drinking, decision making and related experiences within the pub/club context. While the findings cannot be generalised they are consistent with other local studies and the national aggregated data, and the actual research method is transferable, having been used in several different types of licensed premises settings.
The study itself was a critical ethnography with field observations, face to face interviews with young women, pub staff, bar staff, with security staff and licensees. There were also consultations with key experts, that is other licensees, in particular women’s licensees, as well as with the hotel industry and government. Preliminary data was fed back to a focus group of young woman to be examined, refuted, confirmed and added to, and they also contributed to the final recommendations.
Comparisons were made between key data sets and national aggregated data and confirmed that these young women were similar to their national counterparts. There was a lot of consistency between what the staff reported and what the young women said. These views were in turn supported by the key experts and the focus group of young women. The results from the ethnography assisted in developing a new survey tool being based on young women’s voices and their own experiences (de Crespigny, Ask & Vincent, 1998).
The findings showed that this group of young women started drinking at fifteen and binge drink at least weekly - most of them between two and three times a week. They preferred spirits when in nightclubs, and preferred spirits and full strength beer when in pubs, which is contrary to the popular belief in Australia that women are mostly wine drinkers. These young women did not select low alcohol beer. Even though there has been a big push to encourage low alcohol beer consumption to reduce overall consumption, this has certainly not been marketed to women. It is now evident that they do not see low alcohol beer as relevant or attractive to them.
It was also found that young women would modify the type of alcoholic drink they consume according to the cost of the drink, however this has no impact on how much they actually drink. They say that they want to get to a certain level of intoxication and the type of alcohol that assists this process is influenced by how much money they have in their pockets (spirits are more expensive than beer). These findings suggest that there is a difference in the type of drinking that goes on according to the setting.
So the notion of situational drinking preferences is a very important concept for health promotion and harm reduction messages, as one cannot assume that just because a woman goes to a club or a restaurant or a party and drinks in certain ways that she will drink in the same way when she goes to a different place such as a pub. People are different in different settings and we need to acknowledge that in the way in which we work with them to educate them and develop other strategies to reduce harm.
Young women are certainly attracted to cheap drink promotions such as happy hours where there are cheap drinks, and alcohol promotions based on the idea that where women are attracted by cheap drinks, men will also come along - the women are used as a lure and young women do go for that type of advertising. The younger women said that they feel more confident when they are a bit ‘tipsy’, that is a little intoxicated, and that they know how to get to that stage. They get more drunk if they are less experienced at social drinking and it is therefore not surprising that the younger ones are less able to control their level of intoxication. Never the less, they find gross intoxication embarrassing and, once it has happened, try to avoid it at all costs, saying that they learn from their past mistakes and try not to repeat them.
Young women liked to have spontaneous ‘big nights out’ saying that the best big nights are those that ‘just happen’, that is they are not planned. They said that at these times they drink a bit more than usual, and get a bit more adventurous - they let their ‘hair down’; "you can be someone else" - in their own words. They reported that they drink excessively when they are celebrating and moderate their drinking according to responsibilities such as studies, exams or having a job the next day. Some of them were young parents and so their binge drinking depended on whether or not they had a babysitter for the night and the next day to care for the kids while they got through the hangover. In other words, they may not binge drink as often as they used to, but they still did binge drink, and planned around this accordingly.
These young women tended to go to the pub weekly and this implies that they were not passive in their social interactions, their drinking and other choices they made. These young women made very deliberate choices and we should not belittle that. They like going to pubs and clubs that is why they go there. The expectations of positive experiences are the reasons why people drink, do drugs, or go pubbing or clubbing: it is fun. These young women therefore intend drinking alcohol, they intend getting tipsy but staying in control, they intend socialising with their friends, they intend helping friends (especially female friends), and they intend staying safe. The decision-making they undertake regarding their drinking is to control their intoxication by using water and soft drinks in between spirits or beer; to stay with their girlfriends; and to avoid predatory and violent men.
In Australia it is still a ‘norm’ for sexual harassment and male aggressive behaviour towards women in many licensed premises. This type of aggression may be verbal or physical, and occurs in a number of pubs and other drinking settings, unfortunately. So young women have to anticipate and identify the potential risks to them and need and want to ask for help from security and other bar staff when men are harassing or threatening them. They also try to use safe transport as much as they can such as taxis.
Pub life for young women is now normal; it is part of their way of life. They like to go there because their friends are there, they feel accepted and they do not have to dress up. (This is not night- clubbing but ‘pubbing’). They also like to go to their ‘local‘ or another pub if there is particular entertainment, for example there may be bands playing at their pub on a Friday night, and after the band has finished they might go on to another pub or a night-club.
The external environment is very important to young women. In our city there is poor transport. Public transport closes at about one o’clock in the morning and, even if it is available, young women do not like to use it because many young women have been sexually harassed when waiting at bus stops or train stations, or riding on buses and trains during the day, let alone at night. Also they will not get in to a taxi if they are alone because they do not trust taxi drivers. These poor transport situations influence some young women to decide to walk home alone or drink drive, seeing these as a ‘best choice’ in their circumstances, even though such choices are also risky. In other words their ability to be safe is limited due to external environmental situations.
Ineffective security staff and systems of pubs also affect young women. There are negative attitudes of some security men who have reported the view that any young woman who is a bit inebriated and/or wears a skimpy skirt ‘gets everything she deserves’ in terms of male sexual harassment, and these staff are not likely to help her. These reports came from the security staff of a venue that had also publicly advertised cheap alcoholic drinks for females in order to encourage young women to come and attract males. Encouraging excessive drinking and intoxication through irresponsible promotion of cheap alcohol to young women by that venue was surely a double standard.
The stereotypical media and community attitudes that persist regarding alcohol and drug use affects the way the community views young women who drink in pubs. There have been some horrendous media stories in Adelaide recently. For instance, a couple of years ago a young woman was found stabbed to death and was lying on someone’s front doorstep. She had been seen staggering and apparently intoxicated in the middle of a street in the city a couple of hours before. It appears that someone had picked her up, raped and murdered her, but despite this serious crime, the press really put the blame on her shoulders; "She should not have been there…What was she doing at two o’clock in the morning? Why was she drunk? What else should she expect?" were the kind of comments made.
Pubs are definitely unsafe for young women and others if poor patron behaviour is allowed; if there is overcrowding; if the security and police presence is not visible and is not effective; if there are poorly lit areas, streets and lanes; if there are poorly lit car parks or pathways or gardens nearby, and if there is lack of safe taxis, buses, trains and bus stops.
What can be done?
Not all of the responsibility should be placed on the venue owners. However, they are all too often missing from the equation when government and other keys groups are attempting to bring about change. We should consult and collaborate with businesses such as licensed premises as well as the hospitality, security and transport industries and therefore take a more integrated, supportive and partnership approach to identifying and solving risks and safety problems. Basically it is good business, using a business model to address patron safety:
- Undertaking continuous improvement by modifying the environs and the decor;
- Conducting regular and timely safety audits of patrons and staff and nearby environments;
- Learning from the ‘near misses’ as much as the actual incidents, and keeping an ear to the ground for relevant information from patrons and staff. Staff observe a lot and, given the opportunity, they will tell you what is going on;
- Using effective policies, the staff training and rules, patron rules, expectations of certain behaviour. ‘Sexual harassment is not allowed in this venue’ for instance;
- Informing and communicating with other licensees and services, the police and the media and advertise the pub as a safety first venue;
- Venues can be made safer by having effective lighting and free phones for women to call a safe taxi or a friend or a parent; having an explicit police presence that is sensitive but will react when necessary on foot, by car, on bar patrols or by having free escorts for women and other people to the car parks, buses and taxis;
Having free or low cost safe public transport and making information nets for patrons safety nets if you like.
A recent project in Adelaide is being conducted by ‘Yarrow Place’ - A Rape Crisis Unit. This unit is collaborating with a range of policy, service providers and police to develop an effective strategy for rape prevention for young people who attend licensed premises in the inner city. It is known that sexual harassment, ‘date rape’ and predatory rape occurs in and around licensed premises in the city and suburbs. The information is often anecdotal, coming through the Rape Crisis Unit from women who attend for counselling and support but do not go on to report the rape to police for a number of reasons. This project has therefore been in response to unofficial anecdotal data as well as official statistical data of rapes, and where they occur. It is also known that while at risk at any time, there are significant points in time when they are most likely to occur: at a big event such as New Year’s Eve, Festivals, Grand Prix and Football carnivals. We are therefore working with the Attorney General’s Department Crime Prevention Unit, police, drug and alcohol services, researchers, businesses and licensees to try to implement strategies used in previous projects aimed at preventing violence in licensed premises. The project will involve surveying the views and experiences of inner city patrons; pub and club staff as well as applying a ‘safe profit’ model based on continuous improvement in targeted inner city pubs and clubs.
Another project is more about applying health promotion for young rural women inside local pubs in the countryside. These young women have not previously had direct access to a lot of relevant age and gender specific information. A local group of licensees, community nurses, police and the local media have come together to provide resources that can inform young women about safe drinking and safe driving strategies. Information provided in the pubs is supplemented by information delivered by the local media aimed at raising awareness in the general community regarding issues and risks for young women who drink and go to pubs. Local health workers also provide health education resources and information, and advice to young women. One of the major strategies was to present positive role models of young women who drink and socialise safely to young women by using female champion netballers known to young rural women and whom they can relate to.
So whose responsibility is the safety of young women when they attend pubs and clubs? It is clearly the responsibility of that minority of violent men who actually cause the problems through their violence, sexual harassment and other threatening or offensive behaviours. It is also the responsibility of licensees and their staff - bar and security staff, police, transport and taxi service providers and other related services. Local and state governments, the media, the community and young women themselves all need to use strategies that prevent and reduce risks to safety associated with drinking and licensed premises such as pubs. We need particular public media campaigns that can inform and educate young women about low risk drinking, provide them with positive role models about how one can be a low risk drinker and the right to safety, and challenge existing stereotypes of young women who drink. There needs to be a public and industry stand of zero tolerance of male violence in pubs and clubs and plentiful information to inform young women of where the safe pubs and transport options are for them.
Future research will involve two particular projects, application of a survey instrument, built from the original study of young women’s experiences in pubs and clubs, and a qualitative study in partnership with the Aboriginal community to study the experiences of young Aboriginal urban women who attend licensed premises such as pubs and pool halls. This group has not yet been researched and so this explorative work will enable us to better understand their needs and issues, and provide a pathway for further research in the future.
We need to integrate our efforts. We cannot take simplistic stances in any of these discussions. We are living human beings, we live in context, we drink in a context, we use drugs in a context and researchers need to work in that context with health, business, police, media and other community members.
de Crespigny C, Vincent N, Ask A (2000) Young women, drinking and hotels - pub style - A recent study of decision making and social drinking contexts for young women in urban South Australia.Contemporary Drug Problems (in press).
de Crespigny C,. Vincent N, Ask A (1998) Young women and drinking 1: Young Women: Decisions, Environment and Drinking. School of Nursing and NCETA, Flinders University of South Australia. ISBN No. 0 7258 0662 1. Reprint 1999.
de Crespigny C, Vincent N, Ask A. (1998) Young women and drinking 2: Development of a Survey for Young Women in the Hotel Environment. School of Nursing and NCETA, Flinders University of South Australia. ISBN No. 0 7258 0662 2. Reprint 1999.
National Health & Medical Research Council (1992) Is there a Safe Level of Daily Consumption of Alcohol For Men and Women? 2nd Edn., National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Single E, Rohl T (1997) The National Drug Strategy: mapping the future. An evaluation of the National Drug Strategy 1993-1997, A report commissioned by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, AGPS, Canberra, ACT.