New York councilman Rafael Espinal, and House of Yes founders Kaye Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova, drafted a consent and awareness policy.
Halloween is second only to New Year’s Eve in terms of its importance, scale and number of people going out on the town. And with most people protected by their anonymity of their costumes, the holiday is also rife with incidents of sexual harassment.
But the troubling behavior associated with unwanted sexual attention might soon become a thing of the past as New York councilman Rafael Espinal is introducing a package of new legislation today to codify and protect people out at night, particularly women—who have statistically experienced the highest level of sexual harassment. Last year Espinal was instrumental in the repeal of the repressive Cabaret Law, which had required for century that all venues that contained dancing to obtain a special license.
The three bills proposed today would require that nightlife venue staff receive proper bystander training as part of their initial hiring process, mandate that posters explaining the rules of consent were highly visible in the venue, and have the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife post information relating to consent and trainings on its website.
As Espinal says, “Now, more than ever as we are having conversations around sexual harassment, that we have been working with the nightlife community to assure New Yorkers that if they go out alone that harassment will not be tolerated and consent is mandatory. We really want everyone, but particularly women, to feel they can go out alone and be safe. And that there are eyes watching and protecting them.”
Additionally, Espinal has partnered with House of Yes club owners, Kaye Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova, to create awareness around the issue of consent. HOY has a very strong consent policy informed by in-depth dialogues with their patrons. Their partnership came out of a global nightlife reform roundtable in Amsterdam two weeks ago which, as Sapozhnikova puts it, “Recognized that we are a much more volatile environment than the grocery store at 9:00 AM.”
One of the questions that came up from representatives of the cities that were new to being pro-nightlife were concerns of liability. Most owners don’t want to be exposed for turning a blind eye to illicit behavior.
However, as Sapozhnikova says, “If every single person was required to hang a sign then it would even the playing field. It would be ‘Everyone recognizes this is happening, let’s take steps to make this safe.”
The consent policy was shaped by Espinal, Sap and Burke over a lunch meeting in Amsterdam.
According to Sapozhnikova, “The House of Yes is woman-run and we are very sexy, which breeds other sexy, aroused behavior that other people might not know how to express properly. Or how to properly express that they’re not into it. We not only focusing simply that ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ means ‘No.’ It’s about people taking care of each other.”
To that end, HOY. wants their patrons to be more prepared when they go out at night as well.
Because of the shame associated with sexual harassment, it’s much harder to police than other unwanted activity. Many of the sexual harassment complaints HOY receives are a week to two weeks later when after their security tapes have been scrubbed. “If your stuff is stolen you will report it the next day,” says Sapozhniova. Victims often wait to come forward with sexual complaints so their perpetrators go free.
HOY wants its patrons to come armed with a script the same way their security people have a script to defuse a situation. So that if a patron is drunk or on drugs, you don’t need to search your brain for the right words to stop unwanted attention.
Espinal formally introduces the legislation today and hopes to have it signed into law by the New Year. He knows that there might be some pushback from venue owners worried about lawsuits, but is hopeful that they will understand that this is beneficial to everyone who goes out.
“We have to keep pushing the conversation so folks will understand that there is value in keeping New York City as ‘the city that never sleeps,’” says Espinal.