Spring Break in Safety

“You try to dance and have fun, then you turn around and some guy is trying to hump you like a dog,” complains Meredith, an FAU senior, of men’s behavior at clubs.

With South Florida’s booming nightclub industry, it’s common for students to spend time in a club at some point, especially during spring break. For women, it’s also common to face harassment there.

“It’s expected,” says Lee, a senior. She says that at some clubs, “you know you’ll walk by and someone will grab your ass.”

Katie, a junior, has also handled unwanted advances. Once, after rejecting a man, he “kept following me all night and asking if he could paint me naked.

“I have friends who’ve had guys touch them all over, even their genitals, without permission.”

Such incidents may happen because women are being objectified. Booty shaking contests, wet t-shirt contests and semi-nude wrestling happen frequently at many South Florida clubs. Some women are open to participating, since most involve cash prizes.

Club Atlantis in Ft. Lauderdale boasts of their “Jello Wrestling Extravaganza,” which offers “$25 to the first six ladies to sign up.” Their phone message goes on to remind men, “Don’t forget the Wet Thong Contest!”

Objectifying women in this manner can increase the amount of harassment female customers face, says Lee, adding, “A place with booty contests or stripping will have a bad atmosphere,” because in such environments, “guys get wild.”

Not all clubs, however, are geared toward wet thong contests and jello wrestling. Mike Penrod, owner of Ft. Lauderdale’s Elbo Room, feels that such events would turn women off.

“A lot of nightclubs do those contests and make the women uncomfortable,” says Penrod. “We don’t exploit women…we don’t want to scare them away.”

GHB – A Hidden Threat

An even greater danger can lie not in a stranger’s hands, but your own drink. GHB, also known as the “date rape drug,” is often a way for a male to ply sex out of a female acquaintance or friend (see sidebar).

“I don’t know what happened,” says Meredith, who believes she was slipped the drug while leaving her drink unattended at a bar in West Palm Beach. Without warning, she says, “I passed out, even though I only had a couple of drinks.”

Lee has also seen the dangers of GHB. A close friend of hers was out one night with people she thought she could trust. After only a few drinks, her friend passed out.

“She suddenly woke up hours later,” says Lee, “in a hot tub in her underwear.” She had been abandoned by her friends and taken to a stranger’s house.

The scariest part of all is that, while Lee’s friend wasn’t hurt in any way, she had no idea where she was or how she got there. Lee points out, “Who knows what could have happened while she was passed out?”

Who’s To Blame?

While no one person is at fault, neither club owners nor club-goers hold nightclubs accountable to ensure women’s safety and comfort.

Katie says, “I don’t think it is the club’s responsibility – you need to take care of yourself.”

Bill Jorn, the general manager of Cafí© Iguana in Ft. Lauderdale, says that action is taken if a woman makes a complaint. “We have security personnel keeping an eye on things,” says Jorn. “Any female can complain to them or to the managers if there is a problem.”

On personal safety in clubs, “It’s an implied risk,” says Lee. “If you go, watch yourself.”

Keeping Safe

Common sense prevails when it comes to how to stay safe.

“Never go to the bathroom alone,” says Katie, “because some guys will follow you.”

“Go with a group…make sure everyone watches each other, sort of like the ‘buddy system.’ “

From her experiences, Meredith gives the following advice: “Don’t take drinks from strangers, or leave a drink unattended. “Harassment is just something that happens – tell someone at the club, like a bouncer, if it gets out of hand.”