Eletronic music as a medium is now interwoven with nightlife culture, even in a lot of the experimental end of the spectrum. So that means for those of us who care about the medium, it’s time to face a reality about night venues: a lot of people, particularly women, don’t feel comfortable and safe.

Talk to regular clubgoers, and you’ll hear an unnerving number of tales about harassment. We’re not talking people just getting a little aggressive – we’re talking being groped repeatedly on the dance floor.

In the midst of lots of discussions about numbers of women and men going into music production, the fact that some are scared away from clubs simply because they can’t relax and have a good time is finally coming to light. Mixmag hit the issue this spring:
We need to talk about sexual harassment in nightclubs

And Thump (VICE) has picked up on the story, too, noting the appearance of consent business cards at festivals, and reporting the movement is spreading to Decibel Festival when it hits Seattle this month. Social media is making stories of assault go viral, that same publication reports.

So, how do you respond? One group is sending a clear message to anyone crossing a line by simply handing them a card. “Consent is sexy” cards, pictured here, set some boundaries in a clear way. And a Portland, Oregon-based group behind them wants to make these cards more commonplace, as well as create environments (in person and online) to have frank discussions about how we relate to one another, and how to make these situations more safe.

Not all electronic music is about clubs. But given that club elements are part of most festivals – even those covering experimental music – it’s now almost impossible to make electronic music without encountering these situations. And let’s be honest, some of us really love nightlife – and hate to hear, say, from our friends that they feel they don’t feel comfortable going out with us.

So I spoke to Cay Horiuchi, one of the organizers of C.A.R.E.S., about what we they’re doing, and how any of the rest of us might consider contributing. Their organization:

We are C.A.R.E.S., Compassionate And Respectful Engagement Squad. As active members of the electronic dance music community, we promote consent-aware interactions in nightlife settings. C.A.R.E.S. provides tools to address situations where boundaries may be crossed. We hope to foster safe environments and encourage discussion about consent, whether it has to do with flirting, sex, or simply respectful interactions with one another.

They also have a Facebook group, which is expanding this discussion:

CDM: Can you tell us a little bit about what your organization does? And you’re heading out to Decibel?

Cay: We are a group of friends based in Portland, Oregon. We create and distribute the cards and provide workshops at festivals on the West Coast. Our main objective is to promote consent-aware interactions in nightlife settings. We provide tools — for now, cards and posters — to address situations where boundaries may be crossed. We hope to foster safe environments and encourage discussion about consent. We aim to:

  • Empower partygoers to say no to uncomfortable situations
  • Create a safer environment, especially when intoxicants are involved
  • Offer respectful yet assertive ways to confront aggressors and to protect each other

I’m heading out to Decibel Festival with some of the C.A.R.E.S. members to distribute the cards created in collaboration with Decibel Festival. We are very excited about this opportunity to help the community foster a safer environment.

How did you get started?

Our conversation originally started at a New Year’s Eve party that we threw in 2013. Throughout the evening, we each noticed various incidents of uncomfortable/possibly dangerous encounters on and around the dancefloor. To our collective surprise and alarm, we each discovered that we had all experienced and witnessed such incidents of sexual assault at parties in the past. Sounds like you’ve been having similar conversation in your community in Berlin. I believe that by starting a discourse, we can get creative about how to tackle this issue together.

So, Mixmag ran this article in the spring — and, of course, this is pretty unnerving. We’re talking a really high incidence of people reaching out and groping other people. Is there any way to evaluate how, how frequently, and why this is happening?

This is devastating… It’s upsetting that some are taking advantage of loud, crowded environment to assault others. To your question about actual numbers, it is hard to tell – as we are all familiar with, the survivors tend to dismiss such harassment, while aggressors pretend that it didn’t happen or they simply don’t remember due to intoxication.

Although we don’t have the numbers, we know that various degrees of harassment happen frequently enough that many of our friends do not feel safe or worth it to go out at night to simply enjoy music. This is especially becoming a serious issue in Seattle, as Capitol Hill’s demographic is shifting from LGBTQ-friendly to a higher percentage of heterosexual men who feel entitled to harass others who are different from them.

I would like to believe that many aggressors are not completely ill-hearted, however. By going out, each of us is seeking a good time, a connection, and giving and receiving attraction. We are not there to intentionally cause harm. I think one of the reasons why this is happening is because aggressors have a preconception that a drinking environment gives them a free pass to cross others’ boundaries. They may have a wrong idea that a person dancing on the dancefloor means the person is looking for a specific types of attention. Intoxication in addition helps them become oblivious to social cues or what’s acceptable in general.

Let’s talk about gender and power dynamic – with harassment generally. Obviously, there’s something that disproportionately impacts women – and particularly straight women having to deal with straight guys. That said, is there a sense in the LGBTQ community that this is something that needs addressing? Is it something guys should worry about, too? And, for that matter, can we have those conversations without losing sight of the fact that this does disproportionately impact women?

This is an interesting point. C.A.R.E.S. believes that this is an issue not just among women. We acknowledge that this issue is broader and can apply to any of us, especially knowing some of our friends who actively participate in LGBTQ-friendly events.

At the same time, I agree that this issue disproportionately impacts women having to deal with aggressive straight men. For a long time, as an organization, we have been discussing how to effectively convince these aggressors that what they are doing is not okay, in an inoffensive manner. One of the reasons why it has been a challenge is because it takes a lot of guts for a person to confront an aggressive person who had already violated one’s boundary. Would they get mad if I said something? What’s the outcome? Am I going to get hurt? Would they even listen to me? Intoxication plays a huge role in this. That’s why we came up with cute and friendly cards to hand out to them so that we don’t necessarily have to confront them verbally but can be explicit at the same time.

So, what role can environment have? What can a club do? What’s the impact of your activities? What can individuals do, attending clubs? And is there a role for the people making the music? (We can talk about Berlin separately, but — I’m very curious what makes environments better or worse.)

There are many possibilities. For example, venues can train their employees on site to watch out for possibly dangerous situations. It would be great if venues are explicit at the entrance, stating clearly that they have zero-tolerance policy against harmful behaviors to others. They can also inform their clients that if there was such a case, they should directly seek help from the employees. Hollaback London, an anti-street harassment organization in London is doing a great job getting major venues like fabric and Ministry of Sound involved in their movement. We want to make this happen everywhere, not just in one city or region.

Our original idea was to discover more ideas by starting up a discourse with party goers. We hope to learn what people’s needs are so we can come up with better ideas to create a fun and safer environment.
At a venue, each individual can learn ahead of time that partying in a dark venue with loud music does not give them a permission to cross others’ boundaries. We also believe that getting friends and strangers you meet on the dance floor on board is generally good. We can create an environment where people feel safe to speak up, and people feel safe to support those who speak up.

Producers and DJs can endorse the message prior to the event, on the event page or fan page, to set the vibe. Performers have a great amount of respect from the audience, and I think it is great if they can be a part of the pro-consent movement.

The severity of this issue of course depends on the environment. My friends and I don’t go to certain venues with more frequent harassment. Generally, an event where people are there specifically for specific music seems to be better, while an event that is more ‘party-centric’ or alcohol heavy seems to be worse. There are different ways to handle each issue at each type of event.

What about the role of substances and alcohol? Obviously, making people consider their substance intake is part of the solution. But what do you do when people are altered, is there still some chance to work to keep people safer?

I think alcohol intoxication is especially problematic, but people have to party. I doubt we can have a solid conversation with highly intoxicated people at an event. However, there is a chance to maintain the safety of the venue. We are looking into bystander intervention. I read an article about the research they did and some interesting success stories from college kids. If friends are around, sounds like the best way is to distract them, instead of telling them that they should stop whatever they are doing at the moment.

As for C.A.R.E.S. cards, I have used them with those who won’t leave me alone, and it has been way more effective than trying to talk to them directly which I had to do in the past. I think cards are effective firstly because it prevents two parties from having a possible conflict. I’ve had many frustrating conversations that went too long with an aggressor, whom I’d rather not spend my time with. They would say, “but you like it right?” The thing is that you can’t really argue with a drunk person.

But, many of us felt strongly that we had to say something, do something. This can’t keep going. We want to have fun while feeling safe at events. We can’t just walk away from them. We wanted to feel empowered. We wanted to have a say in this situation in which our boundaries have been violated. So, the second reason for the C.A.R.E.S. cards’ success is that it gives the survivor a power to say no without directly interacting with the aggressor. The act of giving a card either puts the focus on something else or confuses them long enough to forget about what they were about to do. Who knows? They may find a card in the morning after and learn a thing or two.

Okay, so obviously there’s the question of consent, and there’s a lot of stuff we want to make sure stops happening. You also talk about discussing engagement, flirting, sex in general. There are concerns beyond just what not to do, yes?

Sure. I hope that our cards and conversations can direct people into having honest discussion about otherwise uncomfortable subject matters that are too important not to have. We hope that we can encourage people to have such conversations more openly.

We’ve talked mostly about clubs. To what extent does this information and support from a club environment apply beyond that context? Are there other contexts you think the kind of work you’re doing might be useful? Does the message need adjustment for those other situations?

The C.A.R.E.S. message can be applied beyond clubs and festivals. I think one way to do that is by having a panel discussion dedicated to consent awareness. Another way is to have diversity in the event you host whether it is a music conference or tech. By having a diversity of people lead workshops and panels, you suggest that you are in support of different communities and people – creating more inviting environment to all. The cards and posters we provide are form-shifting, and can be catered to different events and demographics, as seen in our collaboration with decibel festival 2015. Ideally, I think it is also good to have this type of discussions largely available outside of clubs/festivals/conferences, to take a more preventative approach. That way, people have a general agreement not to cross boundaries regardless of where they are at.

Lastly, to shift gears entirely — what are you looking forward to at Decibel?

I’m excited to see M.A.N.D.Y. at the boat party on Saturday. It’s gonna be super rad! But, to tell the truth, my soul calling is definitely The Breakfast Club on Sunday morning with our West Coast favorite, the Shameless crew. It’s on a roof top of a beautiful venue, and they throw one of the best, silliest parties with great music. It’s like a nice treat to close out my dancing marathon with fellow ravers. I can hardly wait.

Thanks, Cay. Wish I could be at Decibel – y’all have fun, Americans and touring artists!

And if CDM readers want to chime in, do let us know.