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Women are using codewords at bars to stay safe on dates

There are calls for a Lincolnshire initiative which gives women a way out of bad dates to be rolled out countrywide. Zoë Beaty agrees

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By Zoë Beaty on

 

I’m in a bar, in south London, tapping my foot against the empty stool next to me. It’s 8.45pm, a Thursday and I’m asking myself what on earth I’m doing here. A few days previously, I’d downloaded Tinder, swiped, matched, chatted and exchanged numbers with a guy. According to his profile, he was a feminist (tick), he was into reading (tick), he seemed funny (big tick). It had all seemed so brilliantly easy at the time. And now I was here, alone. Waiting to spend an evening with someone I’d never met. 

Innocuous thoughts morphed into questions in my head. He looked kind – but what if he wasn’t who he said he was? He likes books – but what if we have nothing else to talk about? I tried to dismiss a peripheral fear: would I feel unsafe at all? I caught the eye of the barman and made a snap decision. “Hi,” I said. “I’m on a date. Can you do me a favour?” 

Together, we came up with a contingency plan. I was drinking wine – but if I ordered a gin and tonic during the course of the night, it was because I was seeking a quick exit. He would be on side. I had a teammate. 

It’s a routine I’ve used for all of the (relatively few) dates I’ve been on but, thankfully, never had to implement. And it's an idea that’s catching on. Lincolnshire Rape Crisis has begun rolling out posters, hung in pub toilets, with their own contingency plan: if you’re on a date and you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or you “need some help getting out of your situation”, you can approach the bar staff and ask for “Angela”. Staff, who have all been briefed on it, will then help to diffuse the situation “discreetly – without too much fuss”.

Photo: Twitter 

What it does brilliantly is give women options. Because, sometimes, it’s just good to know someone’s on your team. 

 

A picture of one poster has been retweeted more than 23,000 times since it was taken three days ago, prompting calls for the campaign to be implemented countrywide. It echoes a similar campaign run by one bar, The Brickyard, in St Albans, which went viral in April this year. The pub displayed a sign in the toilets entitled “Tinder date gone wrong?” and told women: “If anyone is bothering you or making you feel uncomfortable, please tell us. We will discreetly move them away and, if necessary, ask them to leave.” At the time, the pub also announced that they would be placing signs in the men’s toilets, too. Awkward or weird dates are by no means gender-bound. 

But the Lincolnshire initiative, which is part of the #NoMore campaign to “promote a culture change in relation to sexual violence”, is especially important for women because, despite the many successes of online dating, it doesn’t always go well or right. Dates can, occasionally, become volatile. For all the success stories, there are more stories of women being sexually assaulted, stories of men being jailed for committing multiple rapes via dating apps and research claiming a rise in first-date rapes is directly linked to online dating. 

All too often campaigns and discourse around sexual harassment or violence against women falls into the harmful territory of calling on women to "protect" themselves. And that’s what’s so great about the readymade contingency plan: it’s not putting the onus on us to take action, or for women to “stay safe”, like that’s a plausible and permanent option; it doesn’t victim-blame or assign fault. It acknowledges that dates don’t always feel right and that it’s not always easy to get out of situations you’re uncomfortable or feel threatened in. 

What it does brilliantly is give women options. Because, sometimes, it’s just good to know someone’s on your team. 

@zoe_beaty

Photo: Getty 
Tagged in:
dating
Sexual assault
Relationships

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