up all night with the woman helping make melbourne clubs creep free

Is it possible to party without being felt up? Kate Pern is working to make it happen.

by Wendy Syfret
22 April 2016, 6:50am

The Cool Room team. Photo via Facebook.

On her way to Cool Room, a popular monthly Melbourne club night, Kate Pern texts a photo of herself to the door person. It will be posted at the entrance for everyone to see as they arrive. She already knows most of the staff at the venue, at the beginning of every shift she makes sure she greets them all and spends a bit of time chatting about how the night will go.

Tonight's going to be busy, the city is full and the lineup has generated buzz on Facebook. With a smile, she reminds staff that if anything turns bad or gets out of control they should make sure someone comes and gets her.

Kate is Cool Room's Safety and Inclusivity Coordinator, a relatively new role the organisers created to try and make the party as safe as possible. The title sounds dry, but she sees herself as more of a designated friendly face people can approach if they're concerned with anything over the evening. Hence the photo at the entry: when you arrive at the party you're told Kate's your girl.

Speaking to i-D, she explains that her role extends beyond the few hours the party rages, "I also make sure that we have diversity in our line ups, photoshoots and that the language we use in our copy on events is as inclusive as possible."

Cool Room brought Kate on as their Safety and Inclusivity Coordinator in an effort to make their parties as welcoming as possible.

During daylight hours Kate is a nurse who works with sexual assault primary prevention—she also loves techno. It makes sense the team invited her to take on the role, realising they didn't have the time or resources to personally give safety the focus they wanted to. After moving to a larger venue in their second year they were conscious of stepping up their commitment to a healthy party environment. Kate remembers "getting someone involved who could focus solely on that seemed to make sense."

Bridging the gap between partygoers and security, Kate is a peer and often a mediator. Sitting in a quiet corner as the club begins to fill she explains part of her job is explaining to someone why their behaviour is offensive. Remembering a recent incident where a man was removed for making transphobic comments, she recalls detailing the context and impact of his words to him. It wasn't just a matter of removing a bad seed, but educating someone who was unfamiliar with the queer community and trying to encourage them to be more mindful in future.

A common scene for her is explaining dance floor etiquette to guys who don't get why they're being rebuffed by the object of their flirtations. Kate advises that the dance floor is a for dancing. If you want to chat to someone, do it at the bar.

Her goal is to "change club culture so that feeling safe when you go out becomes the norm." At the moment, most of us have come to accept a level of trouble when we step out after dark. Even the most low-key nights usually involve unwanted comments or attention. Kate notes, "giving people permission so say 'what you're doing is not okay, I can get you kicked out' is very powerful." Remembering the first time she personally had a guy kicked out of a venue for groping her she continues, "I would never put up with it at work or anywhere else, but for some reason you put up with it in a club because you feel powerless to stop it." Not anymore.

The night ventures to be a "creep free zone".

For behavioural change like this to stick, it takes more than one person: it's a cultural shift that calls for commitment from venue staff as well as patrons. There is a push to make sexual assault prevention training as regulated and mandatory as an RSA, but the movement is in its infancy. Presently, most security guards have little to no training in preventing or responding to sexual assault. Additionally, the training they have is reactive—it doesn't teach to look for warning signs before something goes wrong. "I hear about lots of incidents where someone has reported a guy for making them feel uncomfortable only to be told by security that there is nothing they can do because he hasn't actually done anything yet," continues Kate.

It's a system that's clearly flawed: last year Broadly spoke to Doctor Bianca Fileborn, who has completed a PhD on young adults' experiences of unwanted sexual attention in licensed venues in Australia. She surveyed 230 people and found 80.2 percent had witnessed unwanted sexual attention.

Sydney and Brisbane's responses to alcohol fuelled violence has been the infamous lockout laws, but Victoria is experimenting with alternative methods. Last year Jane Garrett, the state minister for consumer affairs and liquor licensing approved a task force to investigate sexual assault in venues. The lobby group LISTEN have been central in drawing attention to the issue of sexual assault in clubs and across the music scene in recent years. They push for equal gender representation on festival lineups and encouraging band members to stay away from musicians who are known abusers. The lack of sexual harassment support in venues is also central to their discourse. They regularly host events and release publications and videos to draw attention to the issue.

Venues are also looking inward for innovative ways to make their environment safer. Over at Hugs & Kisses—Cool Room's original home—they chose to implement a members-only system. They're not trying preserve exclusivity, they just want to make sure patrons are "people of strong moral character and pleasant temperament." The smaller pool also fosters a sense of community, where people feel they're accountable for each other's safety and behaviour.

In Kate's experience, "A huge proportion of sexual assaults in clubs happens because people believe they can get away with it." That's why Cool Room lets people know it won't fly, before they even walk in the door. We've also got to give credit should be paid here to their regular door person Cat, who spends her evenings happily explaining the ethos of the night to new attendees making sure they know what is and isn't okay inside.

Moving forward, the Cool Room team have other initiatives in mind. They're working on establishing a text line where people can anonymously report worrying behaviours. It'll also come in handy if they can't immediately find Kate or other security.

As a night at Cool Room goes on, the absence of trouble does become increasingly noticeable. Make up is touched up in public mirrors without drawing jokes, the communal bathrooms host warm conversations and the dance floor pulses as strangers happily meet and mix without any apprehension. Midway through the night Kate hasn't been approached, she takes it as a sign things are working. In fact, a lot of the people who do approach her are there to say how nice it is to feel comfortable in a crowded club. "Once you start feeling that being safe on the dance floor is your right, you become very protective of that right and of those around you," Kate reflects towards the end of the night. "I have seen women begin to feel confidant enough to tell a guy off who isn't respecting their boundaries or step in when they see someone looking uncomfortable." When asked what her ultimate goal in the job is she thinks for a moment then says, "Ideally my role wouldn't need to exist." It's hard to imagine someone you'd want out of a job more. 

For more club culture catch Big Night Out on SBS VICELAND Tuesdays at 9.20.


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Facebook

sexual assault
cool room
best of i-d globally 2016
kate pern