• Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

‘We have a vision for a different industry’: Organization makes Victoria’s nightlife culture safer

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Sep 16, 2022

Good Night Out, a nonprofit that offers free workshops on preventing sexual violence in the nightlife industry, has opened a satellite office in Victoria

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Left to right: Chelsey Thorpe, Alex Kierstead, Megan Hopkins and Stacey Forrester. Photo: Colin Smith/Submitted

A British Columbia-based nonprofit on a mission to create safer spaces and prevent sexual violence in Victoria’s hospitality industry and beyond. Have a good evening recently announced the opening of a satellite office in Victoria, just in time for this weekend’s Rifflandia festival.

Founded in Vancouver in 2016, GNO’s top priority is preventing and addressing sexual violence in spaces that include alcohol – licensed venues like restaurants, nightclubs and bars, but also other spaces social venues where people might imbibe, such as music festivals, art galleries and college campuses.

The desire to create safe spaces is not only rooted in the fear of sexual violence that can be prevalent in nightlife culture; it also comes from a love of what this culture can be for all of its participants. It’s a topic that Stacey Forrester, Director of Education and Co-Founder of GNO Vancouver, is passionate about.

“We call ourselves ‘Good Night Out’ for a reason,” Forrester said. “One of our favorite things is not just always talking about sexual violence, but also celebrating our vision of what nightlife and entertainment spaces can look like.”

The organization offers workshops for businesses to educate their staff on best practices that can prevent and combat sexual violence in the workplace. The group also has an outreach team that attends events to offer support and spread awareness. GNO programs have been free since 2020, thanks to funding from the provincial government.

Workplaces like bars or restaurants can request a three-hour, in-person or online introductory workshop that covers a basic understanding of what constitutes sexual violence, what meaningful consent looks like and how to reduce damage in a variety of nightlife spaces. The program also examines the prevalence of sexual violence and identifies relevant legal tools and legislation regarding sexual assault.

“Just like you would do a flood risk assessment, or a fire risk assessment, or an earthquake risk assessment, you can also assess for these [risks] in your space,” Forrester said.

Stacey Forrester is Good Night Out’s Director of Education. Pictured: Emily Vance.

Workplaces can then request workshops on more advanced topics, such as how to create policies to prevent sexual violence, what to do when someone reveals they have been sexually assaulted, and bystander intervention. The breadth of topics reflects the growing interest of workplaces in anticipating problems.

“Initially, when we started in 2016, there was no interest in having this conversation from alcohol establishments,” Forrester said.

The resurgence of the #MeToo movement in 2017 sparked conversational interest and they started getting more bookings. Since they were able to waive the workshop fee in 2020, the program has exploded in popularity. In 2021, GNO Vancouver offered a total of 78 workshops, their most ever. It wasn’t just focused on the mainland; Interest has also started to pour in from establishments in Victoria, particularly after a reckoning in Victoria’s restaurant industry over sexual assaults sparked calls for change.

“We just started getting more and more requests for workshops, and after sustained interest in Victoria, it made sense to ground ourselves more permanently,” Forrester said.

GNO opens satellite office in Victoria

Alex Kierstead and Chelsey Thorpe are in charge of GNO Victoria. They first met at rallies for change in Victoria’s hospitality industry after multiple sexual assault allegations surfaced about a former manager of Chuck’s Burger Bar in 2021. Workers and patrons there accused Jesse Chiavaroli of drugging and sexually assaulting them — accusations Chiavaroli has yet to respond to. in court, while accusing senior management of turning a blind eye. This focus on the business itself carried over to the city’s hospitality industry.

The two soon began to dabble in advocacy work together, attending rallies calling for change. They both worked with the City of Victoria and pushed the city to act on a movement 2019 create mandatory sexual violence training for hospitality workers.

As a former hotel worker and survivor of sexual assault, Kierstead said her motivation to pursue this work was personal, spurred by the rising tide of activism in Victoria’s hospitality industry.

“Seeing this kind of revelation lit a fire in me,” Kierstead said.

Both she and Thorpe are hopeful about the game-changing impact grassroots awareness, activism and advocacy can have.

“People don’t tolerate bullying or these microaggressions anymore. And companies really need to think inside and see where these things might happen,” Kierstead said.

The duo plan to put together a community survey with the aim of releasing a free, public report for the hospitality industry. They hope the research will inform changes and policies regarding all aspects of the industry.

“I’ve seen a big shift in people’s perception of the issue,” Thorpe said. “People really recognize what … consent is.”

GNO launched its work in Victoria by offering a workshop to Rifflandia staff on September 8. For their next event, they will be partnering with the City of Victoria to offer a musical symposium entitled “The basics of “protective” musical spaces” September 18.

In the long term, the GNO team hopes to be able to contribute to a substantial culture shift towards a place where people of all genders and sexual orientations feel safe in nightlife venues.

“We know the interest is there, so we can build on our momentum,” Kierstead said.

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