Don’t Touch Me: Sexual Harassment and Exploitation in Vegas Nightlife

Image by NinoBeg, via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0.

At the end of spring break, my friend Gabby and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate my 21st birthday. This being our first times, we wanted to explore all that being 21 had to offer us in the entertainment capital of the world. That included going to the nightclubs.

Before our trip, both Gabby and I researched how we should tackle Vegas nightlife. Neither of us knew anything about Vegas, so we felt very overwhelmed. I turned to my older cousin Ani Muradian, a 2009 UCLA alumni, who briefed me on the do’s and don’ts of Las Vegas. She told me that as girls, my friend and I could easily find a promoter to get us on the guest list of a club and let us in for free.

According to Ani, a promoter “finds the hottest girls to get in [the club] and the richest dudes to buy tables and get the girls drunk.” I said, “That’s a little f—ed up,” to which she replied, “Nayiri, do you know the world you’re entering…drugs, prostitution, the city that has capitalized on the exploitation of women almost more than anywhere else in the world. There are no morals in Vegas…It’s where feminism dies.”

Indeed, in the short time I spent in Vegas, I was bombarded with fliers and cards of topless women, women in costumes on the streets offering pictures for tips, promotions for strip clubs, and promoters offering young women free entry to clubs. The female body in Las Vegas is extremely objectified in order to get men’s money.

Nightclubs in Vegas offer women free or discounted entrance to the clubs in order to keep to a strict ratio of more women than men. This offers heterosexual men a place filled with beautiful women for them to essentially prey on.  Men who want to gain access to the clubs need to pay more to get in and then often spend more money on VIP seating and bottle service in order to impress women. Therefore, the clubs benefit financially by promoting the sexualization of their female customers.

The culture created in Vegas nightlife aims to make money off of the sexualization and objectification of the female body. The phrase “sex sells” goes a long way in Las Vegas, where everything sold is sexualized.

Due to the highly sexualized environment created in Las Vegas and perpetuated in the nightclubs, sexual harassment and groping is a constant occurrence in the clubs that is often ignored. Men touched both Gabby and I without our consent. They grabbed our hands, came up behind us to try to dance with us by holding our waists, and our butts were grabbed a couple of times in passing. The physical contact was unwelcomed; however, neither of us reacted other than moving away because we expected it to occur.

Mixmag addresses sexual harassment in nightclubs (particularly clubs in the UK) and writes that most of the time women don’t report harassment in clubs. This is partly because it occurs so frequently and partly because many times the men who touch women without permission do so passively. That way, if confronted, they can claim it was accidental as they were moving through the crowded club.

In fact, a study conducted in 2014 by alcohol education organization, Drinkaware, found that nearly a third of young women aged 18-24 reported having received inappropriate or unwanted physical attention, while only 19% of those women were surprised by the incident. Additionally, the study reports that 11% of men have also experienced similar unwanted physical attention. Keep in mind, that these incidents do not only occur to those who identify within the gender binary, and many people who identify within the broad gender spectrum have been a victim of sexual harassment in nightclubs.

Simply reporting the incident, however, would not be enough to end sexual harassment in nightlife. “Perhaps what really needs to change isn’t how women respond to harassment, but how some guys behave towards women in the first place. It seems like too many men see women on a night out as potential targets or conquests, rather than people in their own right,” says MixMag.

This is something that desperately needs to change in Vegas nightlife, and in order to do so, businesses in Vegas must first move towards de-objectifying women in their advertisements and clubs. We need to dismantle the environment where it is seen as acceptable for male customers to treat women as nothing but sexual objects placed in front of them for their own pleasure.

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