The Kingston bar scene is overdue for a reckoning

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This article discusses sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424.

It’s 2023 and the bars still aren’t safe enough.

Drugging instances have ticked up in recent years and the problem is twofold: there aren’t enough measures in place to prevent drugging incidents and sexual violence prevention education isn’t keeping up. 

Compounding the issue at Queen’s is how the University has consistently kept sexual violence records under wraps. The University cites concern for survivor privacy as the reason for this lack of transparency. However, important statistics should and can be released without identifying information to give the community a clear picture of the sexual violence climate.

We need better information on the circumstances under which sexual violence occurs. Even if drug presence is difficult to confirm, the University should, at a minimum, keep track of reports of drugging and where it tends to occur. When experts and the community aren’t informed, it’s difficult to target a problem as complex as sexual violence. 

A party culture that breeds this kind of behaviour is also a major part of the problem. Drugging anecdotes are far too common on student forums like the Facebook group Overheard at Queen’s and the @queensconfessionss Instagram. 

The greater Kingston community is understandably not always empathetic towards students. However, residents should be able to put aside their frustrations with the student population to advocate alongside students for a safer community.

Security at the businesses that make up Kingston nightlife and depend heavily on student patronage needs improving. Much of the security at downtown bars is performative and focuses more on scaring away fake IDs than protecting patrons.

Bouncers are often fellow students or people of university age who make a point of intimidating bar and club-goers without cause. When hiring and training security personnel, owners should consider an approach less based in power trips and more in collective safety. It’s possible to be kind and protect people at the same time.

Once a customer pays to enter an establishment, that establishment has some responsibility to keep them safe. That’s why bartenders are allowed to refuse service and often receive training to recognize signs of human trafficking. 

Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend among Kingston bars and clubs of prioritizing liability protection over health and safety. 

When establishments signal disinterest in their clients’ well-being, they enable bad behaviour. It’s disappointing to see owners doing little to be proactive. Being vocal about drugging could help prevent future incidents, particularly if bars share the additional measures taken to protect patrons. 

Right now, the wrong people are made to feel like criminals while potential sexual violence perpetrators are getting away with drugging people.

Student life, Queen’s, and Kingston bars share mutual interest. The university experience goes beyond campus, and Queen’s would do well to acknowledge that by working with Kingston establishments in the interest of students.

Queen’s should support more student-run campus pubs and students should push for their funding. While there’s an inherent risk any time alcohol is served, the fact that campus bars are on school property is likely a strong deterrent against drugging.

Bars and the University need to be working harder to catch those making their establishments unsafe for student patrons. 

It’s time to serve up some consequences. 

—Journal Editorial Board

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