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'I’ve had someone grab my breasts and try to rub their face in them while I was getting a drink from the bar' – women in Highlands call for an Inverness Night In tonight, Friday, in a bid to raise awareness of concerns over safety - but business says 'talk to us' to resolve any issues

By Louise Glen

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WOMEN in Inverness are taking a stand against feeling unsafe in the city centre, writes Imogen James and Louise Glen.

Today women are being invited to stay at home as part of an Inverness Night In initiative.

Inverness-based student Erin Macdonald (18) has called on other women to stay at home to raise awareness of the issue.

But the chairman of Inverness Pub Watch wants organisers to talk to him to help find solutions, rather than be intimidated and stay at home.

Ms Macdonald, who is a student at Inverness College UHI, has more than 450 people engaged with the move via social media platform Instagram.

“While Inverness is considered by many to be a safe place, myself and many others feel there is more that could be done in these venues to help to combat spiking,” Ms Macdonald said.

“The Inverness Night In campaign hopes to achieve three main things: prevention, welfare and support.

Don Lawson. Pics to go with Imogen James Story - Baron Taylor Street....Picture: Callum Mackay..
Don Lawson. Pics to go with Imogen James Story - Baron Taylor Street....Picture: Callum Mackay..

“Prevention being regular and comprehensive active bystander training for all bar and club staff, including agency staff.

“Welfare would see nightclubs and bars having a designated and identifiable welfare officer and the introduction of anti-spiking devices such as StopTopps, SipSafe.

“Support would see a clearly communicated zero-tolerance policy on spiking, and a clearly written procedure on reporting and support for staff and customers.

“Like many others, we feel the responses of the bars and nightclubs we have gotten have been underwhelming.

“It is very clear that there is so much more that needs to be done.”

Elaine Fetherston.
Elaine Fetherston.

Three women have approached the newspaper speaking of their concerns over reports of spiked drinks, stalking and feeling vulnerable when out in the city centre.

Two of the women, who did not want to give their names, said they had both experienced sexual assault in Inverness.

One woman (24) said: “I’ve had someone grab my breasts and try to rub their face in them while I was getting a drink from the bar.”

While a 21-year-old woman, who lived in the city centre, said: “I find it hard to relax or let go when out.

“On a night out I had my bum grabbed and pushed guys off of someone I was with to get him off of her.”

None of the incidents were reported to police or bar staff because the women all felt nothing would be done.

Area Commander Chief Inspector Judy Hill.
Area Commander Chief Inspector Judy Hill.

A 22-year-old woman told the Courier: “I will hold my keys in my pocket and have my headphones on but not play music. I often pretend to be on the phone as I just feel safer walking around talking, as it could put someone off approaching me.”

Elaine Fetherston, of Inverness Women’s Aid, said: “It is vital that the discussion around this focuses on those carrying out these types of behaviour towards women, not how women protect themselves.”

Don Lawson, owner of Johnny Foxes and the Den, and chairman of Inverness Pub Watch, said: “I have been saying this for years: people cannot have a safer night out than at Johnny Foxes.

“All our staff are trained and know what to do.

“Anyone who is being harassed or feels vulnerable is offered support.

“We have a protocol in place if any woman is feeling harassed, they can go up to the bar and ask for Angela.

“If a female asks for Angela, we will get a supervisor and take them into a safe room that we have in the building.

“I completely understand why the woman who has organised the Women’s Night In has done it, but I think it would be much more productive for women to come and talk to me and the police at the Pub Watch forums to find out how we can move forward with each other.

“We at Inverness Pub Watch are here to help, we want that dialogue to take place. We are all about solving this together.

“The Pub Watch forum has already started, or tried a number of initiatives to improve the safety of people, and we will continue to do so.

“Women should feel safe about coming out, and coming out in force might be a much better way to make the point. We are here to raise our standards for public safety, and we do not want women to feel intimidated.”

Police said they were not aware of incidents highlighted on social media of drinks being spiked in the city last weekend, urging any women with concerns to report them to officers.

Area Commander Chief Inspector Judy Hill said: “We have local officers on regular patrols in city centre areas throughout the evenings and weekends and work with a range of partners, locally and nationally, to ensure pubs and clubs are safe spaces for all. This includes working with licensees.

“Anyone who reports concerning behaviour or an assault by whatever means, will be taken seriously. We would encourage those with concerns to contact us via 101, speak to any officer or attend your local police station. In an emergency, always dial 999.”

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