Downtown Nightlife Businesses Tackle Sexual Assault

Nightlife and rideshare safety entered the spotlight in the wake of Rideshare Rapist, who picked women up after a night of drinking.

Law enforcement, advocates against sexual assault, nightlife venues, and Uber are opening up channels of communication to prevent sexual assault and harassment that occurs overnight.

On Thursday, stakeholders gathered at the Minna Gallery on SoMa for a second summit on nightlife safety to identify patterns, coordinate responses to situations. The meeting is a follow-up to last year’s summit focused on SFPD Southern Station — from south of Mission Street to Embarcadero and China Basin. 

“There’s some people in our community who don’t trust us,” says Lt. Liza Tiffe of the SFPD Special Victims Unit. “I get that.”

That’s where the inclusion of people like Beverly Upton, executive director of the Domestic Violence Consortium, and Patricia Barragan, who works with victims in the District Attorney’s Office. Upton suggested keeping a list of resources behind the bar, like the 24/7 hotline of San Francisco Women Against Rape, or not intervening in public when asked by nightlife staff about protecting sensitivity that might come with couples.

Barragan noted that survivors can now receive services like counseling without having a police report, and Minouche Kandel, of the Department of the Status of Women, added that rape kits also don’t need to involve police but can keep the option open for survivors if the DNA matches an offender in the system.

Kandel also announced that her department received funding to partner with Safe Bars, which trains bar staff how to safely respond to unwanted sexual behaviors. Through the train-the-trainers program from Washington, D.C., San Francisco will soon have certified “safe bars” for patrons to look up.

As for nightclub owners, Ray Bobbitt of SFClubs, Inc — which runs venues like City Nights and Club X — says that last year’s meeting made his team more proactive. They’ve added ID scanners to document people who come into the clubs, ask people who seem disoriented if they know the person they’re leaving with, and even hand out information to patrons with reminders like keeping their drinks in sight.

“We’ve seen a significant decline within our venues of sexual assaults,” Bobbitt says.

The meeting is a more holistic approach to the District Attorney’s “Rideshare with Care” campaign that placed the onus on passengers. The extent of the campaign is a safety graphic that reminds rideshare riders to verify the vehicle details from the app, ask the driver’s name and match the photo, then share their pickup spot and destination with a trusted friend or family member.

The campaign came a few months after a serial attacker dubbed the “Rideshare Rapist” was arrested in July for allegedly posing as a rideshare driver before sexually assaulting four women as far back as 2015. Two of the women were picked up in Temple Nightclub in SoMa.

Uber representative Andrew Hasbun detailed tools available to its users, like sending ride information to up to five people who can watch it in real time and including car details on the emergency button for easy access. In a handful of cities, and sometime down the line for San Francisco, Uber can digitally transmit trip details to 911 dispatch once the user hits the app button to do so.

“Location is key when you’re in a crisis,” Hasbun says.

Though the lessons are relatively similar, District Attorney George Gascón says it builds on what they discussed before and reminds stakeholders to refresh the information for new residents, nightlife staff, and caseworkers. His office is hoping to bring the summit citywide soon.

“It continues to raise awareness,” Gascón says. “You’re not vaccinated for life.”

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