A BC-based non-profit is on a mission to create safer spaces and prevent sexual violence in Victoria’s hospitality industry and beyond. Good Night Out has 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 main priority is to prevent and address sexualized violence in spaces that include alcohol— licensed venues like restaurants, nightclubs and bars, but also other social spaces where people might be imbibing, like music festivals, art galleries, and university campuses.
The desire to create safe spaces isn’t just rooted in a fear of the sexualized violence that can be prevalent in nightlife culture; it also comes from a love of what that culture can be for all its participants. It’s a subject that Stacey Forrester, education director and a co-founder of GNO Vancouver, is passionate about.
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“We’re called ‘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 for what nightlife and entertainment spaces can look like.”
The organization provides workshops to businesses to educate their staff about best practices that can prevent and address sexual violence in the workplace. The group also has an outreach team that attends events to offer support and spread awareness. GNO’s programs have been free since 2020, thanks to provincial government funding.
Workplaces like bars or restaurants can request a three-hour introductory workshop, in-person or online, that covers a basic understanding of what consititues sexual violence, what meaningful consent looks like, and how to reduce harm in a variety of nightlife spaces. The program also looks at the prevalence of sexualized violence and identifies relevant legal tools and legislation surrounding sexual assault.
“Just like you would do a flood risk assessment, or a fire risk, or an earthquake risk assessment, you can also assess for these [risks] in your space,” Forrester said.
Workplaces can go on to request workshops on more advanced topics, like how to create policies to prevent sexual violence, what to do when someone discloses that they’ve been a victim of sexual assault, and bystander intervention. The breadth of topics reflects the growing interest from workplaces in getting ahead of the problems.
“Initially, when we started in 2016, there was zero interest in having this conversation from liquor establishments,” Forrester said.
The resurgence of the #MeToo movement in 2017 brought interest to the conversation, and they began to get more bookings. Since they were able to remove workshop fees in 2020, the program has exploded in popularity. In 2021, GNO Vancouver offered a total of 78 workshops, their highest number yet. It wasn’t just concentrated on the mainland; interest started to trickle in from Victoria establishments, too, particularly after a reckoning in the Victoria restaurant industry around sexual assault prompted calls for change.
“We just started getting more and more workshop requests, and after sustained interest in Victoria, it made sense to anchor ourselves more permanently,” Forrester said.
GNO opens satellite office in Victoria
Alex Kierstead and Chelsey Thorpe are in charge of the GNO Victoria. They first met at rallies for change in Victoria’s hospitality industry after multiple sexual assault allegations surfaced about a former manager at Chuck’s Burger Bar in 2021. Workers and customers there accused Jesse Chiavaroli of drugging and sexually assaulting them—charges that Chiavaroli has yet to respond to in court—while also accusing upper management of turning a blind eye. That focus on the business itself rippled out across the city’s hospitality industry.
The two quickly started to delve into advocacy work together, participating in rallies calling for change. They two have been working with the City of Victoria and pushing the city to take action on a 2019 motion to create mandatory sexualized violence training for hospitality workers.
As a former hospitality employee and a sexual assault survivor, Kierstead said her motiviation to continue this work is personal, spurred on by the rising tide of activism in Victoria’s hospitality industry.
“To see that kind of come to light lit a fire in me,” Kierstead said.
Both her and Thorpe are hopeful about the impact that grassroots outreach, activism and advocacy can have to change the tide.
“People aren't tolerating harassment, or these microaggressions anymore. And businesses are really having to kind of reflect inward and see where these things might be taking place,” Kierstead said.
The duo plan to put together a community survey with an eye towards publishing a public, free report for the hospitality industry. They hope that the research will inform changes and policies when it comes to all aspects of the industry.
“I've seen a big shift in people's perception of the issue,” said Thorpe. “People are really recognizing what … consent is.”
GNO kicked off their work in Victoria by offering a workshop to Rifflandia staff on Sept. 8. For their next event, they’ll be partnering with the City of Victoria to offer a music symposium entitled “The Basics of ‘Protective’ Music Spaces” on Sept. 18.
In the long term, the GNO team hopes they can help contribute to a substantial culture shift toward a place where people of all genders and sexual orientations feel safe in nightlife spaces.
“We know the interest is there, so we can build on the momentum,” Kierstead said.