'Zero tolerance' for sexual harassment in Belfast bars

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A zero-tolerance campaign for sexual harassment in Belfast bars could be in operation from next year, a councillor has said.

Belfast City Council is set to discuss how it can tackle sexual harassment in the hospitality sector.

Bars may be able to avail of training on dealing with sexual harassment claims by staff and customers.

This follows a campaign spearheaded by students from Queen's University and the University of Ulster.

Alliance councillor Peter McReynolds said he hopes the scheme will be introduced "within the next few months" and that it was backed by Hospitality Ulster.

'They see it as a bit of craic'

Sinead Henry, vice-president of Queen's Students' Union, said the zero-tolerance policy was about "creating a safe environment".

"I would say there's rarely a night out, as a woman, when you're not groped. People don't see it as serious - they see it as a bit of craic," she said, speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"But, at the point when it's normalised for you to be sexually touched on a night out, that's when it's not OK anymore."

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Image caption,
Belfast City councillor Peter McReynolds says the scheme has already been introduced in Canterbury and Medway in Kent

She added: "At the minute, if you went up to a manager to complain, you'd be worried they'd laugh in your face.

"If you were in a nightclub and it's zero tolerance for sexual harassment, you're going to feel much more confident about being there."

The campaign is for pub and club staff, as well as customers.

Harassment 'a common occurrence'

Aine, who worked in "a very male-orientated" bar in Belfast, said she regularly experienced sexual harassment in her workplace.

"I used to wear a buttoned up shirt to work and men used to make sexual comments, saying how they could see into my bra," she told Good Morning Ulster.

"And this was one of my first experiences within hospitality, I remember thinking 'what have I got myself into?' going from retail to hospitality - and that was a common occurrence.

Aine said that the "longer I was in hospitality, the more I rolled my eyes at it" and, looking back, she regretted letting it go.

"I wish I had said something. I felt when I did say something to my manager, my co-workers, sometimes it was overlooked because it was a busy Friday night or busy Saturday night."

She added: "You could tell that people were talking differently to the male co-workers, when they were ordering a drink off them it was friendlier while it was more of a charged tone when they were talking to me or my fellow female co-workers."

"It would start off as a training scheme which would happen on an annual basis," said Mr McReynolds.

"Queen's Students' Union and the University of Ulster will be a massive part of that, driving the training alongside the PSNI.

"Pubs and clubs can opt-in to avail of this training and receive an accreditation, which they can proudly display on their premises.

"This will show that they have had sexual harassment training, their staff know what to do and there's a procedure that they follow if a victim comes forward."