In the wake of the Mama Hooch drink spiking trial, Christchurch bar owners share their reaction, and the measures they are taking to keep women safe.
Last month, two men were found guilty of targeting, drugging and sexually assaulting a number of women in Christchurch bar Mama Hooch between 2015 and 2018. In the wake of the 69 convictions – which include rape, indecent assault, stupefying and making intimate visual recordings without consent – the hospitality industry in Christchurch has responded with complete condemnation of the crimes.
“It is an absolute disgrace,” Ross Herrick, manager of Dux Central bar, told The Spinoff. “I truly hope these individuals are dealt the justice deserved. Their self-entitled and privileged attitude is absolutely foul.” A spokesperson on behalf of staff at Hide nightclub echoed these sentiments. “Our collective response was one of shock and disgust towards the perpetrators and we can only hope that the victims find some form of comfort from the sentencing.
“Like many others in Christchurch that frequented Mama Hooch a few years ago, we were blissfully unaware of the drink spiking issue until rumours of the horrors started prior to the trials,” they continued. “It highlights why we need to remain acutely aware of drink spiking; it can happen around you without you being aware of it.”
Following the trial, police have warned people to continue to stay alert to the possibility of drink spiking. That involves “looking after your friends that you’re going out with, making sure that they’re safe, that you’re safe”, detective inspector Scott Anderson told Newshub, adding that the crime “undoubtedly” occurs outside of the Mama Hooch case. “Look after your drinks when you are out, because unfortunately there are predators out there that will take advantage.”
Of course, bar managers and licensees also have an obligation to be responsible hosts and keep people safe on their premises. At the Dux, Herrick said security hosts and duty managers are “constantly on the move” all night around the venue to keep an eye on patron safety, and added that staff are always quick to remove abandoned drinks.
Zak Cooper, manager at bar and venue Flux, explained why clearing glasses is so essential. “One of the most dangerous times for someone’s drink getting spiked is when they’ve got an open vessel that they put down, and then pick up again,” he said, adding that Flux’s location means they are extra vigilant when it comes to patron safety. “When you’re specifically tucked away off the street and not so visible, that little space then has to become very safe.”
Cooper explained that Flux’s safety measures begin with a chat at the front door. “It’s about letting each person know what our ideal behaviours are and letting people know that we don’t accept any judgment of anyone else,” he said. “Our practice is to try and stop people that show signs of antisocial behaviour before they create bigger problems.” Since they have started talking to everyone upon entry, Cooper has seen “drastic improvement” in behaviour.
Over at Hide, messages on posters in the toilets encourage patrons to look out for their friends and any unusual behaviour. Their head of security is female, along with the general manager and bar manager, and they ensure there is at least one female bartender rostered on every night. “We hope it makes our female patrons feel more comfortable pointing out any behaviour that may be making them feel uncomfortable,” they explained.
Gwenda Kendrew, general manager at Christchurch sexual violence support service Aviva, told The Spinoff there needed to be a more rigorous training programme for hospitality staff to both recognise and respond to unacceptable behaviour. Ideally, she said, this training would be repeated yearly, and would come with accreditation that signals a premises is a safe space.
“Working in hospitality means you have a duty of care to patrons and call out behaviour immediately when you see it,” she said.
While the above bars and venues were happy to discuss patron safety with The Spinoff, dozens did not respond – including many popular nightclubs and bars on the popular Terrace strip. There is still a lot of “hard work” that needs to be done in the industry, said Cooper. “We had a business owner from another bar come into our bar and sexually harass a female in the earlier days of our operation,” he said. “And, if I’m honest, I didn’t know how to deal with it.
“I felt like bringing it up to someone was going to look like dogging my competitor. I felt like I was in this really constrained position but luckily, because of the amount of support that I have around me and bringing it up in the right channels, it got dealt with.” Still, he added, that business owner remains surrounded by support – just one example of the industry being “not good enough” when it comes to confronting these issues.
“This is something really long term,” he said. “We have to accept that this is our culture, and I just don’t think we know how to deal with these things properly yet.”
For Kendrew, this “monstrous” case is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how much progress New Zealand has really made when it comes to sexual violence, nearly a decade on since the Roast Busters scandal. “We must peel back the layers and examine what role we all have in preventing this behaviour, and what role we have played in creating the fertile ground for this to occur,” she said.
“If we have any hope of the future looking different, we must ask ourselves why we find ourselves here again.”
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