If you ask Anya Sapozhnikova, co-founder of glitzy Bushwick club and venue House of Yes, Halloween is the biggest party season in New York. It’s also “kind of the most consent violation-y weekend of the whole year,” she tells me, something that’s far scarier than any ghouls or fake blood. That’s why starting this week, both her venue and Council Member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. will be spearheading a consent education initiative in the form of a website and posters that will be displayed in prominent nightlife venues throughout the city, with future plans that could make this type of consent-centric signage required.
“It’s all about hitting people from every single angle possible. Signage in nightclubs is the kind of the easiest way to communicate, and [consent is] also something that people need to be constantly reminded of,” Sapozhnikova says. Rather than the cutesy “consent is sexy,” their posters say “consent is mandatory,” and will be distributed to notable party spots, such as CityFox, BangOn!, and You Are So Lucky. The aim is to place them in “high-traffic areas”: the bathroom, the entrance, behind the bar.
They’ve also launched a web page, which includes printable versions of their posters alongside educational information: what consent actually means, tips for both party attendees and hosts, and so on. There are examples of how to check in on a friend or stranger, what one might say to someone who is crossing a line with you, and even how to deal with being rejected yourself.
“It also talks about leaving your house with a script prepared, so that when you’re in a weird situation or your drugs kick in, that’s not when you’re coming up with how to respond to a violation of your consent or someone making you feel uncomfortable,” Sapozhnikova explains.
This isn’t the first nightlife rodeo for Council Member Espinal, who represents the 37th district, which includes Bushwick, Brownsville, and East New York. Previously, he introduced legislation that went on to successfully repeal the cabaret law, a Prohibition-era law that banned dancing in spaces that lacked a hard-to-obtain license, and establish an Office of Nightlife, Director of Nightlife, and Nightlife Advisory Board.
More recently, he’s introduced a bill to bulk up soundproofing in areas where residential development and nightlife spaces coexist, and with Council Member Stephen Levin, a bill to increase oversight regarding MARCH raids, which have been called the “grim reaper” for small, independent spaces.
Both Espinal and the House of Yes team have been independently working to brainstorm more concrete ways to “increase awareness about consent in nightlife.” Espinal thought House of Yes founders Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke would make good “allies” in taking these efforts to the next level, so they decided to join forces for this campaign.
“House of Yes serves as a model that does everything it can to educate its patrons that consent is important,” Espinal tells Bedford + Bowery. As it’s become bigger and more successful since it reopened in 2016, the venue has ramped up their focus on consent (more patrons means more opportunities for misbehaving), with the help of Jacqui Rabkin and Emma Kaywin. There are sections in all of their event pages about how they’re “obsessed with consent” and have a “zero tolerance policy for harassment.” When buying tickets for a party, people must digitally agree to a waiver indicated they’ve read and understood the consent policy. There’s a specific email account the venue has for any kind of consent-related issues people have, and their staff has been trained in “basic bystander intervention and de-escalation techniques.”
And at their recurring “fetish event” House of Love, they place extra emphasis on asking for permission to touch, reiterating this while attendees wait to enter the venue. Inside, “consent guardians” (or “consenticorns”) roam the space, looking for any ne’er-do-wells and providing a additional resource for people who want to report boundary-crossing.
In the next few weeks, Espinal says he plans to introduce legislation that would require businesses to display signage that outlines “what [patrons] should do if they are being harassed.” Sapozhnikova compares it to signs already hanging in bars that outline how to deal with someone who is choking, or remind people of the risks of drinking while pregnant.
“Having these posters will remind patrons they have the power to say no,” explains Espinal. “It will keep staff more mindful to look out for situations they might find uncomfortable.”
Anya notes the Halloween weekend initiative will act as a litmus test of sorts, to demonstrate the impact of an effort like this.
“We’re essentially doing this to drum up some interest,” she says, “and be like look, this thing works, it’s about time this happened, let’s make this a law.”