How Bars Exploit Underage Women as Commodities
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"Free drinks for ladies all night!"
"No cover for girls before midnight!"
"18+ for ladies, 21+ for guys."
These were the general admission policies for many clubs in New York as the city was getting into the holiday spirit. These policies were advertised on club promotion Web sites or barked at patrons waiting in line to be admitted to the bars and clubs.
But the warmer welcome that young and underage women -- those under 21 -- get at bars is not special to the holidays or New York. Throughout towns and cities across the country bars and clubs often offer discounts to young women.
At Club Paris, for instance -- heiress Paris Hilton's nightclub in Orlando, Fla. -- young women over 18 pay no cover charge before midnight and are admitted free if they have a college ID. Young men, by contrast, are required to pay a cover charge of $10 before midnight and $5 with a college ID.
While guys their age often get stopped at the nightclub or bar door for lack of convincing proof of age, many young women say they are admitted without a glance or question. Once inside, they are often offered complimentary drinks.
"Bars give away free drinks, then guys offer to buy girls even more drinks and then girls dance erotically with them," says Kate Morris, a 19-year-old from Massachusetts, who says she often goes to bars and clubs with her friends in New York City.
Jennifer O'Connor is a graduate student at the University of Albany. "I never had trouble getting into bars when I was underage," she says. "Granted, a lot of my friends were older. When I was underage I'd often tag along with my 21-plus friends. The bouncer knows if he turns down the two or three underage girls, he's going to lose a group of 12 patrons."
Open Door Is Open Secret
While there are no statistics or national studies about the incidence of bars breaking laws and doing what they can to attract young and underage women, Gary Miller, a senior at New York University, said it's an open secret.
The secret burst into the new York City headlines, however, in July 2006. In a second homicide that summer in the city involving a young woman who had been drinking to excess, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore left one of the city's most exclusive lounges intoxicated. Walking alone in the early morning hours along the city's West Side Highway, she was abducted and raped. Two days later she was found disemboweled in a dumpster in Weehawken, N.J.
"Bar and club owners definitely exploit women," said Miller, who wrote an article in November headlined "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" in the Washington Square News, New York University's student newspaper. "Women become a commodity of the establishment that owners use to draw male patrons in. I think the reason most men go to bars and clubs is to find women. This is why they'll pay a cover charge while women get in free; they're paying for the women inside. Bar and club owners know this. They know the success and appeal of their establishment depends on the quantity and attractiveness of the girls inside."
Clubs use Web sites like ClimaxVIP.com and ClubPlanet.com to display pictures of attractive patrons. Often they are female, underage, scantily clad and striking erotic poses. These sites also point readers to the "hottest parties" at popular clubs and offer tips on how to try and get in.
Paid to Bring Friends
A popular job for attractive young women -- often underage women -- is to serve as a "club promoter." This person is almost always a well-groomed young woman who gets paid based on how many of her attractive female friends she brings to bars to hang out.
She can also be remunerated when she gets male friends to make "bottle reservations," which often entail paying $100 or more to reserve a table that comes with a "complimentary" bottle of expensive alcohol, such as vodka.
"It's no secret to New York businesses that the mere presence of attractive women at their establishment can have a positive impact on both revenues and image," says NYFlirts.com Web site, a company that hires out club promoters to bars and clubs. "In a highly competitive atmosphere like Manhattan, businesses such as bars, clubs and lounges are willing to go the extra mile to gain the patronage of attractive women. NYFlirts.com understands this and has developed a unique system to assist businesses with offering incentives to our lovely members."
The interest of older bar and club managers and male patrons can be a bit intoxicating itself. "We have sex appeal, and we can use it to get past male bouncers, while guys can't do the same," says Kate Morris. "Young women in bars draw in men. Men likes us young'uns."
70,000 Date Rapes a Year
Over 70,000 alcohol-related date rapes a year are committed among students aged 18 to 24, according to "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," a 2004 report from the National Academies. The report also finds that 29 percent of those between 15 and 17, and 37 percent of those between 18 and 24, said that alcohol or drugs influenced their decision to do something sexual.
Two months after Jennifer Moore's murder, the speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, promised the participation of the City Council, nightclub owners and police officers, among others, to make "sure that New York City has the most exciting -- and safest -- nightlife in the world." They hope to have legislative plans in place by next year.
Some grassroots initiatives try to help women out on the town get home safely.
In New York, for instance, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called Right Rides provides free car service for women on Saturday nights who don't feel safe taking the subway and don't have alternative means of transportation.
But even with laws and initiatives and special public precautions in place, Quinn acknowledged that young people "who go out at night remain at risk until they get back home."
Liz Funk is a Manhattan-based freelance writer and college student. She has written for the Huffington Post, Newsday and the New Humanist (UK), among many other media outlets. Visit the feminist blog she writes for the Albany Times Union at http://blogs.timesunion.com/lizfunk.