KRISTIN DE DECKER
Pretoria boasts an abundance of bars, nightclubs and pubs. Here, alcohol is intermingled with social interactions, becoming an ever present hallmark of night-time activities. While drinking may be perceived to increase confidence, dancing ability and amusement, its malignant side is too often watered down. Alcohol increases the frequency of physical altercations, theft and sexual offences, resulting in lasting trauma that makes a hangover look like child’s play.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Hatfield City Improvement District (CID) are two institutions that place a strong emphasis on responsible and safe alcohol consumption. The Station Commander of SAPS Brooklyn, Captain Colette Weilbach, reiterated to PDBY that there is a major concern about alcohol abuse, “which can contribute to crime and various social problems.” In the same vein, Danie Basson, the Chief Operating Officer of the Hatfield CID, warned PDBY of the “culture of using alcohol” when it leads to misuse and a “real lack of judgment”. Drinking copiously can lower your awareness and inhibitions, severely impacting decision-making skills and resulting in alcoholusers becoming both victims and perpetrators of crime.
“Anger, aggression and violence” are often key elements of excessive drinking, as identified by Weilbach. She suggests that the frequency of assault cases would be significantly lower if “better judgement, self-control and anger management” were employed by drunken individuals. Heated interactions can rapidly turn violent, often resulting in physical injury and permanent criminal records, making that extra round of drinks even more hazardous. Basson indicated to PDBY that the CID “on average have two or three fights a month which [they] intervene”, to prevent further escalation. This, however only accounts for the areas and establishments within their jurisdiction and those brought to their attention. Moreover, Weilbach urges that “violence is not a solution” to settle these disputes as this is ineffective and counter-productive, with sobering real-life implications.
These consequences can be further embittering when a person is a victim of crime, without being an aggressor in the situation. An alcohol-laden state can leave people vulnerable, impaired and “an easy target for criminals” according to Weilbach. Although being safe and secure in one’s city or community is a fundamental right, it is often trumped by the reality of crime in South Africa. The presence and use of alcohol can further exacerbate this situation. Basson alerted PDBY to the network of CCTV cameras, security guards and undercover officials that can intervene in criminal behaviour, within the CID’s jurisdiction. This includes mediating in a multitude of alcohol-related crimes. Basson implores people to “be orientated and aware of what [their] help options are,” before the crimes occur.
Both Weilbach and Basson noted that drunken patrons are especially vulnerable outside drinking establishments, when on their cell phones and communicating with friends or making transportation arrangements. “Theft cases are [also] common in crowded liquor premises” according to Weilbach, as phones can be easily pick-pocketed when dancing or stolen off of tables. Additionally, Weilbach highlights that cars parked outside of bars and clubs result “in opportunities for vehicle related crimes.” The likelihood of valuable possessions being stolen thus increases with intoxication levels and the proximity to drinking establishments. Often students walk home drunk after a night out, exposing themselves to many risks.
Victimisation can take an array of forms, and sexual violation is another one of them. Basson acknowledges that sexual offences are “vastly underreported” and that the victim and perpetrator very often know each other. Weilbach divulged to PDBY that recently a rape case was reported where a victim’s drink was spiked. Feeling ill, the victim exited the club, only to be forced into a vehicle by two men. The victim woke up in an unknown building two days later, having been raped. Weilbach illuminated that in most of these cases “alcohol was consumed by the perpetrator, victim or both”, serving as a stark reminder of the frightening risks associated with drinking alcohol. It is equally significant that Weilbach revealed that “perpetrators drug both men and women for the purpose of sexual assault or to rob the victim”, suggesting that anyone can become a target of these crimes. Date rape drugs, such as eye drops, Rohypnol, ketamine hydrochloride and GHB induce various effects in victims such as nausea, drowsiness, paralysis and amnesia, according to Weilbach. Vigilance and caution when drinking in public is therefore a critical aspect of ensuring your safety and wellbeing. Not accepting drinks or ice from strangers, staying in groups, and watching your drink at all times are a few tips proffered by Weilbach.
SAPS urges safe alcohol practices, namely requesting that “nightclub owners enhance their safety at club entrances” by doing comprehensive searches for any illicit items. Additionally, community members are implored by Weilbach to keep vigilant and “where possible step up and intervene in any situation that appears suspicious”.
Image: Elmarie Kruger