Even though safety in public places still needs to be promoted through better street lighting, it is more urgent to learn to listen to what is happening behind closed doors as victims of violence suffer from mental health issues in addition to direct health damage.
I recently asked owners of Tallinn nightclubs about the problem of sexual violence in their establishments. I am referring to attempts of engaging in sexual intercourse and sexual advances as well as sexual comments made against the will of the victim.
I asked the owners of both alternative and more mainstream clubs and was told by everyone that cases of sexual violence are very few and far between.
Representatives of the police, experienced club promoter Liisi Ree and security guard Teet Lind echoed the message of Tallinn nightlife being quite safe during a panel discussion on public safety a few weeks ago.
The streets of Tallinn are rumored to be so safe that security companies must always be on the lookout for new opportunities and developing new services, Raimo Heinam, executive manager of Forum Security, said.
The situation is very different in many European cities. The English media regularly writes about the dangers of nightlife and is introducing programs to prevent sexual violence. Employees are harassed next to partygoers. An EU-backed study found that 56 percent of people who work in the nightlife business have experienced sexual violence at work.
Sexual violence has been reported by 72 percent of young people who actively partake in nightlife. However, the same study found that only 7 percent of 18-29-year-olds have been involved in incidents of sexual violence in the Estonian nightlife. This does not mean that violence is not a problem in Estonia.
True danger lurking at home
One might imagine a nightclub to be a place sporting a high level of sexual energy and one where miscommunication or misunderstandings often happen, while it seems the fact it is a public place disciplines people and that rather the situation takes a turn for the dangerous when there are no witnesses about.
Reports of domestic violence have made up 33 percent of nighttime calls to the police (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) for the past three years. The number of such calls has been growing annually and Estonia has the highest domestic violence rate in Europe according to a Europe-wide study on violence.
Therefore, even though public safety still needs to be improved, for example, by installing additional street lighting, what we need even more is the ability to listen to what is happening behind closed doors as victims of violence suffer from mental health issues in addition to direct health damage.
Everyone can contribute to safety in a public place. By behaving themselves, limiting their alcohol consumption, intervening when they see something suspicious or notifying the authorities. Companies can refuse to sell more alcohol to people who have clearly had enough. However, how should we help those we cannot see?
Women in Estonia deserve new norms
The same study found that only 13 out of 100 women report incidents of domestic violence. This means that a lot of work still needs to be done so that victims would dare to and know how to seek help.
An encouraging community can certainly help improve matters as evidenced by what is taking place in the media today. People share their stories more readily than ever before and encourage others to do the same instead of surrendering to fear.
Estonia is the first and so far only former Eastern Bloc country that has sexual violence crisis aid centers that work closely with all organizations and institutions involved with cases of sexual violence. This inter-organizational cooperation was achieved when people working in different structures realized a major social problem can only be solved through cooperation.
Former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling said during a panel discussion on violence against women in March that the Estonian justice system needs to come along by leaps and bounds in this regard and is a rather harsh reflection of social attitudes today. Social systems must intervene in cases where the justice system fails to protect the victim.
I have suggested in a past opinion article that in addition to even better victim support, Estonia needs amendments that would equate non-consensual sexual intercourse to rape irrespective of whether the victim resisted or was the target of violence. But an amendment alone is not enough as changing a law does not automatically result in new attitudes and no form of violence can be tolerated.
The only way to get rid of violence is to notice and talk about it. Both as a victim and someone close to them. If you notice something, speak up. Now!
Editor: Marcus Turovski