Don't Be Afraid of Combative Female Guests

Footwear or weapons? Those two little heels can do severe soft tissue damage. Image: rallinger_HH / iStock / Getty Images Plus

I received a call from a client about an injury that occurred to one of their security guards while walking out a combative female guest. As the owner told me the story of how the injury occurred, I listened and mentally analyzed the incident…as I do to all these types of phone call stories.

As the owner talked, I evaluated the why and the possible solution to help my other clients prevent a similar injury. Additionally, as I listened to the story, I realized he was touching on an increasing problem seen across the country in bars and clubs. This problem is that females are absolutely becoming more violent and our male guards are afraid to go hands on.

Oh, by the way, the injury, just so you know, is commonly called a “fish hook.” Some of you immediately know what I mean. For those who don’t, this very painful and potentially life-changing injury occurs when the female guest, while holding her stiletto heels, swings them at the security guard as a weapon. The fish hook occurs when the long, slender portion of the heel catches the victim guard in the soft tissue of the cheek and penetrates the mouth. Hence, fish hook injury.

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In this particular incident, and in too many other similar incidents, the answer to why it occurred is first that the female guest was allowed to become obviously over-intoxicated. Second, the three security guards were genuinely afraid to put their hands on her as they walked her out.

Combating Stereotypes as Much as Guest 

Yes, I said the security guards were afraid to put their hands on a violent guest; a violent female guest. Again, for those of you who are actually in the hospitality industry, you probably know why the guards were worried. For those of you who may have never even thought about this, please allow me to explain this multilevel problem.

The guards were worried about two things as they were considering putting their hands on this violent female:

  1. Being accused of sexual harassment.
  2. Being accused of sexual assault.

Right off the bat, let me tell you that neither truly apply to the bar or club security guard while doing their job correctly.

Let me further explain this issue in detail. Hopefully, as you read this, you have an open mind and carefully consider my explanation. Also, I’m not an attorney and if you doubt my explanation, please go pay for an attorney to tell you I’m right. Here are the primary historic reasons male guards are afraid to truly grab and handle a violent female:

  • Guards are typically male. Most hospitality security guards or “bouncers” are male. Females can do the job but 99 percent of bouncers are men.
  • Gender bias training and reinforcement. Male security guards were once young boys and young men. As such, they were typically taught some very basic fundamentals growing up in how to treat women. (I understand that not all males received this sort of direction, however, in my experience, most have.) My father raised me with certain morals and I fell right in line and taught my son the same that boys should be nice to girls and boys should not hit girls.

These are two of the most commonly taught gender bias stereotypes and there are many others. If we can agree that this is a fairly accurate of what elder males have taught and currently teach younger males, it should be easy to understand the underlying fear by male guards when they approach a combative female. First, the unique and odd sight of a female fighting will set men back on their heels (no pun intended). Secondly, having to put their hands on a fighting female goes directly against what they were taught growing up. 

Job Training That Fails Our Bouncers

Inadequate job training is why some bars find themselves in these situations. Truly understanding sexual harassment and sexual assault is an important part of creating a comfortable and successful work environment. I am a complete advocate of this type of training and think it needs more emphasis. However, the hospitality industry is a very unique animal in respects to how we teach sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention to our employees, particularly our male employees.

Nearly all sexual harassment and sexual assault training sessions I’ve attended for the hospitality industry discuss the normal harassment and assault issues related to inappropriate activity, conduct, or contact, typically between a manager and their employee, or an employee and another employee. This type of training is appropriate. However, what I’ve seen that is missing is a discussion on what sexual harassment and sexual assault is not.

Teaching what these things are not can truly help the predominately male work pool understand the issue, while also lowering incidents of assault on guards by females, lowering overall premise liability and reducing negligence claims.

Remember, what I’m training and writing about is simple: A guest is not an employee and the common terms of sexual harassment and sexual assault do not apply from a male employee toward a guest. What this means should be simple to understand. Employees have certain laws they must follow regarding other employees or contracted employees: what they discuss, whey they do, how they act, and so on. These laws do not apply in the same way to guests visiting our bars or clubs. Here is one simple example:

A guard makes a rude comment regarding the physical apperances of a guest's body parts. This comment is not illegal or anything related to sexual harassment as the law outlines. It is, however, a rude and inappropriate comment and the guard should be terminated. But the comment is not a sexual harassment issue.

Here is another example:

A guard continues to ask a guest for their phone number. The guard continues and now tries to get a date with the same female guest. As the female guest leaves the venue, the guard follows the guest outside to continue to try to get her phone number and a date.

The above behavior by the guard is not illegal and again, is not sexual harassment as the law outlines. However, as I stated in the last scenario, it is a rude, inappropriate and possibly intimidating behavior by the guard and they should be terminated for their actions.

Now, let’s step up the pressure and discuss an actual fight:

A female is fighting with another female guest. The security guard radios for backup as they move in to grab the arms of one of the fighting females. He pulls her arms behind her back, holds her against a wall—for a moment—calms her down, and then walks her out with another guard while continuing to hold her arms behind her back.

Now, ask yourself: “Was there any employer or employee position of power in this interaction related to workplace harassment?” The answer is no.

This should be easy to understand: No matter what others yell out or insist, the sexual harassment making the headlines involves the workplace. In my scenario, the guard was doing their job in the best way for this situation. Failure to step in to grab the arms of the female would open the bar to increased liability for failing to take reasonable steps to limit injury or violence.

Next, let’s talk about sexual assault. Law enforcement agents in every city should know their state statutes and often will know, from memory, what types of crimes are “specific intent crimes.” Sexual assault is considered this type of crime.

What that phrase basically means is that the suspect involved in the sexual assault must have specific intent to commit that crime before or as they commit the crime. The law enforcement agent can discover the specific Intent by the suspect as they gather information from the victim, witnesses or suspect; from the actual actions of the suspect; and even from any in-house video of the incident.

In addition to the specific intent element, a sexual assault crime is required to contain certain actions that must also occur to be defined as such. Although these actions differ slightly from state to state, the basic premise of the crime is the same: The suspect must have intentionally touched the intimate parts of another with the intent to cause or gain sexual arousal. Again, this phrase may read differently in other states but tends to be very similar.

So, now consider our prior fighting female scenario:

She is fighting with another female. Our guard radios for backup, moves in, and grabs the arms of the fighting female. He pulls her arms behind her, holds her against a wall, calms her down, and then walks her outside with a partner and both hold her arms.

Now, ask yourself: “What was the guard’s intent at the very moment he grabbed the fighting female?” You should be able to easily see the intent of the guard was to stop the fight and prevent any further injury. It really is that simple.

Security guards or bouncers are hired for the main purpose of keeping guests, employees and property safe. They seek out problems, react to those problems, and attempt to solve problems to reduce the property’s civil liability exposure. This is a very difficult job if the proper training is not provided.

Keeping Safety at the Forefront

Now, let’s go back to the opening paragraph about the call from my client and my quick analysis. Ask yourself, “If the security guards had reacted to the combative female guest by putting their hands on her correctly—by securing her hands—is it more than likely that the injury would have been prevented?” I sure think so.

I’ve been teaching and training on this topic for many years and I still find resistance from operators, managers, and guards. I understand the resistance: it’s all from the gender bias training nearly all men have received for hundreds of years. I tell these resistant operators that two training goals I have are to keep their guards from getting arrested and to keep their bar or club from getting sued.

I am also very aware of the fear from owners or managers who worry about the perception and the complaints from a fighting female guest and their friends. I ask that owner or manager to weigh the risk versus reward. In other words, what is the potential cost of not breaking up the fight correctly and quickly versus trying to simply stand in between and using our bodies as shields? I don’t think the risk of complaints matches the insurance losses from not breaking up the fight.

It’s imperative that owners and managers understand that the current news discussions on sexual harassment and sexual assault are important. And it’s also important for owners and managers to teach their teams that one of their primary jobs is to prevent injuries to guests, employees, and even to themselves.

Good luck and be safe.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nightclub & Bar or its affiliates. The author is not an attorney and this article does not constitute legal advice.