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Signals for Safety

How asking for “Angela” or ordering an “angel shot” can save you from dating violence

By Stephanie Thurrott | DomesticShelters.org

A creative plan from the UK designed to help people escape potentially dangerous dates is catching on globally. Hayley Child, reducing offending strategy coordinator with the Lincolnshire County Council, says she was seeing police reports where people who connected on dating websites and then met in person were victims of sexual violence. Statistics back up her observations—the UK’s National Crime Agency reported a 600 percent increase in sexual offenses linked to online dating from 2009 to 2014.

“There’s a high link between alcohol, the nighttime economy and sexual violence,” she says. “People are meeting in bars, so we wanted to put something in place in the bar to protect the person there.”

Is Angela Here?

In response, Child developed the Ask for Angela campaign. With it, bars, pubs and clubs place posters in their bathrooms telling people that if they are in a situation where they feel weird or unsafe they can “ask for Angela” at the bar. The staff will understand that they need help and take them aside or discreetly ask what type of help they require. That might mean calling friends or family, arranging for a ride, asking the other person to leave or calling the police.

She points out that in a busy bar it can be a challenge to communicate with the staff and having a code word lets people get help more quickly. “It’s a way of empowering a potential victim to get support,” Child says. “If someone can regain control by asking for Angela, that’s great.”

Bars are encouraged to place the posters in all of their bathrooms, since dating violence can happen to people of any gender or sexual orientation. Some people question whether the publicity makes perpetrators aware of the campaign, but Child says that’s not the point. “It’s not about keeping it a secret,” she says. The campaign shows people that the bar staff understands that dangerous situations can come up and that they are prepared to help their customers.

Child says she knows of a few times where people have asked for Angela and received help, including one situation where the perpetrator was arrested. Last October, a woman in Gloucester was out at a bar when a man she had just met “became enamored” with her, and she started feeling uncomfortable with his sexual advances. She asked for Angela at a bar and was escorted to the back of the venue where a taxi was called for her and a member of the staff waited with her until it arrived.

Following the success of the Lincolnshire launch, pubs and clubs in the London area and across the UK, and in Ireland, Germany, and Australia are signing on. Child points out, “It doesn’t cost anything. They just put posters in the bar—we’re not asking the bar staff to do anything they wouldn’t ordinarily do. We’re just giving customers a code word to communicate that they need help.” She chose the name Angela to honor the memory of Angela Crompton, a victim of domestic violence who was murdered by her husband.

A Similar U.S. Solution

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In the U.S., a similar campaign in several cities urges people to order an “angel shot” to signal that they need help. The code is more complex than the UK version—“neat” means a staff member will escort you to your car, “with ice” means they will call a ride for you and “with lime” signals them to call the police.

It’s important to keep in mind that these code words are not universally known. If you’ve seen a sign referencing safety codes in a restroom, you know that the establishment is following these safety measures. But if you feel unsafe and you’re not sure if there’s a system in place in your location, you’re better off using other methods to signal your need for help. Excuse yourself, go to the restroom and either call the bar and ask for an escort or a ride or call the police from the restroom and wait for help. Don’t walk outside or isolate yourself with a person if you don’t feel safe.

There are certain personality markers of “safe people” and “unsafe people” which can stand out, and may help you identify in the future if you’re in a safe situation. See our list of Safe People Characteristics and Unsafe People Characteristics.