A WOMAN was raped and another sexually assaulted at a Middlesbrough nightclub last weekend.

The attacks, rightly branded horrific by police, will come as no surprise to the majority of those who have experienced firsthand the toxic culture of the UK’s nighttime economy.

The press release that brought the news was stark in its details and depressingly familiar in its nature. Barely a week goes by without the Echo receiving word from the authorities of sexual assault, rape or abuse – and we know that such reports and appeals represent little more than the tip of the iceberg - behind the official statements are innumerable untold stories and unreported abuses.

Inevitably, many of those crimes will have been committed while the victim - more often than not a woman - was spending an evening in a pub, club or gig.

I’ve never met a woman who couldn’t share a story of being subjected to wandering hands, unwanted advances or outright sexual assault while on a night out and I have all too many tales of my own. Once, a bouncer had to let two friends and I out of a side entrance of a nightclub after several men surrounded us and would not accept our rejection of their advances – they chased us out and hammered on our taxi window, faces distorted with rage. Another time, two friends of friends shoved their hands into my knickers from behind as I was sitting between them in a pub.

I don’t have the space to recount them all, but such experiences are arguably rooted in the shrugging off, the unthinking dismissal of lower-level violations of personal space. The relentless pursuit of women is begrudgingly accepted by many as simply part and parcel of going out on the town, the behaviour so entrenched that it raises few eyebrows and goes almost unnoticed.

Of course, not every approach from one stranger to another is problematic but many are indicative of a pernicious culture that allows sleazy chancers and predatory perverts to operate almost with impunity, to pursue women as prey.

Statistics suggest that men will generally encounter issues of a different - but no less concerning - kind, with brawls and attacks fuelled by drug and alcohol-soaked violence requiring a column of their own to dissect.

Such issues, and similarly those at play within the LGBT+ community, I simply do not have the experience to comment upon.

However, there is clearly a darkness inherent within the hedonism of an evening on the town – there are very real problems within the club scene and it’s a notoriously difficult culture for the authorities to police.

Last weekend’s attacks are not only an embodiment of the issues that fester at the heart of the night-time economy but a reminder of how much work there is to be done in making our venues safe for revellers.

From sexual offences and harassment to violence and substance abuse, we’re so used to seeing these problems that they often go unseen, unchallenged. But there are ways of making a difference - in calling out problematic behaviour in friends, keeping our eyes open to what’s happening on the dancefloor or training staff to spot signs of sexual harassment, we can help to dismantle a troubled culture and attempt to set in its place one grounded in safety and respect.