Foreign students should be careful when they drink too much in Rome
For a young, English-speaking tourist, Rome’s flourishing nightlife offers plenty of options, from jazz bars to disco clubs. Exploring the city at night allows visitors to view Rome from a new perspective and enjoy the movida, the culture that comes alive after dark. As well as the monuments that draw visitors to the city in the first place, there is also a trendy and vibrant bar scene for a young audience. However it is important to know how to navigate these areas safely and to be aware of the dangerous drinking culture and the pitfalls that exist for foreign students.
Busy late-night bars in Campo de’ Fiori or north of the Ponte Milvio, and small, cramped clubs in Trastevere attract flocks of American students and other young foreign tourists. However, along with more customers has come an increase in violence and unsafe behaviour. From mass brawls to physical and sexual assaults, the popular places for visitors to experience Rome’s nightlife have evolved into troublesome areas.
Crowded bars with English menus and remarkably inexpensive deals on drinks can feel like a nice taste of home and a comfortable place to enjoy the night with friends. Many of these bars are designed to specifically target young Americans. Compared with other venues that charge more for alcohol and may not be as attractive to English speakers, these American-style bars offer students a place to interact in the same language and order rounds of shots without breaking their budget. They are convenient and affordable for young visitors, but they have their dangers. Many who frequent these places can drink all night without noticing the effects until they get up to leave and are unable to stand or find their way home.
Along with cheap drinks, organised pub-crawls guide their clients through the nightlife in Rome, encouraging heavy drinking until the small hours. However sometimes drinkers are left behind or get lost and then have to find their own way home. The Rome police have been investigating these bar tours for years, but several pub-crawls still operate and in extreme cases young drinkers end up in hospital with alcohol poisoning or other drink-related injuries, or are left unconscious in the streets.
In the past few years there have been several fatalities among foreign students in Rome. In 2009 the body of a young Australian visitor was found on the banks of the Tiber hours after a pub-crawl. In 2013 an American student fell to his death from Ponte Sisto, on the route between Campo de’ Fiori and Trastevere, after one of these organised drinking nights, and in February this year, another American on a study year abroad was found dead in the railway tunnel near St Peter’s after a night out at an Americanstyle bar in Campo de’ Fiori.
Young tourists have also fallen victim to stabbings and muggings at night in these popular bar neighbourhoods. An American student spending the weekend in Rome recently woke up in hospital with a broken spine and no recollection of how it happened.
In Trastevere, the “knock-out game” has become a dangerous trend among drunken Italian teenagers who compete with one another to punch their random victims unconscious. In May an Italian waiter was knocked out on his way home at midnight by the church of S. Dorotea, between the end of Via della Lungara and the Tiber. When he regained consciousness he realised that he was still in possession of his wallet and telephone. Locals say that the increase in mini-markets that sell cheap alcohol to teenagers has made the situation worse. For women, these late night bars and tourist traps present additional threats. Busy pubs that attract young, English speaking foreigners are ideal places for men to prey on drunk and oblivious travellers. The relaxed atmosphere makes it easy for strangers to take advantage of young women and spike their drinks. Single foreign men in the city’s gay bars can also be easy targets.
While many cases of rape and sexual assaults go unreported, they are known to be a significant problem among young tourists in the city. In May this year, a bouncer at a nightclub in Rome was accused of raping a British woman who was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, after offering her a place to stay for the night. And although criminals can victimise anyone, young foreign women are the predominant target.
The problem is not unique to Rome; other university cities such as Perugia and tourist centres along the Adriatic coast are also trying to find formulas to crack down on Saturday night binge drinking and drug use, which often end in fatal driving accidents.
Every summer Rome implements anti alcohol laws, which the current mayor, Ignazio Marino, reintroduced in June. Businesses are forbidden to sell alcohol for customers to take away after 22.00. Consumption of alcohol in glass bottles in outdoor public places is banned after 22.00 and bars must stop serving alcohol to customers indoors at 02.00. The laws remain in effect until 31 October. But these regulations are designed to curb excess noise and violence during the summer months. Not much is being done to cope with excess drinking during the academic year when Rome fills up with foreign students.
Although the capital is working to prevent the rise of alcohol abuse and its impact, young foreigners could also do more to recognise potentially dangerous situations, and help others to do the same.
In 2012 a 22-year-old Australian woman in Rome was attacked after a pub-crawl. She was found near Termini station suffering from a severe haemorrhage, with a high blood alcohol content and evidence that she had been raped.
More recently, a female American student in Rome for the summer accepted a drink from a stranger at a bar in Trastevere and woke up the next morning in hospital with no recollection of what happened. The man had drugged her drink and left her unconscious with signs of a possible sexual assault.
This summer a student studying abroad accepted a ride from what she thought was a taxi to get home after a night on the town. The driver then demanded four times the usual price for the ride when they reached her apartment. When she tried to refuse, the driver locked the doors and didn’t allow her to leave until she paid.
Words of caution
Never join an organised pub crawl.
Never go drinking on your own, and if you go out for a night on the town, stick with your friends.
Avoid areas you know are trouble spots.
Never accept drinks from strangers, any more than you would at home.
Only take official, white, city-registered taxis with a licence number on the door (this is usually the name of a city and a number, for example Verona 9). If a taxi driver tries to rip you off, make a note of the licence number and report it to the police.