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Clubbing is a pretty popular pastime here in the nation’s capital—but often a dangerous one. Aside from the bumping, shoving, and fist-fighting that inevitably accompany booze-fueled, ego-inflated outings, there’s this whole phenomenon of clubgoers’ getting cut with sharp objects. Sometimes very badly.

Since last May, there have been at least 14 reported slashings at various D.C. venues, from seemingly isolated incidents at tiny taverns Wonderland and So Much More to repeated stabbings at larger locales Club U and Dream. Even the Old Post Office Pavilion was the backdrop for a late-night-dance-party-turned-bloody in March.

At least three people have died as a result of these unfortunate events.

Perhaps their regularity has something to do with the accessibility of knives, which, unlike firearms, not only are easy to carry and conceal but also are largely unregulated in the District. As Dream owner Marc Barnes recently pointed out to entertainment-industry trade mag Pollstar: “[I]t is not against the law in Washington, D.C., to carry a three-inch knife into an establishment, although Dream does not allow it.” And even at Dream, patrons have been known to sneak such weapons past security and onto the dance floor.

But a typical blade isn’t always the instrument of infliction. Some clubbers have been cut with broken beer bottles. At least one was injured with a box cutter. Sometimes, the exact weapon is “unknown,” as noted in many police reports.

Don’t become a hapless stabbing victim. Before you head out this weekend, consult your handy S&T Nightlife Survival Guide.

Nightlife Survival Guide

Skip the dodgy clubs. Go square-dancing.

“The most important thing is, don’t go in a place where you think there’s a chance you’re gonna be stabbed,” says Dr. Michael Williams, director of injury prevention at Washington Hospital Center.

Instead, make a beeline to the weekly contra and square dances at Glen Echo Park, featuring “live music by fabulous bands with awesome callers,” according to a program from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. There’s no alcohol, no smoking, and no history of serious violence. Even potentially offensive odors are strictly prohibited: “If you use scented products, such as perfumes, please be considerate of those with allergies and use a gentle hand.”

But should you choose something a bit more edgy than Glen Echo, check your venue’s safety record.

Of course, scouting an establishment can be tricky. Kyle Rodekohr, 24, thought that he was in a pretty secure environment last fall, when, according to a police report, he got stabbed during an altercation at Tom Tom in Adams Morgan. “I’ve been at Tom Tom before that and I never felt threatened,” Rodekohr says. Still, he wound up spending two days at George Washington University Hospital, he says, after leaving the club on Nov. 28, 2004, with a deep, seeping gash in his left side.

Scrap the macho routine. Play it cool.

Rodekohr’s altercation began innocently enough. “Either I looked at the guy wrong or I bumped into him by accident,” he says. But things quickly escalated. “He pushed me. So I pushed him back. And we just exchanged a few words.”

A “little scuffle” ensued, “pushing, shoving, that kind of stuff,” he says. “Then, what happened was, I thought I got punched in the side. And after I felt that, [the guy and his crew] ran away. And like a minute or two later, my buddy noticed that I had blood coming from the side of my shirt. And that’s when I realized I got stabbed.”

In hindsight, Rodekohr figures he shouldn’t have pushed back. “If you get confronted by somebody you don’t know, just brush them off and ignore them,” he says, “because you don’t know what they’re capable of.”

Don’t get too snockered.

Williams suggests that staying sober may decrease your risk of getting stabbed. “There are very few victims of stabbings that we see that aren’t drunk, or at least have a fair amount of alcohol on board,” the doctor says. “Those of us in the prevention business like to think that if you were either sober or a little more sober, you might have been able to just step away.”

Rodekohr, for one, “stated that he consumed four to five alcoholic beverages at a different establishment” before even coming to Tom Tom on the night of his incident, according to a case report by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. And once he got there, the report notes, he downed another “two shots of liquor and four to five beers.”

Not only does heavy drinking diminish your reaction time, it “can hinder your ability to effectively assess the situation and determine what the appropriate tactical response is gonna be,” says self-defense instructor Sammy Franco, president and founder of Contemporary Fighting Arts in Gaithersburg, Md.

Watch out for shady types who touch themselves.

“It’s a habit a lot of guys have when they have knives and guns on them,” says Franco. “It’s called a ‘safety pat.’ They just pat themselves every so often. What they’re doing is, they’re just tapping the weapon to make sure it’s there.”

Expect to get cut—even if you see it coming.

“Defending against a knife attack is extremely difficult,” says Franco, who notes that police officers generally need about 20 feet of distance to fire two bullets at a charging, knife-wielding attacker. As for an unarmed clubgoer on a crowded dance floor, well, good luck.

“Even if you have a gun and you’re 10 feet away from the guy, you’re gonna get stabbed,” he says. “And we’re just talking about a guy who’s riding purely on adrenaline. Forget about it if he’s on coke or any type of psychoactive drug, or if he’s just enraged. I mean, if somebody goes postal with a blade…”

Don’t go for the knife or try to pull some Jackie Chan shit.

Fighting for possession of the weapon is a self-defense no-no that’s only attempted by the truly bold and the best-trained street brawlers, Franco says. Or the doomed. “You better make sure you’re damn good at defending against a knife attack,” he says. “Otherwise, you’re gonna end up being a cadaver.”

Fend off incoming strikes with your (outer) forearms.

Ideally, in the “brief second” you have to prepare for an oncoming attacker, Franco suggests, you should assume the following defensive stance: “You wanna bring both of your arms up and make two fists,” he says. “Your fists should be about the height of your lower nose, your septum area,” he goes on. “You wanna have both of your arms parallel to one another, making sure that the belly of your forearms is facing you.”

This position helps protect both your face and neck, as well as crucial arteries along your inner forearm, Franco explains.

Williams, also a trauma surgeon, concurs, noting that the outer forearm’s ulna bone can endure that kind of attack a whole lot better than other parts. “If you gotta pick one thing in your forearm to get slashed, that’s the thing,” the doctor says. “The knife won’t break it, necessarily, and most of the muscles and certainly the nerves are behind it.”

“It’ll be bad,” Franco notes. “But you won’t be incapacitated.”

Suck in that gut and back that thang up.

“You wanna take your torso, your stomach area, and sink it back,” Franco says. This will decrease your attacker’s ability to swipe your belly while your forearms are busy protecting your upper body. You’ll know you’re doing it right if your posterior is protruding quite noticeably—a position most dance-club patrons are readily accustomed to.

Fight back with makeshift weapons.

“For instance, you could break a beer bottle and use that as an edged weapon,” Franco suggests. S&T would offer a few other possibilities: Look for a pool cue, a woman’s metal-tipped stiletto, or perhaps a studded belt to use as a whip. Even those colorful cocktail swords, if aimed accurately enough, could potentially put an eye out.

Stop the bleeding. Put your feet up. Wait for help.

Once the onslaught has stopped, you can safely assess the damage.

“Between the incident and the time that the paramedics arrive, the biggest thing for any sort of puncture wound or laceration is control the bleeding,” says Dr. Michael Washington, chair of emergency medicine at Howard University Hospital. “That’s really the only thing the individual can do, or anyone that’s assisting.” And it’s a crucial thing that people sometimes overlook or avoid altogether—with deadly results, he says.

“Not without good reason, non-medical personnel are often freaked out about a bunch of blood,” adds Williams. Nonetheless, the doctor says, it’s important to apply pressure directly over the wound. “It can be with your hand. It can be a rolled-up shirt. It can be with a bunch of napkins,” he says.

You should keep pressure on the spot until bleeding stops. But don’t wrap the injury too tightly. You don’t want to create a tourniquet effect. “Although that would stop the bleeding,” Washington notes, “you could lose a limb.”

You should try to remain calm. Also, you “may wanna put his feet up, just so you make sure to keep blood flowing to the brain,” Washington adds. Elevating the affected area is also recommended. “And as soon as possible, you wanna make that call to 911,” he notes. “Hopefully, with EMS response times improving, that should be sufficient.”

Staying put is also a good idea should you ever try to hold the club accountable for your injuries. Rodekohr, for one, opted to exit Tom Tom briefly to get a better look at his wound, he says, before notifying a bouncer that he’d been stabbed. Owner Iraj Askarinam has since denied that the incident ever took place inside his establishment.

Get a lawyer.

The club could be found liable for damages. There’s at least one such claim presently moving through the court system—a $50 million wrongful-death suit stemming from the fatal stabbing of 25-year-old Tirrell Smith at D.C.’s Platinum nightclub in October 2003.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters, in a December 2004 ruling, advanced the cause of club-stabbing victims across the District. She noted that the “courts have held in certain cases…that a third party’s criminal act was sufficiently foreseeable as to establish liability on the part of a defendant.”

In other words, the club might have to cough up some compensation if the court finds it has a track record of prior violence and inadequate security. A trial in the Smith case is scheduled for Aug. 15.

—Chris Shott

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