A new program for bar and restaurant staff aims to help those front-line employees identify and intervene in potentially dangerous situations that could lead to sexual assault.
The “intervention training program,” set to launch in December, is sponsored by Response, a valley nonprofit dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Tom Regan, who runs a local consulting business that provides classes in alcohol service and food safety for bar and restaurant employees, will conduct the trainings.
“Why bars?” asks a slide in draft presentation materials for the classes. “Bars are a great place to address sexual assault prevention for a variety of reasons. As social-gathering places where alcohol is readily available, they are a type of environment that a sexual aggressor may use as a staging ground for selecting, isolating, and even incapacitating their targets.”
Restaurant and bar employees are in a unique position to observe the seeds of an assault before one occurs. The class will include an overview of what to look for, including a focus on “isolation.” This is a tactic perpetrators use to get their potential victim drunk and away from their friends. The program will emphasize checking in with the potential victim by asking simple questions, such as if they know the potential perpetrator and if they came here with friends.
“If they can’t answer simple identifying questions, such as what her/his name is and who they came to the bar with, it’s a red flag,” the draft materials say.
Other aspects of the program come down to responsible alcohol service and preventing the kind of over-serving that would cause a person to become too incapacitated to give consent.
One in five women will be rape victims in their lifetime, said Response program director Txell Pedragosa. Half of those cases involve alcohol use, either by the victim, the perpetrator, or both.
It is important to emphasize, however, that although a woman’s alcohol consumption may place her at increased risk of sexual assault, she is in no way responsible for the assault, according to the Response materials. The perpetrators are legally and morally responsible for their behavior.
The program will include stickers and posters distributed to local bars and restaurants that have participated in the trainings. One designed to be fixed to the door says “This is a safe bar.” Some are intended to be placed in restrooms and ask, “Are you on a date with someone and it isn’t working out?” If the answer is yes, the person is directed to notify staff of the establishment, or call the Response 24-hour crisis hotline at 920-7333. On the other end will be a trained volunteer advocate who will work with the person on what to do. This could involve calling another friend, or perhaps another Response volunteer, to come by to provide an out for the person; contacting police; or having Response reach out to the bar staff to get them involved.
The program will launch on Dec. 8 with an open house at city hall where the public is invited to view the materials and chat with program coordinators. Pedragosa said she hopes it will create more consciousness and awareness in the community that “we are not OK with sexual assault.”
October is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Response is taking the occasion to note that, besides the upcoming intervention trainings, it continues its community outreach on a number of fronts. These include coordinating with the district attorney’s office, treatment providers, the jail, the legal community and others to help survivors navigate “post-separation abuse and parenting” following domestic violence.
Other efforts include “peer-to-peer” outreach groups in schools, bilingual outreach to employees and employers throughout the valley, and help with emergency shelter and protection orders.
So far in 2017, according to the organization, 15 of Response’s volunteer advocates have contributed 4,276 hours that helped 92 survivors; 197 calls have been received on the 24-7 helpline (nearly twice as many calls as were received in all of 2016); 80 individuals have been assisted with safety planning and/or protection orders; 37 prevention, education, and awareness events were held; and 985 high-school and middle-school students have attended Response’s educational programs about gender stereotypes, teen-dating violence, cyber abuse and characteristics of healthy relationships in the 2016-17 school year.