Bars Are Trying Something New To Help Stop Sexual Assault, And It's Actually Pretty Simple

This has been a long time coming.

Bartenders aren't just supposed to make you good cocktails, they're also supposed to keep you safe.

That's the idea behind a new program called Safe Bars, which trains bar and restaurant staff to defuse and prevent situations involving sexual assault or harassment.

Safe Bars, which is currently being launched in the Washington, D.C. area, will come to your bar and teach your staff how to handle uncomfortable moments between patrons. For example, an article on Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) described a situation where a man repeatedly put his arm around a disinterested woman. When he got up to go to the bathroom, a bartender asked the woman if she wanted help getting out of the situation. When she did, they snuck her out the back of the bar and put her in an Uber.

The training is offered for any alcohol-serving establishments, including bars, restaurants and nightclubs. 

"We're focusing on alcohol-serving establishments because, while alcohol doesn't cause sexual assault, aggressors use alcohol as a weapon or an excuse in about 50 percent of sexual assaults," CASS executive director Jessica Raven told A Plus. "That puts bar staff in a unique position to intervene." 

This program addresses an important issue that millions of women have to deal with. Conservative estimates say about one in four women will experience sexual assault of some kind in their lifetime. Half of the perpetrators will be under the influence of alcohol.

The NFL, which has faced heavy media criticism for its handling of sexual assault cases, recently donated $10 million to sexual violence support programs. About $20,000 of that money found its way to CASS in support of Safe Bars. They also got a hand from Defend Yourself, an organization that teaches skills to stop harassment and assault.

"We teach specific skills to safely and effectively intervene to stop sexual harassment, and then we work with the bar staff to practice," Raven said. "I think the best skill that we teach is how to read body language and recognize subtle signs that someone may feel uncomfortable or unsafe." 

As has been well documented, bystander intervention is one of the most effective ways to stop someone from becoming a victim. One study estimated that "bystanders prevented injuries in an average of 1.2 million violent victimizations per year between 1993 and 1999."

With more programs like Safe Bars, the hope is that fewer people will have to fear a simple pleasure like getting a drink.

Want to take the happy hour pledge? Check out Safe Bars' website here

Cover image via Dave Dugdale.