No industry is immune to sexual abuse, but its prevalence in the bar and nightclub industry prompted The Blue Bench – the local organization formerly known as RAAP that serves as a center for prevention and support for sexual assault – to introduce Safe Bars Denver, a program that trains bar staff and management to become active in addressing unsolicited sexual advances in their establishments.
Since 2018, Safe Bars Denver has partnered with a handful of bars across Denver to formalize sexual assault and harassment prevention training; Bars that complete the training receive a certificate and formal recognition. Now, after a COVID-inspired hiatus, Safe Bars is back, adding more bars to its list this year.
“It’s recognition that it takes a community to end sexual assault, and it’s the bar staff that are stepping up and being part of that community,” said David Proper, communications director at Blue Bench .
The two-hour training session helps bar workers recognize the spectrum of sexual assault and harassment and teaches them how to stop trouble. Preventive actions can range from a bartender approaching a predator to another staff member simply acknowledging when someone feels uncomfortable.
“We always want to establish from the outset that alcohol and liquor establishments do not cause sexual violence,” says Rebecca Kabacinski, program director of Safe Bars Denver. “He is an abuser who chooses to consume alcohol in an environment where it will go undetected and will perpetuate behavior against vulnerable people because they are under the influence.”
According to the Blue Bench, alcohol is involved in 50 percent of sexual abuse cases. While this statistic shouldn’t vilify an entire industry, Kabacinski says educating workers about the problem and empowering them to take action can help create greater cultural change.
“We believe in the broader community approach to intervention. It’s not just a conversation between individual survivors, it’s the whole community, ”she says. “We know everyone has different identities and lived experiences in the bar. We rely on a teamwork approach to preventing sexual violence, knowing that we all have unique identities, perspectives and skills. that may be different depending on how they intervene. But together we can all feel confident to intervene in a way that feels secure and true to who we are, and are able to rely more on each other . ”
Sudhir Kudva, owner of 715 Club, Matchbox, Gold Point and Squire, introduced their staff to the Safe Bars program a few years ago and plans to renew the certification this year. “We want to recognize that we are an establishment that serves alcohol, and to say that these things don’t happen here would be shortsighted,” he explains. “We encourage our bartenders to call anyone who might be engaging in predatory behavior. It’s worth the slight inconvenience and bad review from Google. It’s easy to spot the obvious creeps, but the trainings have helped our staff recognize them. other predatory behaviors which may be more subtle, and gave them the tools to prevent any sexual assault from occurring. ”
Cerebral Brewing Company signed up for the program this year. “We decided to continue training through Safe Bars after starting a dialogue with our staff about sexual harassment in the workplace and in the beer industry as a whole. Through these meetings it became clear that we needed to do more to protect and empower our as well as our customers, ”says Sean Buchan, Owner and Head Brewer of Cerebral Brewing.
Buchan and his team completed the training a month ago. “Safe Bars was a great fit, and our staff felt they received a lot of value from the training,” Buchan said. “We have deployed several other tools for our staff, and they have had great success deploying them over the past few weeks. It’s a work in progress for us, but we’re very happy with the results so far. ”
Given the turnover rate in the service industry, Kabacinski and his team encourage bars to renew their certificates annually; Safe Bars will begin putting expiration dates on certificates this year.
“When a bar is formed by Safe Bars, not only does it have the dedication and tools to prevent sexual violence in the place, but it also serves as a role model for other bars,” concludes Kabacinski. “He is becoming an industry leader, and customers and other bars are getting the message.”