Bartenders in D.C. are learning how to stop sexual assault, and so far, it's working.


This new bartender program is showing sexual assault the door.

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A few weeks ago, a woman came into the ChurchKey bar in Washington, D.C., to have a drink alone, but a male patron had a different idea.

He sat next to her and chatted her up. While the conversation seemed innocent enough at first, the bartenders working nearby sensed the woman was growing increasingly uncomfortable. If you’re a woman and you’ve ever been to a bar by yourself, you’re probably all too familiar with this scenario.

Photo via iStock.

However, what happened next was altogether different. According to Sam Nellis, the bar owner, two bartenders on staff intervened three separate times to dissuade the man’s advances. Finally, when he went in for an unwanted kiss, one bartender said, “Hey! Don’t you think you’re getting a little aggressive there?”

When the man got up to use the bathroom, they made sure the woman was OK, helped her exit the bar through the back door, and got her into an Uber so she could get home safely.

How did these bartenders know what to do? The answer can be summed up in two words: Safe Bars.

Photo by Safe Bars.

Safe Bars is a training program that teaches bar staff to recognize the subtle signs of an impending sexual assault and stop it before anyone gets hurt.

Why is that so important? Because 1 out of every 4 women will experience some form of sexual assault in their adolescence or early adulthood. And at least half of those crimes occur while the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol.

Considering those statistics, it’s not hard to see why a program like this is so important.

Photo by ChurchKey, used with permission.

“The training helps us to recognize the subtle difference between a person okay with physical contact and someone who does not want to be touched,” Sam told Upworthy.

“For example, if someone is leaning away from the other person or if they have their arms crossed.” But it’s also about reading the dynamic of an interaction over a period of time. If a woman suddenly becomes withdrawn in a conversation with man, that should put employees on alert.

When an employee told Sam about the program, which is part of the advocacy group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and Defend Yourself, he was immediately on board.

“Frankly, it was one of those moments where you think to yourself, ‘How is this not already a thing that everybody does?'”

The program is new and is currently being funded by a $20,000 grant from the NFL, which has recently donated approximately $10 million to initiatives battling sexual violence, including this program, after being criticized over multiple incidents where players have been accused or convicted of assault.

The program is usually taught in two-hour sessions but can be customized to fit your establishment’s requirements.

It involves learning how to identify subtle signifiers of sexual aggression and role-playing to practice curtailing it. While the training doesn’t guarantee that every sexual assault can be stopped, it can certainly help bar employees be more alert and ready to take action.

While it’s relatively early in Safe Bar’s launch, the story from ChurchKey is encouraging.

Photo by ChurchKey, used with permission.

Safe Bars is already planning to expand the program to other cities, bringing it to bars that want to put an end to sexual assault in their establishments.

Sam can’t wait until the system is a given in his city and hopefully, one day, the world.

“My dream for Safe Bars is that it becomes ubiquitous in D.C. I hope that one day it will be a prerequisite for operating an establishment that serves alcohol.”

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