Safe Bars brings sexual harassment intervention training to D.C. nightlife

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

Sudhouse is one of the D.C. bars to become part of the Safe Bars program. Two D.C. residents started the program to train bar and club employees in preventing sexual harassment.

D.C. nightlife is getting safer.

Two organizations in D.C. jointly started Safe Bars this month – a program that teaches bar employees to spot and diffuse sexual harassment, so people can feel safe drinking.

Staff from Collective Action for Safe Spaces and Defend Yourself, two grassroots organizations dedicated to empowering people to stop sexual assault, have been collaborating for the past two years to start the Safe Bars program for the D.C. area.

“In the long term, the Safe Bars program will transform local bar culture so that sexual aggression is no longer tolerated,” Jessica Raven, the executive director of CASS, said in an email.

The two-hour training curriculum for employees is jam-packed with role play, discussion and videos, all designed to train employees to intervene in harassment situations in bars and clubs, Raven said.

At the end of the training program, a bar is officially certified by Safe Bars – complete with a window decal the bars can display – and is added to their list of safe bars in D.C.

Raven said bar owners and employees have been enthusiastic about joining the program. Hank’s Oyster Bar, Comet Ping Pong, Sudhouse, ChurchKey and El Chucho – Cocina Superior are among the bars that have signed on so far.

Raven said she is still working on connecting with owners and managers of D.C. bars and clubs, a feat that she is optimistic about.

“We’ve approached a number of bars and have received an overwhelmingly positive response, particularly because most bar managers know that it’s an issue that affects staff directly and that staff sees every day,” Raven said.

The seed for the idea was first planted two years ago when Lauren Taylor, the founder and director of Defend Yourself and a GW alumna, heard about a similar program called Bartenders Against Rape and Sexism (BARS) in Arizona.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s the most perfect idea,’” Taylor said. “It hits at the intersection of sexual assault and alcohol, which I thought was a very loaded place.”

The program fit well with Defend Yourself’s mission, which is to teach people – primarily women and LGBT individuals – self-defense against sexual harassment, Taylor said.

Taylor knew from prior experience at Defend Yourself how to write a curriculum and construct two-hour training courses but said she knew the project would need some fundraising expertise. That’s when she contacted Raven to collaborate with CASS. Raven and Taylor raised $9,000 by December during their first fundraising wave.

Safe Bars training is free this month, but Taylor said they will charge for trainings starting next month.

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