Alcohol is something that we know plays a role within cases of sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault. Let’s be clear alcohol does not cause people to ‘grope’ women on the dance floor nor does it cause rape but it is often present. Let’s say that again – ALCOHOL DOESN’T CAUSE RAPE – THE PEOPLE WHO RAPE CAUSE RAPE.
Those working within bars and clubs provide a service which ensures that you and I are able to enjoy ourselves on nights out. It is clear then, that these types of premises have a role in the prevention of sexual violence. If those within this sector do not see their role and actively work to use their role then they can inadvertently become part of the problem.
Instead, to be part of the solution, there are ways that bar staff, owners and managers can get involved to help in some way to reduce the risk of rape or sexual assault and make it clear that society does not accept these behaviours.
- To managers/owners – Equip your staff with knowledge and awareness around the issues.
There is a simple equation I use on a daily basis, “Education = Prevention”. Within the UK the vast majority of people see issues of rape and sexual assault as abhorrent and as something that needs to be prevented. The problem is that there is still a lot of confusion when it comes to these issues. There remains a clear lack of knowledge on what constitutes rape or sexual assault. People may have a definition of consent they feel comfortable with but when they see incidents unfold there remains a lack of consensus. A programme recently aired in the UK used a scenario to generate discussion amongst a group of men and women. Some of the discussions were quite disturbing with some of the participants even trying to categorise rape into ‘serious’ and ‘less serious’ rape. Sorry folks, but rape is rape.
It was also clear from the programme that victims of rape are being blamed for what happens to them. Victim blaming is something that actually supports rapists adding to their power. Victims of sexual violence are blamed for a variety of reasons. They are blamed for being too drunk, they are blamed for wearing revealing clothing and they are blamed for being in the wrong place. The simple fact is that the only person to blame for rape is the rapist. He needs to be in the conversation at all times and the only question we should be asking is a simple one – why did he rape?
Introducing training for staff will go some way to dealing with the issues I detail above. Education = Prevention, and goes a long way to supporting long term prevention work. Not only are your staff being trained to support you in your business, they will also be contributing to wider societal prevention. Violence prevention is on all of us.
- Don’t wait for an incident to intervene.
Sometimes the need to intervene is clear. Is a customer attempting to leave with a semi-conscious woman with whom they did not arrive? The problem here is that these types of occasions are common place and this may prevent a staff member from doing something. The training you as a manager provides for your staff will not only equip them with a better awareness but it communicates to them that you take this seriously. We often assume people around us are aware of our feelings on certain subjects. Never assume.
So back to the scenario above, it’s kind of obvious don’t you think that this warrants a form of intervention. Don’t let them leave without at least trying to figure out what’s going on. You can even have the person who’s “trying to help them get home” verify that they know each other. It may feel that you are getting too close but what’s the alternative? There are premises across the UK being visited by the police every day who are investigating a rape or sexual assault that may have originated in a pub or club. I know many door staff who didn’t act on what they saw and they privately now have to deal with the “what if I had done something” thought.
Sometimes, however, the situation is less clear — remember people hook up at clubs every day of the week. It may be that the female is drunker than the guy. Again a simple chat to establish if everything is ok is all that is needed. It may be a false alarm, but again that is still better than the alternative.
Don’t hesitate to approach a customer who may look like they are trapped in an interaction they’d rather not be in. Even a friendly “Are you doing all right?” while cleaning the table or taking an order can be helpful — it lets both the aggressor and their victim know that someone is paying attention.
If you see or hear something troubling, don’t wait for an invitation to involve yourself into the situation. This can be hard and awkward. A decent person may feel insulted, but they will probably understand why you’ve intervened.
- Communicate to your customers that you take this seriously.
People go out to enjoy themselves. People work hard and they just want to go out and have fun. The service you provide contributes to this enjoyment.
Just because you let customers know that you are there to help if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable does not communicate that your premises are in any way unsafe. Remember pubs and clubs are not the problem, it’s the folks from society that choose to behave in this way that have the problems. By you communicating that you care you demonstrate the leadership that is so needed to support prevention efforts around sexual violence. By showing that you care you are being leaders. The prevention of violence needs this type of leadership.
A recent poster displayed in ladies and gents toilets in the UK offered support to people who felt unsafe with their date. It offered them a way out. It showed that premises took these issues seriously. It showed they cared.
Another poster (see below) communicates the same but in a simpler way. Let customers know you have their back.
The above poster calls out to both those directly affected as well as to those who may witness this type of behaviour. This may sound obvious to many but being a bystander to any harmful incident is difficult. These types of posters again say that they will have support if it is required. Safety in numbers is protective factor for any bystander who is thinking of saying/doing something. Put yourself in this situation, how would it make you feel knowing someone has your back?
The prevention of sexual violence is a man’s thing as much as it is a woman’s thing. Put these types of posters everywhere, even in the gent’s toilets. Let them know they have a role.
- Make sure their friends know what’s up. If they are alone, be their friend.
When working in a bar or club you are probably most likely going to be the one that hasn’t been drinking. You also work in an environment where you will notice things. You will be able to spot conflict even before it starts. The job trains you to be like that. This is an invaluable skill when it comes to the prevention of sexual violence.
You will notice the group of friends that arrived together. Should a situation arise, involve this group to support a friend who appears drunk. Most times, a group will help you and support their friends. If they don’t then you become their friend. Do not leave them alone. If you can’t take the time to do this recruit a trusted regular to help out until you can reassure yourself that all is ok or you figure out what else you can do. Just make sure they stay safe. Similarly if you see someone behaving inappropriately be there friend gently reminding them that their behaviour is making someone feel uncomfortable.
Don’t just pour an incapacitated guest into a taxi. Best-case scenario, they get to their house, and then what? They may simply get dropped off on the curb and wind up in a more vulnerable position than they were in at your bar. You’re also leaving that person in the hands of a stranger who you have no reason to trust.
- Don’t try to save the world on your own – Involve the rest of your team
If you have to intervene on behalf of a guest you feel might be in danger, tell the other bartenders, managers and team members about it. Whilst you have a responsibility to the customer you also have a responsibility to yourself – stay safe.
Friends and allies are vital when trying to prevent sexual violence. If you have jointly undergone training they will know what you are thinking and will have your back.
As a manager, communicate to your team the need to look out for each other. Remind them of their role, recap the training and give them permission to go out there and ask the difficult questions when their gut tells them something doesn’t feel right.
There is no simple fix when it comes to the prevention of sexual violence. The issues may be complex, they may be hidden and at times confusing. The above represents some ways that bars and clubs can get involved in the prevention of these issues.
The statistics around these issues speak for themselves. We can be part of the solution and help prevent more people from becoming victims. Some of these interventions may not be possible on a busy night. The knowledge of that difficulty can discourage us from taking action. But, while nobody can fix this on their own, the worst thing good people can do is nothing. In some way the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Taking even a few basic steps to create a safer space lets people know that rape and other forms of harassment will not be tolerated, not just in your bar but everywhere. As more people become aware that the rest of us care enough to do something, it adds up to real, meaningful change. This can only be a good thing for both business and community alike.
If you want to learn more or arrange a training for your organisation please get in touch with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org