No industry is exempt from 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 sex-assault prevention and support center — to introduce Safe Bars Denver
, a program that trains bar staff and management to become active in combating unsolicited sexual advances in their venues.
Since 2018, Safe Bars Denver has partnered with a handful of bars across Denver to formalize training in sexual assault and harassment prevention; 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 roster this year.
“It’s a recognition that it takes a community to stop sexual assault, and this is bar staff stepping up and being a part of that community,” says David Proper, communications director at the Blue Bench.
The two-hour training session helps bar employees recognize the spectrum of sexual assault and harassment, and teaches them how to stop trouble in its tracks. Preventive actions could range from a bartender approaching a predator to another staffer simply recognizing when someone feels uncomfortable.
"We always want to establish right off the bat that alcohol and alcohol-serving establishments do not cause sexual violence," says Rebecca Kabacinski, program director of Safe Bars Denver. "It’s a perpetrator choosing to use alcohol in an environment where they'll be undetected and perpetuate behavior against vulnerable folks because they are under the influence."
According to the Blue Bench, alcohol is involved in 50 percent of sexual-abuse cases. While that statistic shouldn't vilify an entire industry, Kabacinski says that educating workers about the issue and empowering them to take action can help create a bigger cultural shift.
"We believe in the wider community approach to intervention. It’s not just a conversation between individual survivors, it's the entire community," she says. "We know everyone has different identities and lived experiences in the bar. We build on a teamwork approach to prevent sexual violence, knowing that we all have a unique identity and perspective and skill set that might be different with how they intervene. But together we can all feel confident intervening in a way that feels safe and true to who we are, and are able to rely on each other more."
Sudhir Kudva, owner of the 715 Club, the Matchbox, Gold Point and the Squire, introduced his staff to the Safe Bars program a few years ago, and plans to renew certification this year. "We want to acknowledge that we're an establishment that serves alcohol, and to say these things don't happen here would be shortsighted," he explains. "We encourage our bartenders to call anyone out who may be engaging in predatory behavior. It's worth the slight inconvenience and bad Google review. It's easy to spot the obvious creeps, but the trainings have helped our staff recognize other predatory behaviors that may be more subtle, and given them the tools to prevent any sexual assault from happening."
Cerebral Brewing Company
signed up for the program this year. "We decided to pursue the 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 those meetings, it became apparent that we needed to do more to protect and empower our staff as well as our customers," says Sean Buchan, Cerebral Brewing owner and head brewer.
Buchan and his team completed the training a month ago. "Safe Bars was a perfect fit, and our staff feel like they received a lot of value out of the training," Buchan says. "We rolled out several other tools for our staff, and they’ve had a lot of success in rolling these out over the past few weeks. This is very much a work in progress for us, but we’ve been very pleased with the results so far."
Given the turnover rate in the service industry, Kabacinski and her team encourage bars to renew their certificates annually; Safe Bars will begin putting expiration dates on the certificates this year.
"When a bar is Safe Bars-trained, not only does it have the dedication and tools to prevent sexual violence in the venue, but it's also being a model to other bars," Kabacinski concludes. "It becomes an industry leader, and patrons and other bars get the message.”