It's summer in America. A time for gatherings and adventures, days spent splashing at the lake, lounging at the beach, and evening barbeques with family and friends. For many people, that means enjoying a few cold drinks and toasting to a never-ending summer. Unfortunately, there is a darker side to summer festivities.
It is no secret that alcohol is often involved in sexual assault. In fact, we live in a culture where many consider it acceptable to use alcohol to guarantee sex. Sexual aggressors use gatherings large and small to isolate, and even incapacitate someone they are planning to harm.
People are responsible for sexual assault, not alcohol.
But if we can understand how alcohol is used 1) as a tool to make someone vulnerable or 2) to excuse bad behavior, we can keep people safe.
At the SAFE Bar Network, we partner with bars and other alcohol-serving venues to create a workplace culture focused on using active bystander skills to increase safety and give everyone a safe night out.
We have 7 ways you can join us in preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault this summer.
1. Know the facts.
When you hear “date rape drugs” you probably don’t think of alcohol. The truth is, alcohol is the most common substance used to make someone vulnerable. If you dig into why it becomes obvious: it’s legal, inexpensive, socially accepted, and too much of it can cause incapacitation and lapses in memory. Alcohol is not responsible for sexual harassment and sexual assault and it’s not an excuse for bad behavior. However, we know that people use it as a tool to make others vulnerable and to hurt them.
We often explain this with a simple equation (above). The bottom line being when you remove the perpetrator from the equation the risks from drinking too much don’t include sexual assault. It’s important to know that, because of the presence of alcohol, sexual violence is a safety issue faced by everyone. If you are reading this and thinking, "not my backyard barbeque," "not my favorite spot," you're missing out on an opportunity to keep people safe.
2. Notice concerning behavior.
The majority of the time victims of sexual assault are hurt by someone that they know. So throw that implicit bias, those preconceived notions, and myths about sexual assault out the window. Yes, the person who gives you the creeps may be a problem, but the charismatic person who is working the room may also be a problem. Shift the focus from ideas we have about people to observable behaviors and body language. Believe people when they share a concern or ask for help.
3. Learn bystander intervention skills.
In SAFE Bar training conversations we talk about three simple active bystander skills you can practice every day.
Notice. You don’t have to be an expert on the dynamics of harassment to notice when something isn’t right. Trust your gut. If you see someone is uncomfortable or unsafe do something to help. Watch this quick video for examples.
Take Action. For far too long we’ve talked about bystander intervention as if there is only one solution – to put on a cape, be the hero, and confront the person causing the problem. Yes, that works. But there are so many other options that work just as well and may be better for the situation.
· Do Something Yourself. Talk to the person causing the problem, check in with the person being hurt.
· Get Others to Help. Get your outgoing friend to say something, check in with the people around you, and make it a team effort.
· Talk About Something Else. Create a clever distraction by starting a conversation, or say you need help finding the restroom, this is your chance to be creative.
For more ideas check out this short video.
Give Support. Get Support. There are going to be times when you take action and it feels really good. But there are also going to be times when you try to help someone and it’s a bit more complicated. Maybe it doesn’t feel good. Maybe you’re not sure how to feel. Tell someone you trust what happened and when the time comes, be ready to pay it forward by offering support to someone else. Learn how supporting others can change the culture, watch here.
4. Give drinks to people who want them.
When it comes to alcohol, don’t buy
drinks for people who don’t want them. Don’t serve drinks to people who don’t want them. Seems simple but we often hear from people that if a tray of shots is delivered to their table, they’ll take one even though they would never order a shot for themselves. They don’t really want a shot but shots are hard to refuse in social situations.
If you are out having a good time, check with someone before you get them a drink. If you notice that a drink is made for someone who doesn't want one, take a second to check in and see if you can help. If someone wants a beer but their friend insists they have a shot, get them the beer.
5. Find their friends.
If someone has had too much to drink find their friends. People working in the food and beverage industry tell us in every training conversation we facilitate that when someone has had too much to drink the best thing to do is to find their friends. Help them find the group they came with, the friends who left an hour ago, or their roommates who decided to stay in tonight.
6. Talk about it.
Whether you are a member of a team at a bar or restaurant, security at a nightclub, or someone out with friends to have a good time. If you notice something is off, someone is unsafe or uncomfortable talk about it with the people around you. Let the staff know what is going on. The majority of people want to create a fun, safe atmosphere for their guests. Creating an environment free of sexual harassment and assault starts with the host but is made possible by everyone looking out for each other.
7. The host is your friend.
Whether you're hosting a small gathering, throwing a summer bash, or you work at a bar, restaurant, nightclub, café, coffee shop, etc. let guests know that you want them to have a good time and that you are there too help. Post signs in the restroom encouraging people to let you know about unsafe or uncomfortable behavior. There are other ways to let guests know you are there to help: greet them when they walk in, let them know you want them to have a good time, and if you notice they are uncomfortable or unsafe check in.
There are everyday active bystanders practicing the skills to keep people safe every day. Watch their stories here, Everyday Active Bystanders.
To learn more about active bystander skills check out our blog post, Obstacles. What obstacles? 3 Full Proof Everyday Active Bystander Skills.
To learn more about joining the SAFE Bar Network contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The SAFE Bar Network is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) you can join the team by donating your time, talent, and money to the mission of giving everyone a SAFE Night Out, just click here.
This blog post was adapted from a Tales of the Cocktail article by T. Cole Newton.
Interested in learning more about bystander intervention? Visit our friends at With Us Center for Bystander Intervention.