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The Gem City Safe Bars initiative, which kicked off in spring 2021, is part of a national movement to provide evidence-based training on bystander intervention strategies. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Local servers, bartenders take ‘Safe Bars’ training

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Bright and early Monday morning, March 27, about a dozen local bartenders and servers — folks whose schedules often trend toward the later parts of the day — gathered at Peach’s Bar and Grill. Those present were joined for a common purpose: to learn how to recognize and curtail sexual harassment and assault in their establishments.

The three-hour training workshop, Gem City Safe Bars, is overseen by the YWCA of Dayton. The Gem City Safe Bars initiative, which kicked off in spring 2021, is part of a national movement to provide evidence-based training on bystander intervention strategies. The goal of the training is to impart to employees of restaurants, bars and clubs the tools, according to the workshop’s educational materials, to “establish a safe environment where [sexual harassment and assault] aren’t tolerated.”

Establishments that undertake the training receive a one-year certificate, a window decal indicating that staff have received the training and access to future re-trainings and resources.

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Gem City Safe Bars is one facet of the YWCA of Dayton’s ongoing work, which according to its website, “demands a world where everyone — especially women, girls, and people of color — are treated with respect and dignity.”

As sexual violence preventionist Topher Peck, of the YWCA of Dayton Rape Crisis Center, stated during the training at Peach’s, women and girls, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+ and those with physical/intellectual disabilities are most likely to experience sexual assault.

“That’s especially true when we’re talking about folks who identify within the intersection of multiple marginalized identities,” Peck said.

In a follow-up conversation with the News, Peck said the Safe Bars training aligns with the YWCA of Dayton’s broader mission to “eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

“As a survivor and as a queer person in this space, I can personally attest to how nightlife can certainly be a dangerous environment for some,” Peck said. “I’m motivated both through the nature of the work itself and also through how it impacts my identity and the experiences I’ve had, which does ultimately inform the conversations we have and what we can do to respond and prevent sexual violence as it occurs in our communities.”

Local resident Don Beard, who co-owns both Peach’s and Ye Olde Trail Tavern with Christine Monroe-Beard, told the News that YWCA Dayton reached out to him to find out if the Safe Bars training would be desirable here.

“I thought it sounded great,” he said. “With this kind of thing, I don’t think you can be on the ball enough.”

The March training workshop at Peach’s was open to owners and employees of all local restaurants and was attended by employees of Peach’s, Ye Olde Trail Tavern and Dayton Street Gulch, as well as Chief Paige Burge and officer Doug Andrus of the YS Police Department.

Earlier this year, the 30 staff members at Yellow Springs Brewery undertook a similar training, which Yellow Springs Brewery co-owner Lisa Wolters told the News this week enabled the staff to gain insight into “techniques on how to recognize unwanted sexual aggression and how to interrupt or de-escalate a situation.”

According to statistics gathered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and cited in the Safe Bars training workshop, at least 50% of incidents of sexual violence involve alcohol. Peck pointed out during the training that alcohol itself doesn’t cause sexual violence, but can be “a weapon used to incapacitate a target or as an excuse or camouflage for the aggressor.”

In addition to familiarizing attendees with statistics around sexual violence, the training covered ways to identify patterns of behavior that could be warning signs of harassment or violence. An aggressor will often test a target’s boundaries before pulling the target away from a group or isolating them and plying them with alcohol, according to the training.

The training also emphasized multiple strategies employees might employ to safely intervene when noticing such a pattern. Peck acknowledged during the training that there’s only so much servers and bartenders can do legally, and prompted them to remember their own safety as well.

“It’s important to consider the boundaries and safety of everyone involved,” he said.

With those limits in mind, attendees were introduced to three strategies for bystander intervention — the “Three Ds”: direct, verbal acknowledgment that there is or might be a problem, either with the aggressor or the target; distracting, by moving energy or attention away from the situation; and delegating coworkers, management, security, friends of the aggressor/target or any other individual with the ability or authority to intervene. Attendees practiced these methods by role-playing as either a bystander or an aggressor in several scenarios.

Bars and restaurants are not the only local institutions to have benefited from similar training: The YWCA of Dayton, in conjunction with the Family Violence Prevention Center, has also provided relationship violence awareness training for Antioch College students. Working with the college’s Title IX office, the two organizations have provided training for resident advisors on campus as part of new student orientation.

“We lead [resident advisors] through what relationship violence looks like and what they can do to be in a supportive role as leaders for their peers and look out for one another and hold each other accountable,” Peck said.

He added that the organizations will host a workshop for Antioch College students on April 20 that demonstrates how to recognize warning signs of unhealthy relationships and associated behaviors and how to address them. The workshop’s format will be based on a curriculum from the One Love Foundation; that foundation was formed by the family of Yeardley Love, who was killed in 2010 by an ex-partner while a student at the University of Virginia.

Following the Safe Bars training, Beard told the News that, because Yellow Springs is such a small town with several restaurants and bars within walking distance, it can be difficult to monitor whether or not an issue might develop when patrons easily travel from one establishment to the next.

“Sometimes we can’t fully gauge the situation,” he said.

However, he added, a kinship exists between bartenders and servers at the separate local establishments such that it’s not uncommon for one restaurant to contact another if an employee notices something that gives them pause, and he said he considered the training a good way to shore up that mutual sense of purpose.

“It’s good to get everyone together to talk amongst themselves about these things,” he said. “The fact that bartenders from each place know each other and will offer support is awesome.”

Wolters told the News that, for employees of Yellow Springs Brewery, the training they undertook was “as much educational as it was therapeutic.”

“We all had at least a story or two to share about an uncomfortable scenario that we experienced in the past,” Wolters said. “The entire process brought great awareness and a sense of camaraderie to our staff that helps build team sensitivity to each other and to our guests.”

For more information on Gem City Safe Bars or the YWCA of Dayton’s programming and resources, visit ywcadayton.org.

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