Taking aim at sexual assault

Training set to help restaurants, bars intervene

Among the revelry of a busy bar on a weekend night, a potential sexual crime may be taking shape.

The warning signs are there. A perpetrator might be much more sober than the person they’re with, ordering drinks with their partner but not drinking them. At the same time, a perpetrator may be very drunk and making others around them uncomfortable.

The key is being able to see the signs and intervene. That makes bar and restaurant staff the first line in defense against sexual violence.

“The staff there are going to be way more likely to recognize perpetrator behavior. They’re going to be way less likely to accept that behavior, and more likely to intervene when someone looks like a potential victim. So it’s a safer place,” said Nicole Emerson, Johnson County services coordinator for Turning Point Domestic Violence Services.

To help bars, restaurants and other alcohol-serving establishments fight sexual assault, Turning Point Domestic Violence Services is offering training for managers and staff members. Raise the Bar Indiana is a program of bystander intervention, which teaches people how to recognize a sexual perpetrator, the signs that someone is too drunk or drugged to give consent and ways to make their establishments more safe.

Staff members at Triple Play BBQ completed the training in late April, and after going through it feel better prepared to step in when they see a situation that seems off.

“For a place that serves alcohol, we need to understand and watch for signs of trouble,” said Fred Paris, co-owner of Triple Play. “Having our eyes open to what’s going on is important, and I wanted my people to know what to look for.”

Sex-related crimes remain not only a serious issue nationally and throughout the state, but in Johnson County as well. The ASSIST program, a support team housed at Johnson Memorial Health that works with victims of violence, received 45 reports of sexual assault between Jan. 1 and March 31. The Franklin Police Department received 45 reports of sex-related crimes in 2016.

About 125,000 Indiana residents reported unwanted sexual advances or forced sexual activity in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The scope of the problem may be even worse, Emerson said. Experts estimate that two out of three sexual assaults go unreported.

“A lot of times, people like to think that sexual assault isn’t happening here, that it’s not a problem. But sexual assault is going on everywhere,” Emerson said. “We know that only one in three victims of sexual assault will actually report it, because it can be really scary and we live in a victim-blaming society. We want to shatter that.”

A major factor in sex-related crimes is alcohol, which is why agencies working against sexual violence have focused a program on businesses that serve alcohol.

“There’s going to the possibility that someone’s going to come into their establishment as a tool to sexually assault someone. Knowing that’s a correlation, it’s natural to empower these people to counteract that unfortunate culture that exists,” said Ashley Waterbury-Carpenter, chief operating officer for Alternatives Inc. domestic violence agency.

Raise the Bar Indiana was developed by Alternatives Inc., an Anderson-based organization, with support from the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Organizers felt one way to combat drug-facilitated sexual assault, particularly those that involve alcohol, would be to teach bar and restaurants about rape culture and how to safely intervene.

“The goal was for our community to create safe spaces and empower others who traditionally might not be in the domestic and sexual violence prevention world to become part of our work,” Waterbury-Carpenter said. “Bartenders are in a perfect place to be able to do that, and a lot of them are already taking action to prevent things. We’re helping them develop new skills so they’re more comfortable doing that.”

Since unveiling its program, Alternatives has worked with about 10 businesses across the state, including in Terre Haute, Anderson and McCordsville. MashCraft Brewing Co. in the Center Grove area received the training, and in February, the brewery hosted an event on women’s safety.

Turning Point only recently started offering Raise the Bar Indiana; Emerson said that Triple Play was its first session. She met with Paris to discuss what the program was, and if they’d be interested in holding the two-hour training for their employees.

The training started with a short test to gauge how much Triple Play employees knew about sexual assault. Using a multimedia presentation, Emerson then delved into some of the statistics regarding sexual violence, how to identify a potential crime and how to safely intervene.

They learned how to watch for signs of intoxication and be sure not to over serve. Servers should check in often and watch their customers for signs they’re too drunk. If they feel like something is wrong, talking to them when the other person has gone to the bathroom may help get a feel of the situation.

Staff members are given different scenarios that may play out in the restaurant, and ask them how they would handle it. Emerson also toured the restaurant space with the staff, looking for areas that could make customers feel unsafe — dark corners that could use another light, or hallways that were rarely used.

“We know that sexual assault happens in every county, every town, every college campus. So we want to not only educate people, but show them how to intervene in a safe way,” she said.

Turning Point is reaching out to other bars and restaurants to see if they’d like to do the Raise the Bar Indiana program as well. The goal would be to have as many Johnson County establishments as possible be trained in intervention and prevention, Emerson said.

“We’re not just going in showing these scary statistics and saying that sexual assault is bad. Primary intervention is about changing the culture of an environment, changing the norms,” Emerson said. “Raising the Bar does that. If an establishment is trained, the rules and culture of what is acceptable there is going to be different.”

At a glance

Raise the Bar Indiana

What: A bystander intervention program aimed at owners and staff members of bars, restaurants and other alcohol-serving establishments. The goal is to teach them to help prevent drug-facilitated sexual assault, educate them about consent and help them learn about perpetrator behavior.

Who: The program is offered locally by Turning Point Domestic Violence Services.

Local businesses who have received it: So far, Triple Play BBQ at the Pavilion and MashCraft Brewing Co. have gone through the training.

How to get involved: For bar or restaurant owners who are interested in Raise the Bar Indiana training, contact Nicole Emerson at nicoleemerson@turningpointdv.org.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.