The YW mission demands a world where everyone – especially women, girls, and people of color – are treated with respect and dignity. Now, an innovative new program is ensuring bar, restaurant, and club patrons can expect that same ethos as they visit their favorite hangouts.
Led by YW prevention staff, Gem City Safe Bars is part of a national movement that uses innovative bystander education strategies to empower bar, restaurant, and club staff to stand up against sexual harassment and assault.
According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and an affiliate partner of YWCA Dayton, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. About half of those who commit sexual assault are under the influence of alcohol at the time. Given the prevalence of sexual violence, the Safe Bars program is not just important – it is necessary, say YW staff.
“Equipping bar and restaurant industry staff with the knowledge and strategies to be a prosocial bystander and prevent sexual violence is invaluable, especially when we know that alcohol is often a tool that perpetrators and aggressors use,” explained Megan Garrison, sexual assault program educator.
“We are excited to bring this program to the Dayton area because there is such a presence of this industry within our community, and we have some great establishments that provide spaces for connection and positive social engagement. This empowers their teams to ensure spaces are safe for all by giving them tools to de-escalate and hold patrons accountable.”
Funded by a $23,000 grant from Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS), Gem City Safe Bars is led by staff who have been certified as prevention educators. YWCA Dayton’s prevention programming – including Girls LEAD! and AMEND Together – has also been certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS).
So far, two businesses have been fully trained through Safe Bars, and several others are in progress. Businesses receive a decal to indicate successful completion of the program and send a message to the community that their staff knows what to look for and how to respond to potential predatory behavior.
“The feedback has been positive,” Garrison said. “We’ve seen that staff relate to the need for this training and are familiar with a lot of violence that has, or could, happen in the spaces where they work. They’ve been very open to the strategies and excited to implement them.”
As the program grows, future training opportunities could include hotel staff or festival volunteers, many of whom may witness similar violence or harassment.
“Really, this training is for anyone who finds themselves working where substances can be used as a tool for sexual violence,” Garrison said, noting that while ensuring safe spaces is the goal, offering Safe Bars has sent a clear message to survivors, too.
“The most valuable part of offering this program is the amount of community members, and even survivors, who have reached out to thank us for providing this training and for uplifting the need for bystander intervention,” Garrison said. “People have shared that if a place they had visited had had staff trained in prevention like this, they would have been safe or felt safer.”