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Enlisting bartenders to prevent sexual assault

May 17, 2019

In 60 percent of cases of sexual assault reported to Interact’s Solace Center, drugs and alcohol are factors. And people who work in bars are in the unique position of being able to spot and potentially intervene when they see someone in danger.

Interact, a Wake County non-profit agency that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence, is launching a new effort to create more awareness of how people who work in local nightspots can help.

While warnings about date rape drugs are common, experts say alcohol much more commonly used to impair a potential sexual assault victim, and the number one defense is the person working behind the bar.

“What we know is that alcohol is the number one substance used to facilitate sexual assault,” said Lauren Schwartz, director of the Solace Center. Many victims simply report having too much to drink, putting them in a vulnerable spot.

Schwartz directs the Solace Center for Interact, a place where women can confidentially report sexual assault.

“60 percent of those patients disclosed drug or alcohol consumption prior to their assault,” she said.

The last thing most people think about when they go out for a night on the town is becoming a sexual assault victim.

“The guilt and shame is displaced,” Schwartz said. “The responsibility and the onus is on offender.”

Interact’s Bar Outreach Program sent volunteers to 36 nightspots in Raleigh to talk to employees about what they are seeing and how they can help prevent sexual assault.

Bar patrons think it’s a good idea.

“I’ve never been in a situation personally where they’ve actually told me I’ve had too much to drink, but I think they should be well aware and offer to call a taxi or an Uber,” said Sharon Stancil.

David Meeker, a co-owner of Raleigh’s Trophy Brewing Company, has had his staff trained and sees a game changer for the Raleigh community.

“Bartenders who care about it are already paying attention, but a reminder can help them do the extra 5 or 10 percent to look after somebody or make sure somebody is safe,” Meeker said.

Schwartz calls those bartenders “the experts,” saying, “They see all types of people that live here in our community, and they see what’s going on.”

Interact is pulling together the information they collected from employees at local bars. They intend to sit down with the businesses in the next few weeks and talk about how they can partner with them to help prevent their customers from becoming victims.