Talking about Alcohol and Sexual Violence
Local bar staff get primer on how to prevent rape
In an effort to reduce the potential for sexual violence on and around campus, the University is urging local bar owners not only to educate themselves on the dynamics of the crime, which often involves alcohol, but to work toward making their establishments less hospitable to predators.
“Sexual violence and alcohol often go hand-in-hand,” says Elizabeth Douglas, manager of wellness and prevention services at BU’s Student Health Services. “Alcohol is the number-one sexual predatory drug. Unfortunately, during an academic year there are 35 incidents of rape for every 1,000 women attending a college or university.”
Douglas, who chairs BU’s task force on alcohol, has teamed up with local law enforcement, rape crisis experts, and substance abuse counselors to turn up the volume on the issue. She recently invited staff from area bars to campus for an informational meeting and to sign up for additional awareness training. Some 30 managers, bouncers, and wait staff showed up for the opening session earlier this month, representing 21 taverns and clubs frequented by BU students.
“Sexual violence awareness is important for our students and those in the community interacting with our students to understand, both from a personal safety and bystander perspective,” she says. “If people are more aware of what constitutes sexual violence, they can better identify situations and safely speak up or intervene.”
At the initial informational meeting, Douglas was joined by members of the Boston Police Department (Brighton-Allston), the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), the Boston University Police, and the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC).
“We know that nationally, 90 percent of assaults and sexual assaults on college campuses are alcohol-related,” said Ted Mahony, chief ABCC investigator. “A study that just came out showed that 75 percent of all assaults and sexual assaults across the country are alcohol-related. And you’re in the business of selling alcohol. These problems, these assaults, they have a ripple effect across the community.”
Mahony acknowledged that liquor stores and private parties play a part, too. He also figured that the owners of the problem bars had probably not RSVP’d to Douglas’ invitation.
“My experience has been that 10 to 15 percent of the bars out there are the real problem, because the fact of the matter is they just don’t care. They’re going after that bottom line. We’re talking about at closing time, people are literally thrown out of the doors. We’ve picked people up out of the gutter, vomiting in the gutter, I can’t tell you how many times. They don’t know their name, but they were still served at that establishment.”
BUPD Captain Robert Molloy told the audience that handling alcohol-related reports consumes the bulk of his department’s time. The University has a long-standing policy of transporting inebriated students to the hospital rather than leaving them in the care of friends or roommates. During summer 2010, Molloy said, BUPD executed 12 alcohol transports. In September, that number spiked to 40, and bumped up to 42 in October. In all, BUPD officers brought 249 students to the hospital for alcohol intoxication in 2010.
“That’s a high number,” Molloy said. “That puts a lot of pressure on hospitals and ERs that are trying to help other people. So we’re all just trying to think of ways of reducing that number.”
Later in the month, BARCC members held a workshop on campus on alcohol-related sexual violence. Representatives from the BU Pub, the Paradise Rock Club and Lounge, T’s Pub, and the White Horse Tavern showed up. Peggy Barrett, the rape crisis center’s director of community awareness and prevention services, started by shaking loose some of the stereotypes surrounding rape and sexual assault. While the bulk of the research has focused on male-on-female assaults, Barrett said, women are also perpetrators and men can be victims. In fact, one in 33 men will have been the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (for women, it’s one in 6), she said.
So far in the 2010–2011 academic year, there have been no reports of sexual assault or rape on campus, according to the BUPD. In the 2009–2010 year, the department handled two cases of rape and one of indecent assault. In the calendar years 2007 and 2008, there were six cases of rape each year, and a single case in the 2009 calendar year. And while rape by a stranger certainly occurs, Barrett said, the majority of victims are assaulted by an acquaintance. In fact, among college students, 90 percent of victims know their attacker, and these perpetrators tend to be repeat offenders, she said.
“They might be showing up at your establishment again and again, looking for people they can overpower easily or who could be made more vulnerable through alcohol or maybe they’re using other drugs,” Barrett said. “They’re looking to take advantage of people. So what we’re talking about is how you can change the environment so it’s less comfortable for those folks.”
Meg Bossong (above), BARCC project manager for community mobilization, urged staff members to think about preventing sexual assaults as not just a liability issue, but in terms of customer service. The safer an environment, the more repeat business. Word will spread, she said.
“If there’s a college population, there’s a lot of competition to get people in the door,” said Bossong. “You work really hard on marketing your business, special events, games, sports events. The point is that making your business one that is safe and free from sexual assault is just as much a part as those other aspects. No one wants to see their establishment as a place where someone gets assaulted. That does incredible damage to your business. There are places in the city that are seen that way.”
Because the dynamics of acquaintance sexual assault are more subtle, detecting the crime, or seeing it about to unfold, is challenging. Barrett took the audience through a typical perpetrator’s steps, according to research. “Assaults are premeditated to a certain degree,” she said. “The perpetrator might not know the specifics, but they know they will move ahead for sexual activity.”
Barrett said the offender, who often displays a charming and pleasant facade, starts by selecting a target, someone who can be made vulnerable or appears easy to overpower. Next, they “approach and evaluate,” making sure the environment, a bar in this case, is one where staff won’t call them out on suspicious behavior, such as plying someone with drinks. Next, they work on separating the target from friends and begin working on obtaining sex. If there’s no consent, the perpetrator will use enough force or intimidation to accomplish the act. Afterwards, the offender will begin “camouflaging,” by returning to the victim’s group of friends and working on confusing people as to what happened.
“In the beginning, they’re nice guys, funny, joking around, and they are very nice guys at the end,” Barrett said. “The only one who ever sees their aggression is the victim.”
Barrett, Bossong, and the bar staff later worked through various real-life scenarios submitted by local taverns. One featured a regular well-paying customer bragging to the bartender that girls at the club were easy. The bartender then sees the man ordering drinks for a woman until she has trouble walking. How would you get this person not to return, Bossong asked.
Paul Carew, head of security at White Horse Tavern in Allston, said suggesting the man scale back the drink-buying for a clearly drunk woman may be too weak an approach.
“Sometimes being frank and up-front is effective,” Carew said. “If you beat around the bush, they may think, ‘OK, I’ll come back in a few weeks, after they forget about it.’ But if you’re right to the point, it shocks them.”
The group discussed other tactics, such as keeping security circulating around the club, paying attention to who people arrive with and who they’re leaving with, and checking on drunk patrons in front of their friends, which signals to any perpetrator that they are being observed. The main thing, Bossong said, is working as a team, from wait staff to bartenders to security, so that the onus is not on just one or two staffers.
Other suggestions for creating a safe environment included putting up informational posters around the club and in bathrooms, with numbers to call in case of an assault and who to contact within the bar.
“That lets patrons know you care about their safety,” Barrett said. “Maybe no one will use the posters, but you’re signaling to people, and to the perpetrator, that you have a plan and you’re going to respond. Perpetrators want a place where they can get away with this behavior. They’ll move on if your establishment is calling them on their actions.”
Carew said that while the White Horse Tavern, which draws a mix of students, young professionals, and locals, has not been the site of any reported sexual assaults, it is important to gain sharper insight into the sometimes subtle dynamics of such assaults. On a busy night, he said, he has 10 to 12 security on hand, as well as 8 or 9 bartenders and 5 or 6 waiters and waitresses. He plans to put what he learned in the session squarely on staff radar.
“It’s good to understand the concerns of the community that usually aren’t brought up on a daily basis,” Carew said. “From a security standpoint, physical violence is the major issue, so sexual violence can almost be an afterthought. We do see the behavior of people at the bar where it could lead to that—you could see the potential.”
On Monday, March 28, a workshop will be held on campus for local bars and taverns on responsible beverage services training, focusing on underage drinking. To sign up, email Elizabeth Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about sexual violence awareness training or have a workshop held at your establishment, contact BARCC at email@example.com.
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments