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Over a dozen Lawrence bars step up to stop sexual harassment

Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 16, 2018

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Culture shifts and the "Me Too" movement are opening up the dialogue about sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

That's a good sign for Lawrence's Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Centerand its SafeBar Alliance program. It helps train bars and restaurants on identifying the signs and stopping sexual harassment immediately through intervening methods and supporting staff. 

"It's part of the ugly side, the counterculture to the service industry," said Mike Humphrey, manager of Gaslight Gardens. 

Most bartenders or servers will say they've dodged an unwanted sexual advance or two, or even a lot. 

"People get fresh, you know, people say things," said Katie McMahon, a manager and bartender at The Bourgeois Pig. 

They say their bars generally have an older crowd and not too many young college students, which helps curb inappropriateness. But it still happens from time to time. 

The two bars, along with 12 other establishments in Lawrence have recently joined the SafeBar Alliance. 

"We saw over 650 individuals through our direct therapy services last year and that's a significant increase from years past," said Kelsey Hunter, with the Care Center. 

Hunter, a prevention specialist, says the increase doesn't necessarily mean more sexual harassment is happening, but more of it is coming to light. People are realizing it's okay to come forward, no matter how long ago the incident happened. 

"When sexual harassment has been normalized, it's hard to speak out," said Hunter. "We've talked to some bar staff who have said that maybe in other roles or other jobs they've had, maybe there was even a complicit understanding that some sexual harassment was just part of the job. And that's absolutely not the case." 

The training also helps staff recognize myths surrounding sexual harassment, such as victim-blaming or saying someone "deserved it" because of what he or she was wearing. 

Humphrey says sexual harassment runs rampant on both sides of the bar. 

McMahon and Humphrey say they wouldn't go to certain bars in Lawrence because sexual harassment is an issue there, though it happens everywhere. 

"In a place that serves alcohol it has to be understood that definitely changes the landscape as far as peoples' inhibitions may be lost, or people behave differently," Humphrey said. 

Because of that, the training urges bar staff to recognize that consent is key no matter how much someone has had to drink.

McMahon says The Bourgeois Pig has already followed SafeBar Alliance's practices, but it's nice to know more establishments are on the same page. 

"You don't want your night ruined because some creep won't leave you alone," said McMahon. "We have a zero-tolerance policy, so people get kicked out and that's that." 

The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) in Kansas City has a similar training program, SAFE. Currently, 11 Kansas City establishments have received training.