City leaders interested in requiring bar staff to receive intervention training for sexual assault and harassment

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City leaders will soon consider whether staff at bars and other businesses that serve alcohol should be trained to recognize and intervene in situations involving sexual harassment and assault.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission received a presentation from city legal staff regarding a potential requirement that drinking establishments receive SafeBar sexual violence and bystander intervention training as a condition of their local license. Commissioners were interested in potentially requiring the training but said a key consideration would be how many staff members should have to participate.

Commissioner Jennifer Ananda, an attorney and social worker, originally proposed that the commission consider requiring the training. Ananda said that many alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults start at bars, and she proposed the change as a means to prevent sex crimes, which she noted often are not reported.

“Even when justice is served, whether through an academic system or a justice system, it doesn’t fix that person and it doesn’t change what happened to them,” Ananda said. “So preventing that is really where we get to the core of changing our culture, changing our community and shifting that paradigm in our community.”

Ananda is currently the deputy Title IX coordinator and policy specialist for KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which handles complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault at KU and coordinates related training for staff and students.

The city issues a local license to drinking establishments, which is in addition to the state liquor license. Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia told the commission it would be possible to require the SafeBar training as part of the local license.

Garcia said the city mailed information to the city’s 165 drinking establishments regarding the proposal, but only eight people attended two meetings that the city held to discuss the proposal. Garcia said that originally the city was going to bring an ordinance to the commission for a vote but that those eight asked that such a program be voluntary and further requested that a vote be delayed so that businesses had more opportunity to discuss the proposal and provide feedback.

The Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center created the SafeBar training approximately seven years ago, according to a city staff memo to the commission. Care center prevention specialist Kelsey Hunter said the program was created in response to requests from bars, which had asked how to respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Hunter said the SafeBar training is based on a bystander intervention model that has been researched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Garcia asked the commission several questions related to a potential training requirement, including who should be required to receive the training, how often it would be required and how it would be paid for.

Commissioners agreed that they did not want the training requirement to increase the cost of a license, and they indicated they would be interested in using money from the city’s special alcohol fund to pay for the training. The city’s alcohol fund receives a portion of proceeds from the state liquor tax, and state law requires that the funds be spent to support programs or services that prevent, educate or intervene in alcohol or drug abuse.

Ananda said she thought that, at a minimum, drinking establishment owners and managers should be required to receive the training, but that if the business wanted to be a certified SafeBar, serving staff should attend the training every two years.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert said that if the city requires training only for owners and managers, the question becomes to what degree will that knowledge and information trickle down to staff. Herbert said there needed to be a balance between requiring every single staff member to attend the training and having so few people trained that it does not have an impact.

Ultimately, Herbert motioned that the commission ask city staff to work with drinking establishments and other stakeholders in developing an ordinance for the SafeBar training requirement and bring it back to the commission for further discussion. The commission voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

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