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Lauren Begley, 22, from Athens, Ohio, is a bartender at Jackie O's, the only bar participating in bystander training for their bartenders. 

Ahead of Union Street fire, bars sought to tackle assault

Safer Spaces is trying to reduce harassment situations by training bartenders to intervene.

A handful of employees from two recently-damaged Uptown bars were going to undergo or already went through training to better detect and prevent sexual assault.

That training program is part of Better Bystanders, an Ohio University student organization that’s working with  several Uptown bars, where activists say sexual harassment is often the worst.

Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, which has already trained its employees, and The Union Bar & Grill, which was set to train its employees in the coming weeks, both agreed to participate in the program.

O’Betty’s Red Hot! and Donkey Coffee and Espresso have already trained employees through the program, while Tony’s Tavern employees will be trained over winter break.

The campaign’s goal is to train at least five bars’ staffs this year.

The training program intends to ally local businesses and organizations with survivors to take harassment complaints more seriously. It is also to help workers — especially bartenders — better identify and react to potential harassment situations.

The program aims to end harassment in public spaces, said Sarah Fick, program coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention Program at the Appalachian Peace and Justice Network.

“We see street harassment as a manifestation of rape culture — or the culture that allows sexual assault to continue to occur in epidemic proportions worldwide,” Fick said. 

The Union intended to participate to provide staff and patrons with a safer environment, said manager A.J. Castro.

The Union was declared a “total loss” following the fire that ravaged West Union Street on Sunday morning.

“We feel that this type of training is important because we are aware that, whether we would like to believe it or not, sexual harassment or even assault can occur anywhere,” Castro said. “In addition to this, we provide a service which is centered on alcohol, which can occasionally present some especially challenging situations. These trainings help us in addressing these situations.”

Castro added he felt his staff is already conscious of what is happening at the bar.

“We always try to incorporate every resource pertaining to safety that we can,” Castro said.   

It is not immediately clear if The Union will postpone its training. 

“We have not yet had time to get in contact with The Union about our plans to run the Safer Spaces training for them over winter break since the fires damaged their building,” Flick said.  

“We will remain open to it in the event that it does make sense to them to run the training while there is little other work, but we also understand that there are higher priorities right now and that the loss of business could make paying staff to attend the training difficult.”

Fick said Lucky’s Sports Tavern and the Athens County Public Libraries System have expressed interest in participating in the program in the future.

And it’s important for more places to hop onboard, she added.

“When we live in a world where women's boundaries are routinely crossed in broad daylight in public space, it sets up a culture where even more egregious crossings of boundaries happen behind closed doors,” Fick said.

Bill Arnold, Better Bystander’s president, said the mission is to empower the campus to advocate in crisis situations. Training bartenders is a step in that direction, he said.

“We need to raise awareness about the value of bystander intervention,” Arnold said. 

Arnold and Dan Parsons co-founded Better Bystanders last year. The group has seven trainers for bystander intervention and about 12 members. 

Better Bystanders also aims to curtail high-risk behavior such as bullying and binge drinking through the Safer Spaces program.

Arnold added that coasters promoting consent are in the works to be added to local bars. 

As far as the harassment prevention training, some bars have declined to participate in training their employees, but Fick declined to mention those unwilling to participate. 

“We hope they will eventually change their minds,” Fick said.

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