Following a nearly two-hour long discussion between members of the public and the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday, the commission moved to revise an ordinance that would mandate all cereal and malt beverage licensees participate in a training to prevent sexual violence.
The motion by Vice Mayor and Commissioner Jennifer Ananda pushed for a specific time frame for the training to be mandated, further specifications in who would provide the training and a way for the commission to fund the training. Further, the commission moved to explore limiting the mandated training specifically to the management of a business, rather than full staff.
The original ordinance, written by Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia, mandated all liquor licensees within city limits have to go through a form of sexual violence prevention training, though in which way remained vague. Should it have passed in its original form, it would have affected nearly 200 businesses within Lawrence city limits.
“I think I’ve heard some concern from folks who are stating that sexual assault in bars isn’t a problem because of the statistical data of sexual assaults that might occur within a bar,” Ananda said. “I think that there can be concern when there is an unknown. It’s [SafeBar] teaching us how to be responsible citizens who are responsible and helpful regarding the safety of other folks who might be in danger.”
Ananda previously worked in the University’s office of Institution of Opportunity and Access, the office on campus which investigates cases of sexual misconduct. She said during her time at the University as a Title IX investigator, the office received hundreds of complaints, and in cases of sexual misconduct, alcohol was used in more than half of them.
“We are talking about the fact and the reality that a majority of women experience sexual assault or sexual misconduct at some point in their lives — men do as well,” Ananda said. “This is a simple program that we as a city could bring forward to reduce the impact that sexual assault has on our community.”
The original plan, when first discussed with the Commission on Oct. 16, 2018, would have the training be done through SafeBar, a program run through the Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center in Lawrence. The program involves in-person training with staff members to help teach intervention techniques and recognize potentially unsafe situations quickly.
While licensees in attendance were in agreement about the importance of the training, many told the Commission they felt considering their budget and high staff turnover, they would not be able to effectively pull it off.
Theatre Lawrence is one of the businesses that would be affected if it were mandated, despite alcohol sales being less than 3 percent of its operating budget. Steve Fendt, who was elected by the board for Theatre Lawrence to represent it at the commission meeting, said there are 900 volunteers for the business, 400 of which are active, who would all have to go through the training despite possibly working for just one night.
“That’s a lot of volunteers to have to be able to train. We don’t say that this is not a good program, but we do have to take into consideration some of the aspects of other community businesses that are not main focus (sic) of serving alcohol,” Fendt said. “We present this as a courtesy to our patrons so that they can enjoy the performance and also a cocktail at the same time.“
Licensees said through a survey and two meetings conducted in January they’d prefer a video or webinar to show their staff instead, since it would be more at their convenience.
However, members of the Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center said video and webinars weren’t as effective as in-person training.
“While we certainly understand the ease of using those kinds of mediums, the essence of the SafeBar training is really the in-person, face-to-face context. That is what all the feedback we received about this program is about,” said Kirsten Watkins, president of the board of directors for the Care Center. “That is what we believe contributes most significantly to the success of the program and to the mission of changing a culture that contributes to sexual violence.”
Ninety-nine percent of staff who have been trained through SafeBar reported they learned something they didn’t know before, said Kelsey Hunter, who has been at the helm of developing SafeBar.
Bon Bon is one of the 18 bars or restaurant that went through the training previously. After finishing the training, Ryan Bowersox, the general manager of Bon Bon, said SafeBar should be mandatory for management staff during the meeting.
“This training helped empower my staff in creating ongoing conversation in what it means to see harassment and to de-escalate it,” Bowersox said.
The next city commission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26.