SafeBar Poster

A poster for SafeBar Alliance hangs on the wall in Red Lyon Tavern.

Chris Neverve takes to heart the words on a poster displayed in his and other bar bathrooms throughout Lawrence. It’s message, in big, hard-to-miss, white text, is simple: “The bartender is your friend.”

Neverve’s parents opened Red Lyon Tavern at 944 Massachusetts St. in 1993. Today, he is the general manager. Although he considers his bar a safe place to drink, Neverve knows you’ve got to be on your toes when working behind a bar.

“You hear someone lipping off at the bar or I’ve heard people talking on the phone before and they're just being really vulgar and you’ve just gotta say ‘hey man, you’ve gotta knock it off right now or just go ahead and leave,’” he said.

Last spring, Neverve was approached by Kelsey Hunter, a prevention specialist with Lawrence’s Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center. She told him about SafeBar Alliance, a program from the Care Center that seeks to keep staff and patrons safe from predatory behavior, harassment and sexual assault in bars through bystander intervention training. Not long after, Neverve and the whole Red Lyon staff were trained through the SafeBar program.

“It is something that honestly we’ve always taken seriously,” he said. “We hopefully have a decent reputation around town as being a safe place. But obviously the more training the better so when they approached us about it was kind of a no brainer.”

In addition to Red Lyon Tavern, bar staff at Louise’s West, Harbour Lights, the Burger Stand, the Bourgeois Pig, the Granada, Merchants, the Replay Lounge, Bon Bon, Gaslight Gardens, Frank’s Northstar Tavern, Dempsey’s Burger Pub and VFW Post 852 have all received training from Hunter through the SafeBar Alliance. The employees are retrained every year or two years based on staff turnover rate and need.

“They’re skills that a lot of bar staff already have to some degree,” Hunter said. “We know that bar staff are already checking in on each other and checking in on patrons. They’re already thinking about these things. But we’ve heard that this program really helps build confidence that bar staff have in identifying when it’s time to step in and knowing what to do when they do step in that maximizes safety for everybody.”

SafeBar Alliance encourages staff members to trust their gut instincts and be proactive in preventing sexual harassment and assault, because someone who is the victim of predatory behavior might not be comfortable or able to reach out for help. Staff members are told that it’s better to offer help when they’re not actually needed than not to when someone could be in danger. Intervention can be as simple as asking a patron if they’re alright, or calling a cab so they can get home safely.

According to Jenny McKee, a program manager at Watkins Health Services, having knowledge on how to intervene is the first step in combatting the bystander effect.

“I think it is important to reflect on what people's barriers are to intervening. For some people it is the belief that what is happening isn't their problem or business. For others, it may be related to safety. What tends to be the most common barrier, however, is not knowing how to intervene,” she said.

Students can learn more about the bystander effect and how to intervene through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center’s free Jayhawks Give A Flock workshops. 

PJ Mather is the manager of Louise’s West at 1307 W. Seventh St. She said that while they haven’t had any major safety issues at the bar since going through the SafeBar training, she and her staff are always keeping an eye out for their patrons’ safety.

“Our staff is aware and watchful and we try and notice situations. If there is something going on that looks a little bit suspicious we keep an eye on things a little bit harder and try to prevent problems from arising,” Mather said.

Hunter said that the program usually works with bars that are already doing their best to keep their patrons safe. SafeBar Alliance welcomes any bar with a commitment to safety to go through their free training.

“We’re not targeting bars by any means. We know that alcohol does not cause sexual assault but that alcohol is sometimes used as a weapon by perpetrators to make somebody more vulnerable and in order to target someone that they’re looking to harm,”Hunter said. “Because of that bar staff are in a really great position to be allies.”

Now in its second generation, The SafeBar Alliance was formed in 2010 by The Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center. The Care Center itself, however, has been in Lawrence for 45 years. It was formed in 1972 by a group of University students who weren’t happy with how sexual assault cases were being handled by the university. In addition to the SafeBar Alliance, the Care Center provides free counseling for anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence, a 24 hour hotlineadvocacy for survivors, and education on sexual trauma and abuse.

Bar staff aren’t the only people who can prevent sexual violence on a night out. Hunter says bystander intervention works best when everyone, not just staff members, is looking out for each others safety. Trusting your gut, reaching out to someone you’re worried about, or simply letting staff know when you’re concerned, she said, are all steps to ensuring everyone’s safety.

“It’s important to recognize that coming forward and reporting harassment in a bar is doing that bar a huge favor. They’re letting the staff know that there is a safety issue in their bar,” Hunter said.

Edited by Emma Green

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