How bartenders fight harassment and workplace violence

Culture changes amid harassment tipping point?
Culture changes amid harassment tipping point?

In her nine years as a bartender, Katelyn Goodwin has poured drinks at a variety of establishments -- from local watering holes to gentlemen's clubs. In the beginning of her career, she would nod and smile when men harassed her from the other side of the bar.

"It's almost this mentality that you're working for that person," she says of patrons who catcall or try to touch the women mixing their drinks. "That person is going to determine how much money you make ... But it's almost like if you're in a certain profession it gives people a green light to treat you in a certain way."

Research shows bartending is among the professions most vulnerable to nonfatal workplace violence -- third only to law enforcement and security.

Yet many restaurants and bars eschew formal sexual harassment training, instead pointing workers to the employee handbook for guidance, or perhaps not addressing it at all. In Goodwin's case, colleagues merely wrote off harassment as a hazard of the job. She says in her time in the industry, she's never undergone any formal sexual harassment training or defensive education.

"To me, no job is worth keeping if it means I'm going to be uncomfortable or disrespected or unhappy," Goodwin says. "But that's something I had to learn over time. When I was younger, I put up with a lot more than I should have."

Related: Why most sexual harassment training videos don't work

Safe Bars, a program in Washington, DC, trains local restaurant and bar staff how to combat sexual violence -- when it's happening to them, but also when it's happening to patrons.

While alcohol is a common denominator in many cases of sexual assault or harassment occurring in bars, research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that "although alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur, this phenomenon does not prove that alcohol use causes sexual assault."

For women working behind the bars, it's an issue of misconduct -- not alcohol abuse.

"It's very interesting that alcohol indicts women and lets men off the hook," says Lauren Taylor, director of Safe Bars. "For men it's, 'I didn't know what I was doing, I was drunk.'"

The Safe Bars program emphasizes the importance of bystander training -- or teaching people to step in when they see something -- which research has shown to be even more effective than conventional sexual harassment training.

Most crucially, Taylor says, in a bar situation both the harasser and the victim are surrounded by bystanders who can actually do something about the misconduct -- something that doesn't usually happen in most office environments.

"We all, I believe, are bystanders as often as every day -- no matter where we are, a bar or somewhere else," Taylor says.

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Lauren Taylor as the founder of Safe Bars. She is the current director.

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