Boston University Teams With Local Bar Owners to Combat Sexual Violence

Caleb Daniloff

boston univeristy alcohol workshop resized 600For urban colleges and universities especially, local clubs, bars, and taverns, are woven into a school’s social fabric. They offer a break from the books, a chance to mingle, enjoy live music or sports, and, for those of age, to knock back a few. But there is a dark side. They are often the environment of choice for sexual assaults. Some 90 percent of all sexual assaults on college campuses involve booze, according to experts, many of them by a friend or acquaintance.

To combat such sobering statistics, Boston University has reached out to local bar owners and staff, offering them workshops on spotting predators, how they operate, making their places inhospitable as possible “hunting” grounds, and formulating a plan of action should the worst happen.

“Sexual violence awareness is important for our students and those in the community interacting with our students to understand, both from a personal safety and bystander perspective,”  says Elizabeth Douglas, manager of wellness and prevention services at BU’s Student Health Services. . “If people are more aware of what constitutes sexual violence, they can better identify situations and safely speak up or intervene.”

At the initial informational meeting, Douglas was joined by members of the Boston Police Department (Brighton-Allston), the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), the Boston University Police, and the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC).

75% of all assaults and sexual assaults across the country are alcohol-related.

boston university alcohol sexual violence workshop“A study that just came out showed that 75 percent of all assaults and sexual assaults across the country are alcohol-related. And you’re in the business of selling alcohol. These problems, these assaults, they have a ripple effect across the community.” said Ted Mahony, chief Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) investigator.

Mahony acknowledged that liquor stores and private parties play a part, too. He also figured that the owners of the problem bars had probably not RSVP’d to Douglas’ invitation.

“My experience has been that 10 to 15 percent of the bars out there are the real problem, because the fact of the matter is they just don’t care. They’re going after that bottom line. We’re talking about at closing time, people are literally thrown out of the doors. We’ve picked people up out of the gutter, vomiting in the gutter, I can’t tell you how many times. They don’t know their name, but they were still served at that establishment.”

BUPD Captain Robert Molloy told the audience that handling alcohol-related reports consumes the bulk of his department’s time. The University has a long-standing policy of transporting inebriated students to the hospital rather than leaving them in the care of friends or roommates. During summer 2010, Molloy said, BUPD executed 12 alcohol transports. In September, that number spiked to 40, and bumped up to 42 in October. In all, BUPD officers brought 249 students to the hospital for alcohol intoxication in 2010.

“That’s a high number,” Molloy said. “That puts a lot of pressure on hospitals and ERs that are trying to help other people. So we’re all just trying to think of ways of reducing that number.”

Sexual Violence Prevention Training for Local Business Owners

Representatives from four different local alcohol-serving establishments showed up to BU’S workshop on alcohol-related sexual violence. Peggy Barrett, the rape crisis center’s director of community awareness and prevention services, started by shaking loose some of the stereotypes surrounding rape and sexual assault. While the bulk of the research has focused on male-on-female assaults, Barrett said, women are also perpetrators and men can be victims. In fact, one in 33 men will have been the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (for women, it’s one in 6), she said.

“They might be showing up at your establishment again and again, looking for people they can overpower easily or who could be made more vulnerable through alcohol or maybe they’re using other drugs,” Barrett said. “They’re looking to take advantage of people. So what we’re talking about is how you can change the environment so it’s less comfortable for those folks.”

Meg Bossong, BARCC project manager for community mobilization, urged staff members to think about preventing sexual assaults as not just a liability issue, but in terms of customer service. The safer an environment, the more repeat business. Word will spread, she said.

“If there’s a college population, there’s a lot of competition to get people in the door,” said Bossong. “You work really hard on marketing your business, special events, games, sports events. The point is that making your business one that is safe and free from sexual assault is just as much a part as those other aspects. No one wants to see their establishment as a place where someone gets assaulted. That does incredible damage to your business. There are places in the city that are seen that way.”

“Sexual violence can almost be an afterthought.”

Because the dynamics of acquaintance sexual assault are more subtle, detecting the crime, or seeing it about to unfold, is challenging. Barrett took the audience through a typical perpetrator’s steps, according to research. “Assaults are premeditated to a certain degree,” she said. “The perpetrator might not know the specifics, but they know they will move ahead for sexual activity.”

Barrett, Bossong, and the bar staff later worked through various real-life scenarios submitted by local taverns. One featured a regular well-paying customer bragging to the bartender that girls at the club were easy. The bartender then sees the man ordering drinks for a woman until she has trouble walking. How would you get this person not to return, Bossong asked.

The group discussed other tactics, such as keeping security circulating around the club, paying attention to who people arrive with and who they’re leaving with, and checking on drunk patrons in front of their friends, which signals to any perpetrator that they are being observed. The main thing, Bossong said, is working as a team, from wait staff to bartenders to security, so that the onus is not on just one or two staffers.

“It’s good to understand the concerns of the community that usually aren’t brought up on a daily basis,” said PaulCarew, security head of one of the participating local bars. “From a security standpoint, physical violence is the major issue, so sexual violence can almost be an afterthought. We do see the behavior of people at the bar where it could lead to that—you could see the potential.”

Caleb Daniloff orginally wrote this story for BU Today, Boston University’s daily news site. Caleb is a Senior Writer & Editor at BU Today and Bostonia, the school’s alumni magazine.

Photos: backseatpilot Larissa Green

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