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New Outreach Program Recruits Bartenders To Fight Sexual Assault

An image of a wine and beer mug
chris riebschlager
Flickr Creative Commons

A Raleigh organization that serves sexual violence victims wants to help bartenders prevent sexual assaults.


Brianna Clarke-Schwelm isInterAct's director of training, engagement, and prevention. She's working with alcohol servers at local bars and nightclubs to develop training to empower servers step in when they see someone at risk.


“I think a lot of bartenders do feel unsafe approaching people they might suspect are perpetrators, and that's absolutely valid. And so we're really trying to work with individuals to create safe ways to intervene to keep themselves away from harm as well as the potential victim,” said Clarke-Schwelm.


The bar outreach program educates servers about resources they can share with customers and teaches safe techniques for bystander intervention.


“[Servers] can spill a glass of water on the person, they can tell them that their credit card isn't running, they can call someone else to come be a partner with them as they go up to the victim to see if they're OK,” she said.


During conversations with workers in the service industry, Clarke-Schwelm said she’s heard the need for this kind of training.


“We found out that there really is no other program in our community that is directly addressing this issue. Right now [workers] don’t have the resources on hand to intervene and to feel safe and responsible in keeping their patrons safe.”


Women in the service industry in particular need support, she said, as they can also be targeted for stalking, harassment, or sexual violence from patrons.  


“They experience more discomfort in addressing patrons who are acting inappropriately against another patron,” said Clarke-Schwelm. “We know that the female workers in the service industry are experiencing this issue in a slightly different way than some of the men.”


Clarke-Schwelm said it makes sense to focus on bars and nightclubs as alcohol is the most common intoxicant used to facilitate sexual assault. InterAct staffers report intoxication is a factor in as many as 60% of sexual assault cases the organization handles.

Elizabeth Friend grew up in North Carolina listening to public radio in the backseat of the family station wagon. She has been reporting and producing at WUNC since 2016, covering everything from Army history to armadillos. She's also the co-founder of the beloved summer event series Audio Under The Stars. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the outside world with her family, dabbling in esoteric crafts, and cheese.
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