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Bartenders in D.C. are learning how to stop sexual assault, and so far, it's working.

This new bartender program is showing sexual assault the door.

Bartenders in D.C. are learning how to stop sexual assault, and so far, it's working.

A few weeks ago, a woman came into the ChurchKey bar in Washington, D.C., to have a drink alone, but a male patron had a different idea.

He sat next to her and chatted her up. While the conversation seemed innocent enough at first, the bartenders working nearby sensed the woman was growing increasingly uncomfortable. If you're a woman and you've ever been to a bar by yourself, you're probably all too familiar with this scenario.


Photo via iStock.

However, what happened next was altogether different. According to Sam Nellis, the bar's manager, two bartenders on staff intervened three separate times to dissuade the man's advances. Finally, when he went in for an unwanted kiss, one bartender said, "Hey! Don’t you think you’re getting a little aggressive there?"

When the man got up to use the bathroom, they made sure the woman was OK, helped her exit the bar through the back door, and got her into an Uber so she could get home safely.

How did these bartenders know what to do? The answer can be summed up in two words: Safe Bars.

Photo by Safe Bars.

Safe Bars is a training program that teaches bar staff to recognize the subtle signs of an impending sexual assault and stop it before anyone gets hurt.

Why is that so important? Because 1 out of every 4 women will experience some form of sexual assault in their adolescence or early adulthood. And at least half of those crimes occur while the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol.

Considering those statistics, it's not hard to see why a program like this is so important.


Photo by ChurchKey, used with permission.


"The training helps us to recognize the subtle difference between a person okay with physical contact and someone who does not want to be touched," Sam told Upworthy.

"For example, if someone is leaning away from the other person or if they have their arms crossed." But it's also about reading the dynamic of an interaction over a period of time. If a woman suddenly becomes withdrawn in a conversation with man, that should put employees on alert.

When an employee told Sam about the program, which is part of the advocacy group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and Defend Yourself, he was immediately on board.

"Frankly, it was one of those moments where you think to yourself, 'How is this not already a thing that everybody does?'"

The program is new and is currently being funded by a $20,000 grant from the NFL, which has recently donated approximately $10 million to initiatives battling sexual violence, including this program, after being criticized over multiple incidents where players have been accused or convicted of assault.

The program is usually taught in two-hour sessions but can be customized to fit your establishment's requirements.

It involves learning how to identify subtle signifiers of sexual aggression and role-playing to practice curtailing it. While the training doesn't guarantee that every sexual assault can be stopped, it can certainly help bar employees be more alert and ready to take action.

While it's relatively early in Safe Bar's launch, the story from ChurchKey is encouraging.

Photo by ChurchKey, used with permission.

Safe Bars is already planning to expand the program to other cities, bringing it to bars that want to put an end to sexual assault in their establishments.

Sam can't wait until the system is a given in his city and hopefully, one day, the world.

"My dream for Safe Bars is that it becomes ubiquitous in D.C. I hope that one day it will be a prerequisite for operating an establishment that serves alcohol."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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