Charlottesville bars discuss how to combat sexual assault

Skybar hosts discussion with SARA to promote active bystanders

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In coordination with the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar on the Downtown Mall organized a meeting last Tuesday with to train bartenders and restaurant staff in bystander intervention.

SARA Executive Director Rebecca Weybright said about 20 bartenders attended the meeting. In wake of second-year College student Hannah Graham’s disappearance and death, a number of Charlottesville establishments opted to participate in training to prevent sexual misconduct, she said.

Taylor Starns, crisis services coordinator of SARA, said the goal of the meeting was to emphasize the power restaurant and bar staff have to prevent certain instances of sexual misconduct.

“The goal of the meeting was to empower staff at bars and restaurants to be active bystanders in perceived high-risk situations,” Starns said in an email. “There is more attention on the issue at the moment, especially in wake of the Hannah Graham case, but we want to emphasize that there is always a need for this sort of treatment and this sort of solution.”

Starns said the group discussed some of the inhibitors to intervention and how some of them may be overcome.

“We wanted to hear what their obstacles for intervention are and to provide methods of intervention that take those obstacles into account,” Starns said. “The goal was for them to leave feeling like they had concrete strategies for intervening and for us to have a sense of how we can continue to support local bars and restaurants around this issue.”

This discussion was initiated by workers at the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar and grew as more restaurants expressed interest. Weybright said increased collaboration is essential for the discussion of sexual assault to become common in the Charlottesville community.

“These restaurants got people through the door in order to talk,” Weybright said. “This is vital in order for there to be dialogue and for plans to turn into action.”

Bartenders said the security presence on the Downtown Mall should be heightened. Additionally, Starns said, they hope to engage with more management-level individuals at various businesses to increase bystander intervention.

“After the training-focused portion of the meeting, we strategized on how to continue

the conversation and how to approach other local systems, such as law enforcement, for support around increasing safety on the Mall,” Starns said. “We were hoping to help bar and restaurant staff feel more empowered to intervene in situations and to hear from them what we can do as an agency to support them around these issues.”

Continued conversation within the community of restaurants and bars was deemed essential to furthering action against sexual assault.

“The sense of the meeting yesterday was that we would like to continue to strategize with

restaurants and bars to train staff in bystander intervention and to encourage management to

create policies that make it clear that they want their spaces to be violence free, and that they’ll support their staff in intervening in situations that seem high-risk,” Starns said.

Weybright said they are looking to extend the conversation further to restaurants on the Corner.

“It’s a great area to reach, but SARA is going to leave any additional meetings up to the restaurants who generated the momentum and any other businesses they attract,” Weybright said.

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