Part 1: Taking Action Against Sexual Assault in the Industry

It’s now 2017. Yet, in this modern age – in this age of supposed freedom and equal rights, our industry is not working hard enough. In the past year throughout the world there have been big headline cases of sexual assaults on women within this industry of hospitality. Alleged sexual assaults by people who acted as leaders to the industry, to new bartenders, to all of us. Why, in 2017, is this behaviour dubbed acceptable and why is it continuing to happen? As a community, we need to come together to put a stop to it. Enough is enough. Every member of this industry should feel safe within it. Every patron at your bar should feel safe. Every person in this vast world should feel safe from the potential harm of sexual assault. Full stop.

The way we can become better as a community is to talk about it. To start voicing our concerns. To educate. To speak up when we see something that isn’t right. We at Bartender Atlas are serious about this and we want to help in any way that we are able. We want this industry to be better because we know that we can be. We are better than this. So with that, we begin a series of posts about sexual assault in the industry. We have asked experts in the field to weigh in. We have reached out to those making a difference to tell us what they are doing. We hope that by having these conversations, those headline news stories will happen no more and that we all start looking out for one another better.

We begin this series with a post by Laura Tilley of the YWCA Canada. Part of her role at YWCA Canada is to create and implement anti-violence campaigns and programs that will empower women and girls in a safe and equitable society.


Full disclosure: I’m not a bartender. But I am a woman who frequents bars and has been subjected to the following in various establishments: Sexual harassment, groping, and violence. Whether you’re a patron or bar staff, I know you’ve experienced this as well. Many of you have experienced worse. And that’s not okay. How can we all take action to ensure bars and restaurants are safe spaces for staff and patrons?

If you see something that’s not okay, say it’s not okay.
Bystander intervention is hands-down one of the most effective ways to create safe spaces. Grassroots groups like Hollaback! have been educating on the effectiveness of bystander intervention for ages and created the “Four D’s” to take a stand against harassment:

Direct: Directly respond to the harasser. This is a tough one because it could escalate the situation, but in my experience it has worked effectively. Make sure to check in on the person being targeted and stay with them until the situation has de-escalated.

Distract: Talk to the person being harassed. Ask them random questions or pretend to be a friend of theirs even if they’re a stranger. Get between the person being targeted and the harasser.

Delegate: Find a staff member and ask them to intervene. Give another bystander a specific assignment if needed (e.g. if you need someone to call 911).

Delay:  If you can’t take action right then and there, you can still help the person being targeted. Ask them if they’re okay. Ask how you can support them. Offer to help them fill out a report if they want to.

If you’re working that night, you’re most likely occupied with serving your customers and won’t necessarily notice if someone is being harassed. Personal story: Last year I was groped by a man in a bar. I was in too much shock to confront the guy who grabbed me, but after it happened I reported the incident to the bartender. Her response was comforting and immediate. She expressed how sorry she was that this had happened to me and called on one of the other staff to get security right away. Security asked me to identify the guy and immediately removed him from the bar. I can’t tell you how grateful I still am to those people. There was no “are you sure that’s what happened?” or “you’re making too big of a deal out of this” (two responses that I’ve heard word-for-word from bar staff in the past). They listened, they believed me, and they took action.

What can you do “in house”?
Everything I’ve covered so far speaks more to intervening during bar hours when there would typically be other patrons and staff around. So what can we do to change the sexism and violence that occurs in the bar and restaurant industry?

Talk openly to your staff about conduct and implement policy that states that harassment and violence of any kind will result in termination. Is a code of conduct an easy fix? Maybe not. But what it will do is set the tone for your work atmosphere and create a supportive environment for staff to speak up. Jen Agg’s NYT piece on sexism in the kitchen says it all: “We need public awareness, more people speaking out and a standard of zero tolerance from industry leaders.” We can’t be quiet about this anymore. No more protecting abusers. No more “boys will be boys”. No more “It was just a joke”. We especially need men in the industry to take the step to call out these behaviours and stop accepting violence and misogyny as a “normal” part of working in kitchens and bars.

If you’re looking to put together a presentation for your staff on creating safe spaces or need language to craft an anti-violence policy, here a few resources that can help:

Hollaback! – Hollaback! is a global movement to end harassment powered by a network of grassroots activists. They work together to understand harassment, ignite public conversations, and develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. 

Draw the Line – ‘Draw The Line’ is an interactive campaign that aims to engage Canadians in a dialogue about sexual violence. The campaign challenges common myths about sexual violence and equips bystanders with information on how to intervene safely and effectively.

#NOTokay – A YWCA Canada campaign asking the public to call it out when images, messages and actions promote violence against women.

Laura Tilley
Manager, Communications & Marketing at YWCA Canada
Laura Tilley is the Manager of Communications and Marketing at YWCA Canada, where she is responsible for all YWCA Canada communications, media, web and marketing projects. Laura has over a decade of experience as a communications professional and manages all content for and all YWCA Canada affiliated websites; and directs all social media content representing YWCA Canada including Facebook and Twitter. Laura was a member of the development team for the award-winning YWCA Safety Siren app. She holds an Honours degree in Political Science and is passionate about intersectional feminism, youth advocacy, and her beloved Toronto Blue Jays.
Laura Tilley on TwitterLaura Tilley on Wordpress

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