TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — Local bars and restaurants are taking part in a free training program to make their businesses safer.
“Safe Bars” is a training program offered online for free through Branch House aimed at reducing the risk of sexual assault and harassment in local bars and restaurants.
Branch House partnered with other organizations in the area to bring the nationwide program to the Tri-Cities. Tina Johnson, the director of victim services for Frontier Health, said she first became aware of the program in Nashville a few years ago and saw how it could benefit the Tri-Cities.
“We see way too many sexual assaults in the Tri-Cities,” said Johnson. “One’s too many, but unfortunately our advocates stay very busy at the hospital working calls.”
The community response specialist for the Branch House Family Justice Center, Brittany Fleenor, said they are focusing on bars, especially downtown and around colleges because of the role alcohol plays in many sexual assaults.
“We know that in 50% of sexual assault cases alcohol plays a role,” said Fleenor. “We know that these bars and restaurants are really the perfect environments for these sexual predators to come and really separate and incapacitate their victims.”
The online training takes about an hour and a half to complete and includes information on recognizing sexual harassment, how to intervene without escalating a situation, strategies for creating a safe environment and discussion of businesses’ liability and responsibility to create a safe environment.
When local businesses sign up, they’re given a link to the training which can be shared with their employees.
Anne Greenfield owns High Voltage and the building that houses it and King’s Sport Axe House. She was one of the first businesses owners to take up the offer. She said she didn’t necessarily think they were having any issues, but was open to learning more.
“I thought if we could help one person or be equipped to help somebody, it would be worth it,” said Greenfield. “So, I reached out to my staff and the staff of the Axe House, and they were all very interested in doing the training. So, we turned it into a team-building night; we watched the video together and then really had a great discussion.”
Greenfield said many of her employees are college students, and she believes this could help them in their own lives, not just at work.
Restaurants or bars that have all of their employees complete the training and successfully pass an exam can become a certified “Safe Bars” establishment.
Those businesses will get a sticker courtesy of the ETSU HELP SARA program that they can place in their front window to show their status. A status that advocates hope makes bargoers feel more comfortable and makes potential predators think more about their actions.
“I think it’s important because you can go out and know the bartender knows what to do if something spirals out of control,” said Johnson.
Branch House will be following up every few months to see what information employees retain. Due to turnover in the restaurant industry, businesses will need to get recertified yearly.
Fleenor hopes to get more businesses in the area educated and certified with the program. She said the goal is to get them to develop their own action plans.
“We want to teach them how to safely intervene, and if they need to delegate and find someone else who’s more equipped to do that, contact law enforcement or how to pull in a manager,” said Fleenor.
To find out more about becoming a Safe Bars establishment, contact Lenee Hendrix at email@example.com or call 423-574-7233.