Alcoholic drinks
Toasting at a bar with glasses of whiskey. Photo via Pixabay

We’ve all heard the horror stories in which a woman has too much to drink while she’s out celebrating with friends at a bar. At the beginning of the night, she’s arrogantly thinking that she’s practically immune to alcohol so she better “catch up” with the others in her group. Shot 1, shot 2, shot 3… then about 30 minutes later it hits her… hard.

By the end of the night, she is stumbling, trying to get an Uber or find her friends. But this annoying guy keeps whispering in her ear, “Hey, let’s get out of here and go back to my place.” A few hours later, she starts to gain consciousness from her blackout and finds herself in an alley at 3 a.m., her skirt ripped down to her ankles and no one in sight.

The time is now to make sure a horrific situation like this doesn’t happen to anyone anymore! According to the San Diego Association of Governments, there were 1,161 reported rapes in 2018 — often involving alcohol. By collectively taking measures to identify potentially harmful situations, we as a community have the power to create a safer bar environment in San Diego.

Although alcohol might not be the cause of sexual assault, it often is a contributing factor. Sexual assault is not just rape; it is also unwanted touching, comments and uncomfortable staring. According to Women Organized Against Rape, an organization against sexual violence, about 50% of sexual assaults involve alcohol. However, something this awful can be more easily prevented than you might think.

In St. Petersburg, FL, an ingenious idea was created to protect bar patrons under the radar — the “Angel Shot.” What sounds like a cool drink is actually a code word to tip off a bartender that a woman is in a potentially threatening situation. It’s a way for those most at risk of sexual violence to safely escape the situation.

The tricky thing is that bars need to figure out a way to discreetly advertise the Angel Shot. A potential way to get around this is to display posters in women’s restrooms in bars and on college campuses and provide training for bartenders. Additionally, advertising it to women’s groups like sororities could also raise awareness.

As an additional layer of bar safety, training bar workers to identify potential harmful situations could prevent a sexual assault. In Philadelphia, the organization Safe Bars is a training program to help bar workers spot situations that could escalate into something dangerous.

However, it is not just the bar workers’ responsibility to make the bars a safer environment. Because one bartender can interact with hundreds of people per night, it can be daunting to stay on high alert for those potentially harmful situations. So, it is up to us, the common bar patrons, to take a stand against sexual assault as well.

Instead of minding our own business when we see someone who might be in distress, we can do something about it. Something as easy as asking “Hey, are you doing all right?” or “Would you like an Angel Shot?” can help someone get out of an escalating and uncomfortable situation.

San Diego leads the state in requiring bar workers to be trained in keeping their customers safe. This region has required Responsible Beverage Sales and Service training to help workers to recognize the signs of excessive intoxication, conduct proper identification checks, and handle intoxicated patrons.

The State of California is just now catching up. State policy ensures bar staff do not over-serve or let a heavily intoxicated customer slip out and get behind the wheel. Why shouldn’t California, or at the very least San Diego County, also require sexual assault training such as Safe Bars?

By introducing required sexual assault identification training, adding the Angel Shot (or something like it) for patrons and employees to be aware of, and making sure as bystanders we don’t simply mind our own business, we as a community can take that next step toward bar safety. Through all these efforts, we can change the social norm of sexual assault from being an uncomfortable topic and turn it into an open discussion about keeping the community safe.

There’s no reason we need to hear any more horror stories.

Kate Santilena is a graduate student at San Diego State University studying for a master’s degree in public health.

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