University of Calgary bar staff training to prevent sexual assault

Student life can be complicated: studying, mingling, and for many – their first foray into night life.

“Especially coming here the first week the den was just crazy packed, especially the first years just trying to get their first licks in,” says first year student, Jordan Ramage.

But now the University of Calgary’s student run bar is attempting to make the transition easier and safer for students.

About forty staff members including bartenders, waitresses and bouncers spent three hours Sunday training to prevent sexual assault.

It’s part of a greater effort by the U of C’s Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club to promote an environment of “collective responsibility”.

“You want to ask them ‘hey how are you doing?’ ‘how are you feeling?’ ‘are you feeling comfortable with this?’ or finding ways to check in with them to give them power to address the situation in whatever way they they choose,” says club president, Emily Leedham.

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The club teamed up with the Student Union to recruit the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, who tailored the training to specific scenarios bar staff might encounter.

“We give participants practical ways of addressing sexual harassment before anything really happens,” says Becky VanTassel with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre.

Experts suggest finding creative ways of pulling potential victims out of the situation to ask if they need help. An example includes asking a patron to step aside to settle a bar tab, and then asking if they need help.

“You don’t want to take away power from the person you feel is being harassed. If you see a situation, you don’t want to step in and be the vigilante, you want to find ways that the person who is being harassed can address their own situation,” says Leedham.

“People experience a lot of shame around sex and sexuality and so the worst thing we can do if someone is experiencing sexual harassment is to jump in and further harass them,” adds VanTassel.

It’s the first time the Calgary Sexual Health Centre has been approached by a bar, restaurant or nightclub.

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