When Leah Dirkse, found out about Woman Organized Against Rape, she had just begun counseling to process her own experience of sexual assault.
Dirkse, who was an undergraduate student at that moment, found out about the organization when she went to see The Penn Vagina Monologues, which raises money for WOAR every year.
“I felt I had made enough progress in my own healing to support others on their path,” said Dirkse, ´´I became a hotline volunteer and interned in the development office, while I was finishing up my degree. After I graduated, I started volunteering in the education department. Shortly after, a position opened and I have been in education since then.´´
WOAR is a non-profit organization with the purpose of eliminating sexual violence through specialized treatment services, comprehensive prevention education programs, and advocacy for the rights of survivors of sexual assault.
The organization provides free counseling for women, men and children who have experienced sexual violence, and it is the only rape crisis center in Philadelphia.
WOAR launched Safe Bars training in Philly in September, and the education team is now training staff at bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving establishments throughout the city. The trainings teach about sexual assault with a focus on bystander intervention.
“I was inspired to bring the program,” said Dirkse, “because I was out for a karaoke night and there was a man on stage, who ended up coming off the stage and straddling a woman in the front, kind of just like… imposing himself on her and just how everyone responded, just made me feel uncomfortable. The DJ like acknowledge hey, that´s sexual assault, but then seemed okay with it, and everyone else kind of looked around, what do we do? So, I approached the woman afterwards and she did in fact felt uncomfortable. I also talked to the DJ because he didn´t handle it well.”
After some research, Dirkse found the Safe Bars program that started in Washington, D.C. Safe Bars in D.C has already trained 10 cities, including Denver CO, Columbus OH, Red Wing MN, Oakland CA and others.
Once an organization wants to implement the program, the steps to follow are:
“I feel that we can all be extra vigilant,” said Erin Wallace, owner of the Devil’s Den and Old Eagle Tavern in Philly,”it is important to make our guests feel safe whether they are meeting someone on a date or just out having a few drinks with friends.”
While in Philadelphia the program still very new. In Washington, more than 30 bars have been trained and the demand for the trainings still high. Some of the benefits of completing the training can provide are:
- Promotion– WOAR promotes bars that have taken the training.
- Customer + staff satisfaction.
- Staff preparedness– the staff is now aware and more able to notice and deal with problems of sexual violence early on.
- A better bottom line– a happy customer is more likely to recommend and come back.
The Organizations interested in implementing the program in their cities, need to fill out a form, trainings are two hours long and consist of:
“We´re always improving it [Safe Bars] and we are also making it more comprehensive,” said Lauren Taylor, founder and director of Defend Yourself. “We are doing things like, having more material and having more social media. We´re also going to have a code of conduct that bars and restaurants can adopt.”
According to Dirkse, around 15 percent of sexual assaults include alcohol, and it seems like now is the appropriate time to have these discussions with bars in Philly. There have been a few incidents of sexual harassment in bars that have been made public and with the current topics in the country, and the #metoo talks of sexual harassment.
“The couple of bars we have trained seem invested, they´re already doing a great job,” said Dirkse, ´´With the couple of partnerships we have made with Penn Violence Prevention that is connecting us with local bars, and Erin Wallace, who is helping us connect with bar restaurant owners through Philly Loves Beer & the local Philly chapter of Pink Boots Society. I think we´re off to a good start.”
WOAR is also working on a “happy hour pledge” with community organizations who would agree to only hold happy hour events at future Safe Bars.