A new program at MTSU is taking aim at bystanders' tendency to want to stay uninvolved in potential sexual assaults.
Activists explained the "Safe Bar" initiative March 22 during the Middle Tennessee Campus Safety Summit, held in the university's Student Union. The program is modeled after a Washington, D.C.-based effort to show employees at bars and restaurants how to intervene if they suspect a customer or customers are in a potentially dangerous situation.
Sharon Travis, an outreach and advocacy specialist with the Nashville Sexual Assault Center, told participants it's important to help those employees realize that the program can help their company's bottom line as well as the larger community.
"We're not demonizing alcohol," Travis said. "We're demonizing people who use alcohol to take advantage of another person."
Because bar and restaurant workers have variable working hours, the center has placed an online training module on its website at http://www.besafeatlast.com/safe-bar.aspx. Amy Dean,sexual assault liaison in the MTSU Police Department, and Barbara Scales, director of the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students, have taken the training.
"Where we want to put our energy is in getting our college students involved in helping to train these places that they frequent, not only with asking them to be trained but being part of the training process," Travis said.
Volunteer Chris Kepler, a Nashville bartender with master's degrees in theological studies and gender and sexuality studies from Vanderbilt University, is pitching the program to Nashville businesses. "I saw that there was a lot of trauma at the intersection of sexuality and religious and ethical beliefs in society," Kepler said.
Bar protection coasters, which enable drinkers to test their drinks for so-called "date rape drugs," were distributed to summit participants.
Dean announced that MTSU also has received a $300,000 grant from the United States Office on Violence against Women, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to help promote sexual assault awareness among underserved campus populations, including international and nontraditional students.
"We are in the process of advertising for a coordinator ... for the next three years to monitor that grant under Barbara Scales' guidance," Dean said.
Lane College of Jackson, Tennessee, sent representatives of its "Dragon Squad" to the gathering. The "Dragon Squad" is a group of students who alert campus police and security personnel of any incidents or potential incidents.
Representatives from Trevecca Nazarene University, Motlow State Community College, Cumberland College, and HomeSafe of Sumner, Wilson and Robertson counties also attended the summit. Law enforcement personnel at the conference hailed the efforts of its organizers.
"I'm always encouraged to see that there are resources out there that are trying to get ahead of the game, that are trying to do the preventive-type measures, because we see in law enforcement that prevention, in a lot of situations, does work," Murfreesboro Police Chief Michael Bowen said.
"This is the type of thing that can do such good for so many people," MTSU Police Chief Buddy Peaster added. "It can help all of us in this room and all of the people that we know and care about, and those even that we don't (know personally), but that we serve."
The Sexual Assault Center co-sponsored the National Women's History Month event with the Tennessee Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the MTSU STOP Grant. The latter funds Dean's position.