Organization calls on bartenders to help amid apparent increase in sexual assaults

Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 3:56 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2023 at 4:18 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A local organization that helps sexual assault survivors in the area is seeing an uptick in sexual assaults, particularly drug or alcohol-facilitated ones, and the group is calling on local bars to help prevent these crimes.

Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S began its Bar Outreach program this spring through a partnership with MUSC and has a handful of local bars participating so far, including Palmetto Brewing Company, Frothy Beard Brewing Company and Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company.

The program offers training to local bars to help bartenders become the first line of defense against sexual assaults, teaching them how to spot and safely intervene in what could turn into a drug or alcohol-facilitated sexual assault.

“[We learned to look for] if someone is being bothered by another patron or if something is occurring that shouldn’t be occurring and how to approach that situation the right way and how to get that person safe,” Michael Biondi, the owner of Frothy Beard, says.

Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S. is pushing for more bars to take the training and to advertise that they’ve done so. They’ve now started a virtual training option in the hopes of accommodating different schedules and more bartenders.

‘A lot of bar staff have been like, ‘That sounds amazing. We can’t find an hour in the day.’” Anna Foster, the Bar Outreach intern, says. “You know these bars are 100 people sometimes. We don’t expect everyone to stop their schedules, so creating that virtual program, getting as many people involved as we can is the goal.”

An increase in sexual assaults, particularly alcohol or drug-facilitated ones, drives Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S.’ emphasis on the training this summer.

The organization says they typically accompany about 200 rape victims to the hospital per year, and they’ve been taking what seems like a lot of victims recently. We’re also heading into what’s called the ‘Red Zone,’ they say, which is the time span from the start of fall semester through Thanksgiving break when more than 50% of all college sexual assaults are likely to happen.

“I think that’s something important to highlight—just how many drug facilitated sexual assaults we’re seeing,” Foster says. “A lot of people think that’s just roofying, but really that’s the least popular one. Alcohol really is much easier vice to use.”

The Bar Outreach program initially received $3,000 in grant funding to begin. Leaders are set to apply for more grant money next month and they’re hoping to get $4,000 this time to train more bar staff across the Lowcountry like those at Frothy Beard.

“We’re just super excited for the future of this project,” Benjamin Young, a volunteer for Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S., says. “We hope because we received so much participation and so much interest, that it will just continue to grow so we can make Charleston a safer place for all people: women, men, children, whether you drink or don’t drink.”

As for why other bars should take advantage of the program, it should be an easy decision, Biondi says.

“It’s free, it’s easy, and it takes 45 minutes,” he says. “There are situations that you probably aren’t thinking about that would apply, so give it just a couple minutes of your day and learn something new.”

Bars who would like to get involved, you can reach out to Lyn Maples, the outreach coordinator with Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault and would like to talk with an advocate with Tri-County S.P.E.A.K.S, call the 24-hour hotline at 843-745-0144.