Breaking the silence on sexual harassment in bars

3rd November, 2015 by Melita Kiely

Discussions over ways to tackle sexual harassment in bars have a long way to go

Tight-lipped approach

“If someone is going to slip a tiny minuscule pill into a drink you’re either going to see it, or you’re not – and that is in no way a reflection of how seriously bar staff take their roles of responsibility,” says JJ Goodman, co-founder of the London Cocktail Club. “You can do bag searches and body searches when people enter your bar, but at the end of the day these people are cunning and have their ways to slip the system. It’s definitely something that needs to be tackled – but while nobody wants to see it happen, nobody is really willing to talk about it. We need more education and open discussions if we’re going to make a change.”

But it’s not just consumers who are confronted with sexual harassment on a night out; bartenders are put at risk with every passing shift. As the face of the bar, they are depended upon to provide witty conversation and nightly entertainment, which can all too easily be misconstrued by patrons, who then exhibit unwanted attention and incongruous behaviour. From bartenders’ admissions of receiving unwelcome touching and attempted kisses to nightly stalking, it is evident the risks are alarmingly real.

More training needed

“No bar I’ve worked in has ever had a sexual harassment policy,” explains Stephanie Shen, head bartender at The Liquor Rooms, in Dublin. “It’s not really talked about. The bar industry doesn’t have a very structured approach to training [when it comes to sexual harassment].”

Incontestably there is a great amount of work left for the bar industry to do in order to stamp out sexual harassment. Women – and men – need to be empowered not to tolerate unwanted sexual advances, no matter how widespread society’s acceptance of unacceptable behaviour has become. Bar staff need to be better equipped to handle these testing situations and perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions, both at a social and legal level.

“I definitely think training for young female bartenders on how to deal with these situations would be highly beneficial, going into things like body language and how to communicate effectively,” adds Shen.

“I would like to see management take more of an interest in these matters and communicate that it’s not okay behaviour, and that bartenders have their support.”

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