"Yeah, we serve alcohol, but … we are here to help": A qualitative analysis of bar staff's perceptions of sexual violence.

Key Point: This study sought to explore the attitudes and perceptions of bar staff regarding sexual violence.

Summary: 17 men and 22 women employees of four different alcohol serving establishments (e.g. large venue or college bar) participated in mixed gender focus group interviews.  The focus group sessions lasted 27 minutes on average and the researchers utilized a semi-structured interview approach.  The following six themes emerged from the interviews: reluctance to discuss sexual violence, role of bartenders, lack of knowledge, stereotypical scenarios, interventions, and ambiguity.  Reluctance to discuss sexual violence emerged based on the bartender’s initial trepidations to discuss the topic.  The role of bartenders theme centered upon the unique role of bartender’s meeting the needs of management as well as their patrons.  The lack of knowledge theme emerged after the bartenders admitted to not fully knowing the laws regarding intoxication and drunk driving.  The stereotypical scenarios theme emerged because the bartenders tended to discuss sexual assault only in terms of stereotypical assault scenarios.  The theme of interventions emerged because most bartenders were only aware of ways to physically intervene.  Finally, the ambiguity theme emerged after the bartenders discussed why they would hesitate to intervene in what they considered to be ambiguous situations.  As one male server discussed the role of bartenders, “Yeah, we serve alcohol, but we’re not the dumbest people alive either—we are here to help you out if need be, you know. If you’re having a bad day, here’s a drink. If you’re getting harassed, you know, here’s a seat over here.”  This quote echoed the findings that when bartenders are seen as allies they may increase the likelihood of patrons asking for assistance when experiencing unsafe or unwanted sexual conduct. While many bartenders receive training regarding customer service, spotting the signs of intoxication, and when conflict can lead to physical aggression, many of the participants reported a lack of basic understanding of what constitutes sexual violence and harassment.  Thus, the researchers concluded that bartenders require more training and education on sexual violence and prevention. 

Application/Evaluation: This article might be useful for organizations that are conducting sexual violence prevention programs with alcohol serving establishments.  The focus group questions that were administered are provided in the appendix of the article.

Limitations: The study participants were all located in one southeastern city of the United States and it is unknown if the results are generalizable to bars located in other parts of the country.

Powers, R. A., & Leili, J.
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Violence and Victims
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