Preventing Sexual Assault: What Steps are Denton Bars Taking?
We view our local bar as a place to relax, catch up with friends, and bring us comfort after a long week. It appears to be a safe space for all intents and purposes — that is, until you find yourself on the receiving end of sexual harassment. If you have never been made uncomfortable by someone’s advances — or worse, concerned for your safety due to unwanted attention — then you might actually be in the minority in a college town.
Focus on sexual harassment has become more prevalent in local reports lately. According to public police statements, most sexual harassment cases in Denton appear to involve alcohol and/or drug use. This inspired us to make an inquiry about the safety procedures our local bars have in place for these types of situations.
The Dentonite was able to talk to a few general managers of some popular bars around the Denton square, as well as a few managers and employees of bars on Fry Street. We asked each establishment how they handle incidents of sexual harassment in their bars.
Across the board, all of the bars were swift to say that they have a strict policy to escort any patron, male or female, out of the bar if they are acting in any way that makes others uncomfortable. Two bars stated that a few Denton bars use a Facebook page to communicate with other neighboring pubs about any habitual perpetrators. “We check with other bars around and if they post about anyone that looks suspect or has done something suspicious, we keep an eye out for them,” says one Denton bar manager.
After asking a few questions of each bar, we received about three common responses. The essential question we asked the bars was how they let their patrons know that they are there to help in the event of a sexual assault or harassment incident. The first response was that the bars just constantly “keep a lookout” for any type of illicit activity.
The second response was, “If the staff notices anything out of the ordinary, we check with the person who appears to be uncomfortable.” The third response was, “This is a common-sense approach. Bartenders and security are always available and the police are always outside.”
Our follow-up question was whether there are any other measures put into place that could aid a patron if they were being sexually harassed. All bars said no, and a few of them were open to suggestions on how to make their customers feel more safe. We also wanted to know if the managers and employees felt that Denton might be more susceptible to sexual harassment because it is a college town.
One manager suggested that being in a college town doesn’t necessarily mean Denton is predisposed to sexual assault, nor does it make it any safer. A majority of the managers said no, and remarked that Denton is a small town where we all look out for one another.
Denton has certainly always had the feel of a small town. It has the type of atmosphere that allows one to only inhabit places of their choosing. Certain parks, eateries, and bars can become sanctuaries in a local’s everyday route. At times, however, it’s hard to remember that Denton houses two public colleges. According to recent reports, crime in Denton has gone down, but there has been a marked increase in rape and sexual harassment cases, according to national crime data.
It should be noted that these reports do not mention the exact locations where these sexual assaults take place; however, these crimes that form sexual assault statistics are only those that were reported to the police. What about the cases that go unreported?
To get a better perspective, The Dentonite reached out to a few bar patrons that have said they felt sexually harassed in Denton bars. A majority of the victims said that they felt safe when reporting their assault to the bar staff.
One patron, who has recently been stalked and harassed both inside and outside a Denton bar, stated that when she reported the assailant, “[she] told the staff and they actually had him escorted out and were very responsive to the situation, and when he showed up a fourth time they called the cops and filed a report of their own.”
However, another Denton bar patron felt as if they couldn’t report their sexual assault to the bar staff because of “[the] predatory culture that surrounds that part of town.” This patron stated that her breasts were grabbed by a male patron at the bar, and she felt as if the bar would not do anything about the situation.
It's hard not to argue with her about the climate of some of the bars in Denton. Four years ago, a bar in this part of town caused some distress after naming one of their drinks the “Statutory Grape.” The victim said, “They deal with drunk college kids all the time and I felt this unspoken intimidation due to the fact that I was intoxicated when it happened ... so I just didn’t report it.”
One patron said that she had been roofied a while back at bar near the college campus. Luckily, she made it home safely. Many victims of sexual assault in the bars did come forward to say that some bars are more open to helping out while others appear to be indifferent to the situation.
We can say that looking out for your patrons is definitely key in any bar setting, but an over-crowded bar can be a difficult place to catch insidious actions as they occur. Another patron recalled a time when she felt sexually harassed at a bar near the square. This patron stated that she and her friends quickly responded to the unwanted advance with a loud confrontation that was missed by the staff members that night. Some patrons are quick to report any incidents while others may feel dissuaded from speaking up. Overall, Denton bars are looking out for their patrons, but there is more to be done.
Because we live in a time where we have so much information and social interaction at our fingertips, it can be hard to believe that situations of sexual harassment go overlooked. As a community, we need to look out for each other and ourselves. Bars in Denton can certainly bolster their safety procedures to protect everyone who visits their establishments. One option might be to post signs in restrooms stating that patrons should feel comfortable notifying bar staff of suspicious or unwelcome activity.
Bars can also implement safety measures in the form of drink test products made readily available to their patrons. Products like the Generic Coaster, or drink test strips from websites like Drinksafe.com, can help bar patrons test their drinks for foreign substances. The coasters cost about $0.85 each, and each coaster comes with two tests designed to detect date-rape drugs such as GHB. Drink test strips are sold in packs of 20 for five dollars. These tools are not exactly inexpensive, but for large events and holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day, the price might be worth it.
It is also not solely the responsibility of a bar to keep people safe. As one bar manager pointed out, “Patrons are responsible for a reasonable amount of self-care. This includes monitoring their intake of alcohol/drugs, not accepting drinks from strangers, and watching their drink at all times.” As patrons of Denton bars, we do need to be aware of our surroundings. There are also products that customers themselves can buy to check for safety. Coasters and strips can be purchased by anyone. Make sure you have a friend with you at all times going in and out of the bar.
One major factor in these situations that remains unacknowledged: what about the individuals committing the sexual assault?
Predatory individuals need to be addressed for their actions. Zero tolerance for sexual assault needs to become a part of our community’s culture. The best way to stop someone’s behavior is to make it a stigmatic act. As Dentonites, let us call out sexual harassment when we see it and remind these perpetrators to be better human beings.
If we want to change the rhetoric of how people respond to sexual harassment, we need to be able to speak up and report it when it happens. To make bar employees more aware of the problems occurring in their establishments, we as patrons need not tolerate any aggressive behavior directed at ourselves or others. Bars are only as popular as the number of people who frequent them. Safety issues spread by word of mouth and shape the images of local businesses. Hopefully these establishments will want to keep their businesses painted in an innocuous light.