About 50% of sexual crimes involve alcohol, according to American Addiction Centers. As a front-of-house restaurant manager in Richmond, Kailie Smith, unfortunately, knew this fact all too well.
After witnessing and experiencing copious amounts of harassment in her workplace, she decided to take action. In 2019, she founded Safe Bars RVA.
Designed after Safe Harbor, Safe Bars is a collective of hospitality workers and sexual violence prevention professionals that is dedicated to addressing and preventing sexual violence in establishments that serve alcohol.
Assembling the team
Safe Bars was originally based in Washington, D.C. After inquiring about hiring its services in Richmond, Smith realized it simply wasn’t financially feasible.
After months of tedious fundraising, Smith and her team of bartenders and violence prevention professionals had finally raised enough money to bring the program to Richmond.
One of the first focuses was the “Train-the-Trainer” program in which Safe Bars’ specialists train restaurant staff on how to host their own training sessions. By December 2019, they completed the training and earned the credentials to push its mission forward and share knowledge with others.
Spreading the knowledge
The moment Safe Bars RVA received its credentials, the groundwork of bettering the community began. By March 2020, the group was able to certify three restaurants in sexual violence prevention.
Each training session involves one bartender and one violence prevention specialist and lasts about two hours. During the session, restaurant staff goes through a set curriculum that informs employees on how to prevent and interrupt violence in their establishment.
The program teaches two specific tactics for prevention: direct and distract.
When using the direct tactic, workers may directly point out harm they’ve witnessed and inform the perpetrator of their transgressions. The distract tactic, typically reserved for individuals who may be uncomfortable in confrontation, involves using anything to move the perpetrator away from the environment.
To receive a Safe Bars certification, at least half of the staff must participate in the training session.
“The more staff we train, the more the establishment is inhospitable to sexual aggression and violence,” Smith said. Since 2021, the nonprofit has certified 17 Richmond establishments, paving the way for a safer restaurant culture.
Impacting the community
Safe Bars RVA is working diligently to transform the local hospitality industry, but it’s no easy feat.
The organization often finds that the logistics that go into organizing a training session can be the most challenging part. At times, even rounding up restaurant staff to participate due to conflicting schedules is difficult. However, when it does all finally come together, the trainings are nothing short of fulfilling.
At the end of every session, Safe Bars’ staff administers an evaluation survey to gauge the impact of the training. Sure enough, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.
Most participants leave the sessions feeling more empowered in themselves and their ability to prevent sexual violence in their establishment.
“Knowing we make a difference in people’s lived experiences makes the work that much more fulfilling,” Smith explained.
The nonprofit offers its certification courses to establishments at no cost. But that doesn’t mean it’s free to provide.
Smith pays training staff for their dedication to the cause, so each training costs the organization about $240. While keeping it free for establishments makes trainings more accessible, Safe Bars RVA relies solely on donations, community crowdfunding and partnerships with local businesses to keep the program going.
Providing a hospitable future
Smith and her team are proud of the impactful work they are doing for the community, and they have no plans to stop anytime soon. The collective aims to reach its goal of 30 trainings per year in the near future.
Over the next few years, Safe Bars RVA hopes to form even more community partnerships to ensure restaurants, bars and other establishments across the region offer a hospitable place for patrons. Eventually, Smith hopes to make additional resources and services available, including mental and physical health programs and Narcan training.