LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -- A new law in Lawrence requires bar managers to undergo sexual violence and harassment training, including how to intervene in cases of suspected sexual violence.
The requirement is new, but the concept is not. Twenty bars in Lawrence have participated in a similar program called Safe Bar Alliance. They have posters inside the bathrooms, telling people: “If someone is bothering you, reach out to our staff.”
One Safe Bar Alliance member is Gaslight Gardens, a tiny space with an older clientele than Lawrence college bars.
“It’s recognizing precursors or symptoms to what could lead to sexual violence,” said Mike Humphrey, the owner of Gaslight Gardens.
It’s things like body language and “situational awareness,” according to Humphrey.
Humphrey understands how the term “intervention” has fellow bar owners worried, as evidenced by comments from the Sandbar’s owner at the commission meeting.
“We do not allow our staff to intervene,” said Peach Madl had said. “With potential problems, we do notify the police department. The Lawrence Police Department will tell you we call for walk-throughs.”
However, Humphrey and the program’s creator at the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center say the bystander intervention techniques taught are about de-escalating to avoid conflict.
“It’s not looking at stopping aggressive behavior or kicking people out in an aggressive way,” explained Chrissy Heikkile, the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center’s executive director.
“Maybe one person goes to the bathroom and you can take that opportunity to intervene, simply by saying, ‘Hey, are you okay? Do you need a ride? Are you safe?’” Humphrey said.
Last fall, bar staff used the techniques when a man was making overtures that his date was clearly uncomfortable with.
“She didn’t want to leave because she was in fear of him following her,” said Thomas Hamm, a bartender at Gaslight Gardens.
They waited for the man to go outside and then Hamm did this: “I was like ‘Hey, I think you’ve had enough. It’s time to get out of here.’ And, he just kind of did.”
Another argument against the ordinance is cost.
Safe Bar Alliance is currently free, but a miniature version of Safe Bar Alliance being developed as one option to accommodate the new law involves a city budget request. That budget item has not been passed ye
The owner of Johnny’s already participates in Safe Bar and sang its praises to commissioners, but he and others argued a requirement is not the right route.
A lawyer for the Kansas License Beverage Association says the requirement could prompt lawsuits from victims who were assaulted after leaving a bar by saying, “By law, you were trained to prevent this and you didn’t.” However, the assistant city attorney disagreed, and the council passed it unanimously.
The law goes into effect in July of 2020.