U of A researchers test sexual assault prevention program

Safer Bars teaches how to use humor or distraction to defuse situations

U of A researchers test sexual assault prevention program
Researchers are testing the effectiveness of the Arizona Safer Bars program with $3 million grant. (Source: KOLD)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The latest crime stats show police responded to more than a dozen reports of rape last year around the University of Arizona. A statewide program is aiming to shrink that number.

Denica Jaramillo is a seasoned bartender. She’s been in the business on-and-off for about two decades. In that time, she said she’s learned how to serve her guests with more than just a pour.

“Probably the first thing I learned as a bartender was to constantly scan the room,” said Jaramillo.

She said harassing behavior does not really happen here at Casa Film Bar, but in case it does, she’s prepared. She’s taken the Safer Bars training program offered by the state through ADHS. According to its website, it’s a five hour course that teaches “the difference between flirting and sexual aggression, how to read body language cues to detect sexual aggression, and ways to safely intervene to de-escalate situations so that they are less likely to lead to a sexual assault.” Casa Film Bar is one of five bars in Tucson that’s taken the program.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have the confidence or know how to be assertive and to step in and see when a patron’s uncomfortable,” said Jaramillo.

Signs are hung outside the venue and inside bathrooms letting patrons know there is help if they need and the bar is a member of the Arizona Safer Bars Alliance.

Elise Lopez, a University of Arizona researcher, has worked with the ADHS to refine the program, which teaches things like humor or distraction to defuse situations.

“Intervention doesn’t have to be coming in with a superhero cape and making a big deal out of things,” said Lopez.

With a $3 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health, Lopez and her team will test the efficacy of the program. Their idea is to saturate areas within a mile of the three main college campuses in the state with the Safer Bars program. The team will monitor statistics of reported sexual assaults and aggression to see how things might change in five years.

“If we can save someone from being sexually assaulted, we can make a drastic change in their lives,”

Lopez said between one-in-four and one-in-five college women will experience an attempted or completed rape by the time they graduate college. The researchers’ hope is with more bars, like Casa Film Bar taking the program, there will be fewer assaults—from groping and fondling to rape.

The Safer Bars program was started in 2012 but reached Tucson in 2018. Hotel Congress, Sky Bar, La Cocina and Good Oak Bar are also trained and members of ASBA.

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