Training to Prevent Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence in Bars

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Spotting and preventing domestic and sexual violence in Burlington bars is an initiative the city's Public Safety Committee supports.

Adam Roof, Ward 8 City Councilor, wants to implement an initiative to do just that.

Monday night, he presented data to the Public Safety Committee about sexual assault and domestic violence in the Queen City.

Roof, a former bartender, says instances of both are "chronically under-reported crimes."

"Regardless of age or circumstance, there's always a degree of under-reporting and it's usually drastic. And so when trying to have a conversation about what is the need, what is the problem in numbers, it's really hard to articulate. But there are numbers especially around that age group 18-24, 'college-age,' that by virtue of the federal requirement for crime reporting on campuses, we can really get a lot of insight there," said Roof.

According to crime statistics from the University of Vermont, 11 rape reports were filed on campus in 2013, while 27 reports in 2014 and 16 reports in 2016 were filed, respectively.

To help lower those numbers, but increase awareness too, Roof wants to provide training for employees and management of any establishment with a liquor license.

"If you can imagine a 21, or 22 year-old, with something as shocking as a gun or something as critical as a risky situation around sexual assault potentially occurring, you need training, you need some sort of baseline education to react in the right way," said Roof.

Currently in Vermont, staff need to be trained by the Department of Liquor Control to be able to serve drinks. But, the training does not include "bystander intervention."

Roof wants to create an 18-month pilot program to make sure workers know how and when to step in. He says the training would help to create a safe environment, but would also promote the city's businesses at the same time.

"When you talk to bar managers or bar owners, they really want to create a safe place and a safe environment for customers to come and feel comfortable," said Roof.

Matt Hamrell owns What Ales You on St. Paul Street. He says extra training could specifically help younger staff members know what to look for.

"We do extra training with Burlington Police Department, it's not mandatory, but we like to all go. I think our last meeting 90 percent of the staff went and I think this would be something similar, I could see a lot of the staff going to it," said Hamrell.

Roof says he would not want to make the training mandatory right away.

"Initially in a pilot program it would be opt-in, or incentive based to build more of a partnership with bars and restaurants downtown," said Roof.

Some of those incentives would include a stipend and certificate for staff once trained.

The Public Safety Committee said it would recommend support up to $10,000 in City Council funds to be used.

It will be on the City Council's April agenda, in line with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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