Safer Spaces

Local businesses that have received “Safer Spaces” training from local activist organization People’s Justice League can be identified by displaying this sticker in their window (seen here at the West End Cider House)

Some popular local businesses – including Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery and Donkey Coffee – have elected to take a voluntary pledge to stop sexual and other types of harassment from happening inside their businesses.

The People’s Justice League (PJL), a grassroots activist organization based in southeast Ohio, recently has been publicizing its “Safer Spaces” campaign. Through that campaign, local businesses, if they so choose, can agree to allow their staff to be trained in noticing and stopping sexual harassment, possible assaults (sexual assault or otherwise), and other harassing behaviors.

The newest sign-ons to the campaign are the Union Bar and the West End Cider House.

Talcon Quinn, bystander intervention coordinator with PJL, said last week that the campaign is all about creating a culture where “we all feel safe and respected.”

Quinn explained that when businesses – usually bars and service-industry establishments – take on the pledge, they agree to have a “no-tolerance” policy for harassment inside their business. About 65 percent or more of front-of-house staff also must be trained through the program in the basics of “bystander intervention.” Bystander intervention is typically the practice of people intervening when they see somebody being harassed, bullied or attacked, physically or emotionally.

The main goal of the Safer Spaces Campaign, according to PJL’s website: “If you experience harassment or violence near or within these spaces, the staff should take you seriously, deal with the harasser, and offer additional support resources if you need them.”

Rio Ajamian, a bartender at the West End Cider House, said he was happy to take the training, and said he hopes to see other bars in Athens take the pledge.

“The training did exactly what it intended in giving me tools to prevent and disrupt problematic behavior,” Ajamian said. “I talked to women about it, and some have said that bar staff is actually the worst perpetrator of some of these behaviors. Because of that, the enforcement would be self-imposed and therefore easy to enforce no matter the bar, if that’s the case. It’s just a matter of, are regular people willing to put themselves in an ‘uncomfortable’ position to save a life from… rape? My hope is absolutely.”

AJ Castro, bartender at the Union and a manager at Jackie O’s, is another local employee who got the “Safer Spaces” training.

“The Union’s staff, along with many other local bars, see the importance of bystander intervention when it comes to harassment,” Castro said last week. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that we can offer a ‘Safer Space’ for everyone.”

Other businesses that have taken the “Safer Spaces” pledge include Jackie O’s, Donkey Coffee and O’Betty’s Red Hot! Quinn noted that the Ohio Pawpaw Festival also recently completed its “Safer Spaces” training, making it the first area festival to get the training.

“I am very proud of the businesses that chose to prioritize this training at the start of the school year. The first semester of school has the highest reported (sexual) assaults,” Quinn said, referring to statistics suggesting that sexual assaults are reported at a greater rate during the first months of colleges’ fall semesters. “Multiple other establishments are in touch with us about receiving trainings very soon, as they too see the extreme need in our community. I am looking forward to these trainings.”

Quinn said she hopes the campaign will help create a local culture where Athenians do not let “micro-aggressions” pass, which she hopes means “more aggressive behaviors and assaults” will be less likely to occur both in public and not.

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