Safe Bars: Stand Up Against Sexual Harassment & Assault

Using innovative bystander education and self-defense strategies to empower DC-area bar staff to stand up against sexual harassment and assault 

Safe Bars, a project of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and Defend Yourself, trains and empowers staff at alcohol-serving establishments to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault among staff and patrons.


  • Increase bar staff understanding of the scope and causes of unwanted sexual aggression;
  • Increase bar staff recognition of inappropriate behavior along the continuum of sexual and relationship violence;
  • Provide bar staff with the skills needed to respond to such behavior safely and appropriately, whether by stepping in as a bystander or when asked for help;
  • Share with bar patrons safety messages that encourage respect and lets customers know that bar staff are available for help;
  • Actively promote bars that adopt safety standards;
  • Award “Safe Bar” certification to bars that complete the training.


Lauren Taylor of Defend Yourself, our Safe Bars program partner, conducting a Safe Bars workshop in July.

Bars are a great place to address sexual assault prevention for a variety of reasons. They are social gathering places where alcohol is readily available, and though many people are able to safely enjoy themselves, sexual aggressors may use these types of environments as a “staging ground” for selecting, isolating, and even incapacitating their target. Nearly 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. Approximately half of all sexual assault perpetrators are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault. DC saw a 51 percent increase in sexual assault cases reported to the police in 2012, most of which were perpetrated by acquaintances of the victim. CASS regularly receives submissions from the DC community on unwanted sexual attention, including harassment and groping, that takes place in local bars and clubs. 

Recent examples include:

    • Throughout the night he’d intentionally bump into and rub against my partner which was making her uncomfortable.”
    • On his way out to leave he stopped in front of me and…kissed me on the lips and ran out the door. While I was standing there looking shocked and disgusted, the bouncer at the door just laughed and said ‘is that how you roll?’”
    • A third time he comes over, holds my shoulders, and shakes me hard. I push his hands off of me and shout, ‘You need to take your hands off me right now!’ and he pushes me again. My friends laughed and told me I had overreacted, and nobody standing around in the crowded bar helped me out.”
    • While out with a group of friendsI had a disgusting loser come up and grab my butt.”

Other incidents of sexual aggression at DC bars made the news in the past year:

    • One underage George Washington University student who was served ended up semi-conscious, getting raped.” (Washington City Paper)
    • A private gathering on the premises after the establishment had closed early Saturday. One of the attendees reported an alleged second degree sexual assault.” (Washington Post)
    • Suddenly, Moran allegedly slammed his girlfriend’s head into the bar’s metal trash can cage.” (Washington City Paper)


Bystander intervention is a key approach to preventing sexual violence. Bar owners, managers, security personnel, and other staff are in a unique position to observe and intervene to prevent sexual assault by creating a safe space for patrons. Evaluations of bystander intervention programs such as Green Dot have shown significant decreases in participants’ acceptance of rape myths and increases in both reactive and proactive bystander behaviors.

Safe Bars empowers bystanders with skills to:

    1. Identify high-risk behaviors of potential perpetrators;
    2. Intervene either proactively or reactively;
    3. Overcome barriers to taking action.


Safe Bars builds on the success of similar programs in Arizona and Boston. Research has shown that bartenders, bar staff and young adults who patronize bars are key populations to address in preventing sexual violence.


CASS is a grassroots organization working to empower the DC Metro area to address public sexual harassment and assault. Defend Yourself is a woman-owned organization that empowers people with skills to stop harassment, abuse, and assault.

CASS and Defend Yourself is working to build cooperative relationships with local Business Improvement Districts, MPD and the DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to increase the impact of Safe Bars.


If you work at a bar, club, restaurant or other alcohol-serving establishment and you’d like to become a Safer Bar, we’d be happy to come and work with your staff. If you’re a member of the community and want to help us spread the word about Safe Bars, tell us of a bar you think needs this training, or support Safe Bars in any other way, contact Zosia at

CASS & Defend Yourself presenting our Safe Bars program to about 100 attendees at the August 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).

CASS & Defend Yourself presenting our Safe Bars program to about 100 attendees at the August 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).

Take Action to Support Safe Bars & Nightclubs in DC!