News / Edmonton

Pilot project working to curb sexual violence in Edmonton bars

Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and University of Alberta team offer training to staff, management

Stephanie Olsen runs a pilot program that offers training for venues and bars to stop sexual harassment and assault.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Stephanie Olsen runs a pilot program that offers training for venues and bars to stop sexual harassment and assault.

A pilot project aimed at curbing sexual misconduct in Edmonton bars has been “flooded” with requests from club owners looking to create safer spaces.

The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) and the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre launched a pilot in February offering training to staff and management so they can better identify and weed out sexual misconduct.

Stephanie Olsen, with major initiatives and strategic partnerships at SACE, said sexual harassment allegations at the Needle that led to the venue's closure have added demand for the already busy program.

“We have received a lot of requests for training for industry in the aftermath of the Needle, but honestly we’ve had a lot of industry partners approaching us ever since we started this pilot,” Olsen said.

“I think there’s a lot of recognition from at least certain folks in the industry that this is a really important issue to take seriously and that they are in a position to make some powerful change in the walls of their own establishments.”

The teams have worked with 10 bars so far, and will step up their efforts in the new year when the program – currently being referred to as Sexual Violence Response and Intervention Training for Bar and Nightlife Industry – rolls out in full.

It gives management and staff skills to recognize sexual harassment, sexual assault and non-consensual or predatory behaviour, as well as to safely intervene in ways that prioritize the person experiencing harm without escalating the situation.

Olsen said the program is needed in Edmonton, as police statistics suggest alcohol is involved as many as half of reported sexual assault cases.

Olsen said she would like the program to eventually reach every nightlife facility in Edmonton.

Ideally, it will grow the capacity to reach out to bars that might be problematic, and partner with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Comissions to make the education mandatory.

“We eventually hope that all of the bars and hospitality establishments in Edmonton will be interested in making their spaces safer for everyone and free of sexual violence, and growing their capacity to respond to that issue,” Olsen said.

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