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Seeking Solutions For Sexual Aggression Against Women In Bars

What is it about bars that brings out bad behavior?
What is it about bars that brings out bad behavior?

Our post on sexual harassment in bars sure struck a nerve.

Earlier this week we covered a study from the University of Toronto that found that men who were sexually aggressive in bars weren't necessarily drunk, and that their actions usually weren't the result of miscommunication.

The researchers hired and trained young adults to go into bars in the Toronto area and observe people's behavior. They found that 90 percent of the victims of sexual aggression were women being harassed by men — and that the perpetrators' aggressiveness didn't correlate with their level of intoxication.

Bystanders and bar staff rarely intervened, according to the study, which was published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Two-thirds of the incidents involved nonconsensual touch; in other cases the aggressors threatened contact or verbally harassed their targets.

Hundreds of you weighed in, and the debate was passionate. Several people felt that the study merely confirmed the obvious.

Nathan Miller

Yep, you don't have to be drunk to be a creep, and just because you are drunk doesn't automatically make you a creep. No surprise there.

But many readers said the focus should be on the aggressors' behavior, not that of victims.


Shifting the focus to the women's behavior suggests that women are able to stop these predators. That is how it becomes victim blaming. Society needs to spend as much time scrutinizing the predatory behavior of men as it does focusing on the behavior of women who encounter them. Without the presence of predatory men the incidents just would not happen.

Mae Flexer, a representative in the Connecticut General Assembly and chair of the Assembly's Task Force on Domestic Violence, called in to point out that we should avoid putting undue blame on both men and women.

"Yes, women being intoxicated makes it easier for predators to act out their aggression against women, but these predators are going to do this anyway, whether women are drunk or sober, and I think that's a very important point to get across," she tells Shots.

"It's also important when we talk about these issues that we're not talking about men in the collective," she says. "We need to show that we recognize that the men who commit these crimes are a very small portion of the population."

Yet other readers pointed out that bad behavior isn't limited to Saturday night.

Krissy Chandler

It should also be noted ... the reason for the men targeting these women in this study was because they were "less able to rebuff them." Think of how often these same men are aggressive and predatory in other situations where women are less able to seek justice! For example, when they are alone with women, when they are supervisors or in positions of power over women, when the woman has a physical or mental handicaps, etc. This kind of harassment isn't limited to bars!

But bars aren't a bad place to start trying to figure out a solution.

We called Lauren Taylor, one of the organizers behind Washington, D.C.'s Safe Bars initiative, and asked her what her group is trying to do.

The initiative's goal, Taylor told Shots, is to educate bystanders on what to do when they see sexual aggression. Taylor says the organization hopes to work with bars in D.C. and train staff to intervene and help victims of aggression.

Bystanders can help in many ways, Taylor says. "For example, you might go up to somebody who is being targeted and say, 'Your friend is calling over there.' " A bystander could also address perpetrators directly and ask them to cut it out, she says.

Her group tries to educate bystanders and staff on how to safely intervene. But she realizes that this goes beyond just how people behave on Saturday night. "Really what we're talking about is changing rape culture," Taylor says. "[Rape culture] is the overall messaging throughout our culture that says this kind of behavior is allowed."

That includes the idea that "boys will be boys," or that women at bars should expect bad behavior at bars, she says. And though most men aren't perpetrators of sexual aggression, the majority of perpetrators are men, Taylor says.

"Men can go out and get drunk, and run a whole bunch of risks including getting in a car accident, blacking out or getting alcohol poisoning," Taylor says. "Women run those same risks. But men never have to think 'I shouldn't get drunk because someone is going to rape me.' "

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