The conversation about sexual harassment and assault in the service industry has never been louder. Now, a couple of groups have teamed up to transform that discussion into action. On Tuesday (11.28), Bartenders Against Sexual Assault (BASA) announced that they are now a nonprofit, IRS certified 501(c)(3) initiative merged with Seattle’s Proper Groove. A much hoped-for nationwide service industry sexual violence training program is only months away.
BASA co-founders Ira Koplowitz and Stacey Wright intend to launch a series of hospitality specifically sessions honed in on “Education, Prevention, Intervention, and Consent (EPIC Moves Training Series),” alone with a #86Excuses, a social media awareness effort, and renewed fundraising effort.
Particularly notable in the endeavor is the goal of creating a nationwide education system for bars and restaurant through EPICs. Wright told Neat Pour that the training sessions will aim to create better awareness, procedures,and practice aimed at preventing sexual violence in the industry.
The first training sessions are slated for spring of 2018. Wright said that the team has been focused on curriculum development for many months, but there is still work to be done. BASA will then recruit bars and trainers, test the program in said bars, make tweaks, and roll out the program nationwide.
However, the process of completing the curriculum is not an easy one. “To go back to those early days, we learned very quickly as a cocktail consultants that we can create our own narrative—This is the philosophy we teach. This our belief. But, it’s different with sexual assault,” explained Koplowitz. “How do you train people about gender based violence? How do you do it the right way? These are the challenges that we’ve been tackling.”
Wright added that sexual aggression is unique because the trainer is battling societally ingrained norms. “Before you get to procedures, you need to break down their perceived understanding of rape culture. You need to deconstruct everything that they thought they knew about perpetration,” she added. “Then, teach them how to see the signs in their establishments. And, it needs to be inclusive. You can’t teach the front of the house if the manager in the back is a pig.”
The Current Campaign
“We’re living in an interesting time when these conversations have been happening across all industries and walks of life,” Wright observed. “It’s an uncomfortable topic, but we hit it at the right time” With that understanding, BASA is staying active even while writing the coursework for the training session campaign.
One current face of their work is a new social media campaign to promote the #86Excuses. The hashtag is intended as a means to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the service industry. “86 is a universal phrase in the service industry and sends a strong message in our own terms,” said Wright. Look for the posts and tweets in the days ahead.
Unfortunately, money is also required to fund training sessions and outreach. Previously, BASA relied on the generosity of small, local brands and distributors like Badger Liquor, Modest Vodka, and especially Koplowitz’s Bittercube Bitters. However, with the larger, national plan, additional funds are needed. To that end, the campaign’s new 501(c)(3) status means that they can now solicit donations (tax free) in full compliance with all the rules & regs. Help them out here.
Still, the end goal is far more than grassroots. The group believes that with the proper support, holistic change is possible. “We’ve been relying on our friends in the industry, local and state reps, but we can really take this too the highest level in the industry also,” mused Koplowitz. “This is the economy that we represent.”
Wright added some historical perspective. “Liquor and beer companies didn’t always say ‘Don’t drink and drive’ but they do now,” she noted. “This effort can we be the same way.”
The team represents an activist supergroup of sorts. Wright, a self-described “accidental activist,” first became involved in equality issues in her native Oklahoma after her niece told her about sexual assault at the local high school. Wright led a protest at the school which garnered national media attention. Consequently, the district hired in-house victims’ advocates; teachers and administrators were trained; and Wright witnessed regular people creating real change.
A few years later, her friend, Koplowitz launched BASA a year ago. As Wright describes it, the moment he told her about the project, she exclaimed, “Ira! We need to work together.”
She was right. BASA was picking up steam and Koplowitz realized that he needed help. In his words, “Stacey and I just became a team.” Initially, BASA concentrated on fundraising; holding special events; promoting drink, beer, and menu specials to benefit associated nonprofits; and generally raising awareness. However, Wright and Koplowitz soon understood that both training programs and a proper, bureaucratically kosher, IRS recognized, entity were prerequisite for their greater vision.
Them, in 2016, Proper Groove was formed in Seattle to battle sexual violence in the Pacific Northwest nightlife scene. The group’s aims were primarily bystander intervention training, advocacy, policy, and fiscal sponsorship. Wright, soon a Board Member, recognized that the group was a perfect match for her work with BASA. Almost a year of backend planing ensued, and finally, today, the organizations officially banded together.
Now, these impressive efforts are working in concert. Few would dispute that their goals are much needed in the industry, one of the worst offenders in terms of sexual assault and harassment. Likewise, the time is certainly right for change. Neat Pour will check in with BASA as they continue their work.