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InterAct, Raleigh bars collaborate to prevent sexual assaults
 
Published Tuesday, April 16, 2019
by Lori D.R. Wiggins, Correspondent

RALEIGH – If you think bars and sexual assault prevention don’t mix, InterAct of Raleigh wants you to think again.

On Wednesday, InterAct, Wake County’s only provider of domestic violence and sexual assault services, launched a Bar Outreach Program that aims to reduce drug-facilitated sexual assault; violations that occur when alcohol or other drugs are used to inhibit a person’s ability to consent to sexual activity. “We will always respond to crisis; that’s the core of who we are,” executive director Leigh Duque said. “And the endgame must be to break the cycle of violence.”

The Bar Outreach Program was born out of a steady trend of sexual assault survivors reporting alcohol and other drugs were involved. In 2018, that was true for 60 percent of sexual assault victims who went to InterAct’s Solace Center, the state’s only community-based medical forensics examination center for sexual assault, said Lauren Schwartz, director of the Solace Center.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. InterAct’s effort is in partnership with This Is Proper Service, or TIPS. InterAct already “has a solid stake in the ground of prevention” with its education in schools and community training, said Brianna Clarke, InterAct’s director of training, engagement and prevention.

The Bar Outreach Program acknowledges “we still have a lot of work to do,” and extends the organization’s effort with direct focus on where drug-facilitated sexual assaults can take root, Schwartz said.

To start, 20 InterAct volunteers converged on downtown Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, visiting owners and bartenders at more than 20 local bars, breweries and clubs to share conversation, get their perspectives through surveys, and to extend an invitation to weigh in on next steps.

“Owners and bartenders were really receptive,” said InterAct volunteer Trey Smith, a N.C. State sophomore majoring in sociology. “They look forward to advancing this issue, too, because, at the end of the day, nobody wants to go somewhere where they don’t feel safe, and they (owners/bartenders) want to make theirs a safe space, a safe environment so people want to come.”

Or work, said Jessica Hagler, who was sexually assaulted nearly 10 years ago by a man who knew her work schedule as a bartender well enough to stalk her and eventually brutally attack her.

“I worked in a bar; now, I’m an advocate,” said Hagler, 31, who worked at downtown Raleigh bars for five years until she was raped. “It’s not only people drinking who are affected, but staff who are affected, too. This is shining a light on, not only the victim, but also on the perpetrator.”

Hagler applauds InterAct’s lead, and credits the organization with her survival, “every step of the way, from support groups to court advocacy,” adding the man who raped her got a 50-year prison sentence.

Schwartz said it’s important for all angles to be considered because drug-facilitated sexual assaults often leave an increased amount of displaced guilt, shame and humiliation that render long-term emotional impact.

“It’s great they’re doing this,” said David Meeker, co-owner of Trophy Brewing & Taproom, where the group gathered after canvassing bars. “Raleigh bars are going to embrace this because we’re a progressive town and it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s an opportunity to be a leader in the state.”

 

 

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