New City Bills Could Require Sexual Harassment Bystander Training

sexual harassment training
Three anti-sexual-harassment bills have been introduced requiring bars and nightclubs to provide staff training and post anti-sexual-harassment signage including additional resources for help.

Editor’s note: Run a kitchen or bar—or any business at all really—and want to educate your staff on sexual harassment? Check out Karen Leibowitz’s In Case of Sexual Harassment poster that you can download for free in Spanish, English or Chinese. You can also purchase a poster of the print for $10 on the Cherry Bombe website.

When you’re going out to a bar or nightclub to wind down from a long week or to catch up with friends, you shouldn’t have to thwart the possibility of unwanted sexual harassment or assault from predatory scumbags. At nightlife venues, sexual harassment and assault can take many forms—from nonconsensual groping to getting a roofie, the “date rape” drug, slipped into your beer. Most people I know won’t leave their drinks unattended when turning away to greet a friend or while making a trip to the restroom. Before the night begins, many will also safety plan with their friends by creating a “buddy system,” where each person is paired with someone else so no one gets roofied, stalked, harassed or assaulted.

New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Democrat, wants to put an end to these disturbing realities by providing nightlife establishments an opportunity to confront sexual harassment and assault. On October 31, he introduced three bills that, if passed, will require staff at nightlife venues to receive bystander training as a part of their initial hiring process. He believes that by giving staff the right tools to identify and respond to sexual harassment or assault between patrons, these venues can be safe spaces for people to enjoy themselves. In addition to the staff training, the legislation would require bars and nightclubs to put up signage that outlines a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and assault along with additional resources for help. The Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment will also be required to post resources on its website and assist businesses with providing bystander training.

“Unfortunately, harassment is so common at some nightlife venues that many women see it as part of the experience of going out,” says Council Member Espinal.

Over 70 percent of people aged 18 to 24 years old reported having witnessed sexual harassment in some form during a night out, according to a survey taken last year by YouGov. While some perpetrators are confronted and held accountable for their predatory sexual behavior, many go unpunished.

“That is unacceptable, and our city should be taking the lead on educating people about consent,” Espinal says. “Partnering with nightlife institutions, we can build on the achievements of #MeToo and create a city where everyone feels safe and respected.”

Espinal has partnered with Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke, the owners and co-founders of House of Yes, a Brooklyn nightlife venue, to spread an awareness campaign about consent. Sapozhnikova believes the signage can also motivate onlookers to report instances of harassment and hold perpetrators accountable.

“It’s time we took this policy citywide and put an emphasis on the problem of sexual harassment in our clubs, bars and venues,” Sapozhnikova says. “Posting signage in nightlife establishments informing patrons about consent is the first step in bringing this very complex and systemic issue to the forefront.”