Chris DiMattia

Chris 'Boston' Dimattia, owner of the Recovery Room Tavern, invited People Against Rape to train his employees.

For as long as owner Chris DiMattia can remember, Recovery Room Tavern has hung posters in its bathrooms telling patrons who to call for a ride if they’re too drunk to drive. But the Upper King Street bar only recently hung signs furnished with cards listing resources for sexual assault victims.

Its card supply was depleted almost immediately.

“We had to call (People Against Rape) after the first weekend, and be like, can we get more cards?” DiMattia says. “She was like, I left you a bunch. And we were like, no, they’re gone. We burned through well over 100.”

People Against Rape is now trying to enlist local bars in its fight against sexual violence facilitated by drugs, including alcohol. The Charleston-based sexual assault advocacy organization’s new Upstander Training program focuses on coaching bartenders to recognize and resolve potentially risky situations, and outfitting bars with materials that make clear harassment isn’t tolerated on the premises.

While People Against Rape doesn’t keep a tally of sexual assaults that can be traced back to a bar, spokeswoman Shelby Wade says, “It definitely factors into our work.”

She adds that the program also addresses sexual harassment by and of employees, which is a persistent problem in the food-and-beverage industry.

Upstander Training draws on similar outreach efforts nationwide, such as Safe Bars in Washington, D.C. Topics covered by its staff training include the meaning of consent, how to properly size up a situation in which a sober person is apparently helping an intoxicated person out of the bar, and verbal cues that could indicate a customer is contemplating criminal behavior.

“One scenario we talk about is if you hear someone say ‘two more drinks and she’ll be good to go,’” Wade says. “We explain it’s important to shut down those comments.”

DiMattia says bartenders keep a close eye on their customers as a rule, but he was surprised to learn in the Upstander Training session that assaulters’ methods of incapacitating their victims are even more nefarious than he knew.

“People slip something in a drink so quickly, and they’re sneaky, terrible people to begin with, so they do it when your back is turned,” he says. “You always think it’s the weird guy in the corner, but so often it’s friends or acquaintances. It’s not necessarily a magic pill slipped in a drink, but it’s like, here, take a shot.”

To help familiarize bartenders with the discoloring, foaming and other effects of various “date rape drugs,” the Upstander Training session includes a card game in which bartenders have to match the drug to a drink tainted with it. DiMattia says his employees responded well to the program’s interactive components.

“Some of these courses, people get a little bored,” he says. “They don’t want to sit through that stuff.”

Since People Against Rape piloted Upstander Training at the Recovery Room (which now has a certificate to show for it), DiMattia says he’s recommended the free program to a number of bar owners around town. People Against Rape is readying for a formal launch in April, in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“I think it would be good for anyone,” DiMattia says.

For more information about Upstander Training, call 843-577-9882 or e-mail prevention@peopleagainstrape.org.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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