5 Tips to Stay Safe When Heading Out to A Bar

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If a fun-filled night at the hottest bar in town is on your agenda this weekend, make sure you pack your common sense… and safety tips… along with your lip gloss.

Remember, drinking spots can be a great way to let your hair down and meet people, but it can also bring along risks, including unwanted sexual advances.

 According to data released recently from “Blurred Lines?” Sexual Aggression and Barroom Culture, a study conducted by senior scientist Dr. Kathyrn Graham of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, and colleagues from Western University and Curtin University, more than 50 percent of women experienced sexual aggression after a bar setting—and 90 percent of the incidents involved male initiators and female targets.

Unfortunately, sexual aggression has become something that’s normal — and even expected —in bars, but there are certain things you can do to stay alert and protect yourself from inappropriate and potentially aggressive situations. Here are five ways to stay safe without sacrificing a good time.

1. Be wary of strangers. You’ve been warned about ‘stranger danger’ your whole life and it’s especially true in a sexually-charged atmosphere like a bar. Bar-based aggression is almost certainly more likely to involve people who don’t know each other very well or at all, according to Jeanette Norris, a senior research scientist with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington. This unfamiliarity deems the perfect condition for sexual aggression and could have at least two consequences, she says. “First, perpetrators might be more likely to depersonalize and dehumanize the targeted woman, and second, it might lead them to believe they are less likely to suffer any consequences for their actions.”

2. Drink less. It’s probably not surprising that an aggressor often chooses their targets based on their alcohol consumption. “Women who are more intoxicated may be seen as easier or more blameworthy targets—or as targets less able to resist,” says Dr. Graham. Norris also agrees: “Other research has shown that women who drink are often seen as more sexually available than women who do not drink. They may also be seen in generally negative or derogatory ways – as sluts, unfeminine, or generally not worthy of respect – which may provide an excuse for attacking women sexually.”

3. Check out the reputation of where you’re going—or go somewhere else! As unfair as these findings seem, women can discourage this sexual aggression while continuing to drink at bars without feeling unsafe. “The first step should be to choose your bar wisely,” advises Dr. Barbara Greenberg, clinical psychologist and GalTime expert. Before going, check out the reputation of the bar and consider the neighborhood where you’re parking. “And if you still get targeted at a safe, well-respected establishment (e.g. a guy is putting his arm around you and making suggestive comments), don’t ever hesitate to reach out to the bartender or restaurant manager.” And although a bar can be a great social hub, there are plenty of other places to meet new people that don’t host as much sexual aggression. Think coffee shops, gyms, a hobby-based community group, or anything of the sort. Bar scenes, although potentially fun, don’t have to be the option for meeting new people or having a good time.

4. Feel confident about speaking up. Men need to be given clear messages that there will be consequences for this type of aggressive behavior if we expect things to change. Half the time, men are trying to impress their male friends as a form of amusement and this will hopefully nip that behavior in the bud. Dr. Graham also added that women could also vote with their feet by refusing to enter bars where sexual aggression is highly invasive or frequent. You can often reduce your risk of preventing sexual assault by clearly and firmly letting a man know that his behavior isn’t wanted, appreciated or seen as acceptable as soon as he commits an unwanted sexual advance. “Women need to learn to overcome messages they may have received early in life about being deferential or not wanting to cause embarrassment or ‘create a scene,” says Norris. Stand up for yourself and recognize that a sexually aggressive man is someone who has a problem and the onus should be placed on him to stop his unacceptable behavior.

5. Use body language to protect yourself. There are a few useful ways you can signal your disinterest to the aggressor, according to Janine Driver, body language expert and author of New York Times Best Seller You Say More Than You Think. “First, you should aim to sit at the middle of the bar. “Women who sit on stools at either end of the bar are often seen as easy targets,” warns Driver. “Sharks attack the easy targets, so make sure you’re with a group of people or simply sit closer to the middle of the bar.” After finding a place to sit, don’t casually pop your elbow over the back of your chair ‘Sofia Loren’ style. Instead, turn your head toward your friends and take one hand and block the side of your face that’s exposed to the players. You can also do some ‘Naval Intelligence’ by using the ‘Belly Button Rule.’ “We face our bellybuttons towards people we like, admire and trust, so be sure to give the ‘cold shower’ by having your belly button face away from the players,” suggests Driver.

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*The study recruited participants on their way to bars in Windsor, Michigan and then polled them about unwanted sexual contact and persistence when they were leaving the establishments. It was part of an evaluation of the Safer Bars program, which was developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to reduce aggression in bars, primarily male-to-male aggression. Additional results will be published in the May 2014 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.


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