The Orlando Police Department has teamed up with the Victim Service Center of Central Florida and UCF Victim Services to combat sexual violence with the BarTAB program.
OPD and VSC met on Friday to discuss the poster campaign and bartender training program they have been developing to make the downtown area a safer place for the community.
“[VSC] are the experts,” said Roland Clee, chief security officer at OPD. “They are the certified rape crisis center for Orange and Osceola counties, and the idea is that we work together and have partnered together on a campaign called BarTAB, where we educate the staff to recognize the signs of their clients being in danger [of] harm or sexual assault.”
Together, OPD and VSC created posters that hang in the bathrooms of local bars, with tabs that have the number for the VSC should someone feel they need it.
In an effort to provide BarTAB with a visual aspect, posters were created with and placed in semi-private areas where people would feel safe using information on the poster. Located near the bottom of the poster is the number for VSC’s confidential 24-hour sexual assault hotline.
“It reinforces the message that we’ve already sent to the bartenders and also subliminally tells patrons, ‘Hey, we’re looking out for you,’” Damiani.said.
BarTAB trains bar staff to recognize instances of sexual violence and how to intervene.
“The training has been super receptive,” said Lui Damiani, executive director of VSC. “The idea was to show them how they could get involved, how they could look out for patrons at their establishments and how they can actively get engaged and try to stave off any potential sexual assaults.”
Damiani added that bartenders who have been involved with this campaign have been very receptive to the training portion and find it natural they should be trained to look out for potential victims of sexual assault — almost as if it were part of regular training.
“The message we want to get across to people is: Don’t let [others] become victimized,” Damiani said. “Everyone thinks it’s not going to happen to them, so we want everyone looking out for one another.”
Sexual violence is so common, Damiani said, that one out of five women will be sexual assaulted in her lifetime. He explained that depending on the study, statistics could be as high as one out of four women.
Last year, VSC responded to 274 acute cases of sexual assault. Of the cases VSC handles, 33 percent have involved drugs — mainly alcohol. Additionally, Damiani said, there has been an 18-percent increase in cases reported to VSC, but that overall crime statistics are down. On the other hand, the UCF campus, specifically, has seen a decrease in rape cases.
“More people are getting the help they need,” Clee said “It’s not a serious increase in crime, but serious increase in reporting which is needed.”
With the average age of sexual assault victims being around 20 years old, OPD and VSC plan on continuing the training in the UCF area as well.
“The highest rape risk situation for both adult women and college women is not being rendered intoxicated and incapacitated by others; it is being taken advantage by a sexual predator after she has become intoxicated voluntarily,” according to a 2007 study published by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Coretta Cotton of UCF Victim Services said the more information and tools that get into bars, the more success the different programs will have.
“Don’t play superhero,” She said. “We don’t want anyone putting themselves in danger. Simple distractions give a chance for the person to regroup or get away.”
Clee believes expanding the program is worthwhile, for “the more we raise awareness, the more the bad guys shrink into the shadows.”
And there are things that can be done to help prevent sexual violence such as: knowing one’s limit, going and leaving with the same group, and checking in with people throughout the night.
“Our message is simple,” Clee said. “We want you to have a good time, but we also want you to be safe and be on the lookout for your friends."
Victim Service Center of Central Florida 24-hour hotline
UCF Victim Services 24-hour hotline
UCF Victim Services main line
Rachel LeBar and Jonathan Kuntz are contributing writers for the Central Florida Future.