Making Steamboat nightlife safer: Bar owners ready new program to combat drug-facilitated sexual assault
Editor’s note: This story is the sixth part of an eight-week series focused on the issue of sexual assault in Steamboat Springs and Routt County. To view the entire series as it unfolds, visit SteamboatPilot.com/news/in-our-shoes.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As owner of Old Town Pub in Steamboat Springs, Sean Regan is familiar with Ski Town USA’s famed nightlife and has seen both its good and bad sides.
“It’s awesome, and there’s a reason that we do this,” said Regan, who has owned Old Town Pub since 2016. “They (bar patrons) want to have a story they can tell, and usually, those stories are a lot better when they involve laughter, music, dancing, good times and goofball antics.
“There’s a dark side, of course,” Regan added. “But our goal is to do everything we can to keep that dark side from showing up.”
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That desire to keep the darkness at bay is what inspired Regan to join Justin Keys, owner of The Barley Tap and Tavern, and help pioneer a program called Good Night Out that aims to combat drug-facilitated sexual assault in Routt County.
The program is being developed by Advocates of Routt County’s new Drivers of Change Committee, which includes bar owners, bartenders, sexual assault survivors, mental health practitioners and a representative from Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. The effort is also endorsed by Routt County’s Sexual Assault Response Team, which is made up of representatives from the local agencies that respond to cases of sexual violence when they occur.
According to SART and Advocates, drug-facilitated sexual assault is a major problem in Steamboat Springs. This type of sexual assault includes victims who may have been “roofied,” which means some kind of drug was put in their drink, or who may have had too much alcohol to drink, which can also cause diminished capacity.
Diminished capacity is a state where an individual does not have the capacity to consent to sex due to falling asleep, passing out or being unconscious.
“It’s either voluntary or involuntary,” said forensic nurse Patty Oakland, the social change advocate for Advocates of Routt County and head of the SART team. “People are taking advantage after you have been drinking yourself or maybe someone is feeding you alcohol.”
She said this could include doing shots or maybe pushing alcohol on a person by using peer pressure. She added that, in cases of diminished capacity, the victim often wrongly blames themselves.
To address this problem, the Good Night Out program was born, and Keys has taken a leading role in creating training curriculum for service industry managers, and The Barley and Old Town Pub will be the first bars in Steamboat to implement the program starting later this month.
The campaign will include: training for bartenders; designating a safe place for customers to put their drinks when they go to the bathroom; providing information for customers about seeking help when danger is suspected; and outlining reporting options if an assault happens.
Bartender training includes: how to recognize inappropriate behavior; ways to recognize if a customer is in trouble; steps to take to make them safe; and what to do if they believe a drink has been tampered with. The idea behind the program is to provide staff with the tools and knowledge needed to help prevent incidents of sexual assault before they occur.
The program will initially be limited to two bars, but eventually, creators of the program hope it will spread to every business with a liquor license in town. Businesses that successfully implement the program will be able to display a Good Night Out logo in their business, so patrons know staff has been trained to recognize bad bar behavior and help prevent sexual assault.
Oakland believes sexual assault, and in particular, drug-facilitated sexual assault, is under-reported, and she hopes the Good Night Out program will raise awareness and increase the number of people who report.
“Our goal is that we will actually see the number of reports go up,” Oakland said. “That will mean that people see that there is a way to report. Numbers going up means more people are reporting, and then from there, we want to see the numbers going down.”
Keys is the one who put together the Good Night Out handbook, and he believes it can benefit every bar in Steamboat, not just his bar.
“One of the big things that we subscribe to with our business is that our number one job is to make sure that we have a safe and comfortable environment,” said Keys, who has made several changes to how he operates The Barley, including adopting a zero tolerance policy for riffraff and over-serving people.
“It’s a fine line that everybody rides,” Keys said. “We are not the place that you can come get one more shot when everyone else has already kicked you out. In a small town, you also know who the problem people are.”
In Our Shoes is an eight-part series about sexual assault in Steamboat Springs and Routt County published by the Steamboat Pilot every Wednesday, from June 5 to July 24.
Oakland said alcohol is the biggest problem when it comes to drug-facilitated sexual assault, and because of that, she is counting on bar owners, like Regan and Keys, to step up and help out.
“Even though it is something that we have never really had a problem with, you can see how this could become a problem as you get busier and become more popular,” Keys said. “Everyone is so focused on preventing violence, preventing high levels of intoxication or preventing theft. But this (sexual assault) is something that isn’t really talked about.”
Keys and Regan said they can notice when a customer may be feeling uncomfortable, and they both have experience stepping into a potentially bad situation without getting confrontational.
“One of the biggest cues that we see from people sitting at the bar is when somebody gets cornered, and you can see that they are kind of uncomfortable with the person that is somewhat surrounding and making it hard for them to even escape from the bar stool,” Regan said. “There have been plenty of times when I’ve intervened, and I’m more than happy to let them know when another person has no interest in talking to them.”
Keys said he hopes the Good Night Out program will reduce incidences of sexual assault and also bring awareness to the issue.
“The main, three-pronged approach that the Drivers of Change Committee is taking is awareness, youth education and the drug-facilitated piece,” Keys explained. “The No. 1 drug used is alcohol, so the obvious place to start is at the bars.”
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