Ulster Initiative Aims to Snuff Sexual Assault in Bars

Sexual assault and harassment is an important issue on any college campus and the State University of New York at New Paltz is no exception. 

Ulster County Bystanders Against Sexual Assault (UCBASA) is a program which provides an opportunity for local restaurant, bar and tavern owners to join with Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program (UCCVAP) to combat sexual assault by obtaining a free, two-hour, inhouse training for the staff to proactively help them deter these issues before they occur.

Since its inception in 2016, UCBASA has been employed in New Paltz, Kingston and, most recently, Saugerties at Sue’s Restaurant on Jan. 23 through Ulster County Executive Office efforts with the Kingston Mayor Noble and Police Chief Tinti, New Paltz Town Police Chief Joseph Snyder and New Paltz Bar and Tavern Association President Mike Beck, along with Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra and Supervisor of the Town of Saugerties Fed Costello. Nearly 50 front-of-house staff members from multiple bars have received education and training on these bystander techniques.

According to Amy Westberg, the Ulster County Crime Victims Counselor at SUNY New Paltz, UCBASA does not teach traditional victim-survivor centered approaches of sexual assault prevention because of the heavier burden it places on victim-survivors to seek support. This, she said, unfortunately often leads to victim blaming.

“Rather, UCBASA takes a community minded approach, realizing that we all have a stake in keeping our community safe,” Westberg said. “It looks to the bystander. While this is not a new concept, we take the proven method of prevention a step further.”

This program is the first of its kind in New York State and was initially launched in New Paltz with the assistance of of New Paltz Town Police Chief Joe Snyder and Mike Beck, president of the New Paltz Tavern Association. Staff of P&G’s Restaurant & Bar, Murphy’s Restaurant and Pub and McGillicuddy’s Restaurant & Taphouse, all three frequented by college students, received this training last fall.

The term “sexual assault” encompasses a wide range of offenses including verbal assault or harassment such as sexist jokes, cat calls  and threats to more violent unwanted sexual contact ranging from groping and forcible touching to rape. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation, among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

Furthermore, according to Westberg, conservative estimates from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse, suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both. 

UCCVAP trainers examine how perpetrators utilize power and control to target, isolate and incapacitate victims. They also have in-depth understanding regarding sexual assault, consent, offender behavior and safe and appropriate intervention strategies.

“We recognize the correlation between bar and club nightlife and the increased risk of sexual assault,” Westberg said. “UCBASA seeks to bring bar and restaurant staff together in a dialogue with their peers and neighboring establishments to teach and learn from one another. This interactive style treats bar and restaurant staff as experts in their field.”

Despite programs like this, sexual harassment and abuse in local bars remains a concern. For example, a Facebook post by Kevin Halcott on Jan. 21 at 3:28 a.m. drew over 100 comments from locals after labeling Snug Harbor Bar and Grill on Main Street as “the local abuser harboring dive bar.”

The owner, Hick Renadette, and one of the managers, James Dillon, said that the incident in question was the result of communication failure between the owner and the staff. They added that the staff plans to make efforts in the future to identify and communicate who are the problematic patrons. They are also looking to enroll their employees in sexual harassment identification and prevention training and have increased the numbers of cameras in the establishment. However, as of now, staff members have not recieved the pre-existing UCCVAP training. 

“Every employee I hire gets the same speech,” Renadette said. “You’re an adult, act like it, not everyone does.”

An employee, Ed Daley, responded to the Halcott’s post with a letter apologizing for any incident that may have occurred on the night in question. Halcott was unable to be reached in time for print.

Renadette and Dillon said that the employee who was named in the comment thread on Halcott’s post had numerous negative allegations and has since been fired but is still allowed in as a patron. 

“It was unfortunate, he did very well in a lot of aspects of his job,” Renadette said. “Unfortunately there were other things that he chose to do that, had I been aware of, he would have been unemployed sooner.”

Eunice Draw, a regular, said that when their friends had expressed to employees that they had been harassed in the establishment that the employees either dismissed it or did not take appropriate action.

“It’s quite a rowdy environment to be honest,” Draw said.

Establishments who complete the training will receive an UCBASA Certificate of Completion and a ‘We Are UC BASA’s decal. P&G’s Restaurant & Bar, McGilllicuddy’s Restaurant & Taphouse and Murphy’s Restaurant and Pub were the first to receive this training and remain frequented by SUNY New Paltz students.

UCCVAP plans to continue its efforts to prevent sexual assaults before they occur and reduce the amount of sexual assaults that take place in Ulster County. To learn more or to register for this class, please call Amy Westberg, the Ulster County Crime Victims Counselor at SUNY New Paltz, at 845-332-5221.