Missoula’s sexual harassment efforts turn to bars for greater awareness, prevention

The Missoula Police Department work with staff at a downtown Missoula bar as part of its intervention training. (Make Your Move! photo)

Saying six in 10 bar patrons in Missoula have experienced unwanted sexual touching, a new campaign plans to increase training at local pubs and ramp up other prevention efforts to combat what some feel is a growing problem in the city’s bar scene.

Last month, Make Your Move! – a campaign created by a coalition of victim service agencies – launched a new effort to normalize conversations surrounding sexual consent.

It also released the results of a community survey which found that 84 percent of bar patrons in Missoula experienced some form of verbal harassment or a physical altercation at least once in 2016.

According to the survey, the most common forms of aggressive behavior came in the form of sexist comments, unwanted touching and being followed to the next destination.

Roughly 69 percent of the survey’s respondents said they were the target of sexist comments while 65 percent experienced unwanted touching. Nearly 38 percent said they’d been followed to the next destination.

“When you’re out with your friends, you shouldn’t have to think about being sexually harassed,” said Issac La’a, outreach coordinator for the Student Advocacy Resource Center at the University of Montana. “Unfortunately, that happens all too often to local community members and to students.”

To address the issue, Make Your Move! has provided training to local bars, including the VFW, where staff recently completed a sexual violence prevention program hosted by Missoula City-County Relationship Violence Services.

Ethan Smith, a crime prevention officer at the Missoula Police Department, has also joined the training effort, sharing best practices and tips with bartenders, including how to conserve evidence when a drink may have been tampered with.

The program also teaches staff how to recognize predatory behavior and gain confidence in their own intervention skills.

“This is great training for any bar owner or bartender who wants to provide a safer environment for their patrons,” said Smith. “It really helps make people more aware of the signs of harassment or relationship violence that often start in a bar.”

Those looking to address the issue said intervention training extends beyond the local bar scene. The Make Your Move! campaign also provides training for new UM students, including how to intervene to keep their peers safe.

Business interested in a training program can call 258-3838 for more information.