Making Hoboken bars safer

New program trains employees to prevent sexual assault

Meika Roberson, resident and chief medical officer of Hoboken University Medical Center, saw a local need for sexual assault training, particularly in this city of young bar patrons.
“I thought, ‘What can we do to help the community better understand how sexual assault can occur, and how can we work together to proactively help prevent it?’,” said Roberson.
She found out that education programs have been implemented in cities across the country to establish “safe bars” and educate tavern employees on how to see telltale signs of a potential sexual assault. She decided to try to implement a similar program here.
“Raising the Bar: Hoboken Bar-Bystander Training,” a community awareness and accountability program aimed at curtailing violence and sexual assault, began with a meeting in December 2016.
One in every six women and one in every 33 men have experienced sexual assault.
The educational information session, which roughly 20 people attended, included representatives from the Hudson County Prosecutors Office, the Hoboken Police Department, and owners and staff from local bars and restaurants. The meeting cited statistics on sexual assault and ways they can help make socializing in local bars safer.
Roberson said bartenders, managers, or owners from Tally Ho, Elysian Café, Black Bear, Hotel Victor, The Shannon, Havana, and Mills Tavern attended the first session in December.
According to Roberson, every two minutes somewhere in America someone is sexually assaulted. Statistics show one in every six women and one in every 33 men have experienced sexual assault. And those are only the statistics for those who report it.
She said half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol.

Alcohol and assault

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Hoboken has roughly 80 drinking establishments in its one square mile, and approximately 140 liquor licenses.
“Everyone has a responsibility before, during, or after the assault has been perpetrated,” said Roberson. “Bar owners, managers, bartenders, security personnel, bus boys and other staff are in a unique position to observe and intervene to prevent sexual assault.”
During the meeting, Roberson, who works with Hudson Speaks, a Hudson County sexual assault advocacy program, went over the above statistics and went through scenarios to help educate participants on what they can do to help prevent sexual assault.
Eugene and Joyce Flinn, owners of Elysian Café, attended the meeting.
“I think her setting up this workshop called ‘raising the bar’ was a good first step,” said Eugene Flinn.
“What made it interesting, it was just like in grade school, we split into groups of four or five and you didn’t know the people in your group, and went through how we would handle different scenarios,” said Joyce Flinn.
“Whether you’re a bus boy, or a waitress or a bartender, or a bar back or just a patron sitting on a bar stool, everyone is in a situation to help,” Eugene Flynn said.
Flinn said one of the people in his group had a great idea on how technology can help.
“I didn’t realize how much technology can help us in a situation in which we think someone is too intoxicated or in trouble,” said Flinn. “Yes, there is Uber, or you can call a cab, but someone in my group had the great idea to use the person’s cell phone and call their most recent contacts list and say ‘Your friend needs help, can you come get her?’.”
Joyce Flinn said she wanted to be involved.
“Many times people liken the bar scene in Hoboken to frat parties aged a little higher, but with some of that same predatory behavior. I want to keep the reputation of our city pristine.”
In the bathrooms of Elysian Café the Flinn’s have hung posters provided by Roberson which instructs patrons who are uncomfortable to “Ask for Angela,” to alert the staff who will help handle the situation.
“We have made it the responsibility of all our staff to be alert and to be kind and maintain an atmosphere of hospitality,” said Joyce Flinn.

Training means a caring city

Roberson said establishments who have at least 75 percent of their staff trained on how to be aware and help prevent assault get a green window sticker designating them as a bar that completed the program.
Roberson said training sessions take a minimum of 30 minutes and that it’s critical to have multi-level staff in attendance, as “Everyone has eyes on patrons.”
According to Roberson so far only one bar, 10th & Willow Bar & Grill, has been fully trained. One hundred percent of its employees attended the training session. The restaurant Leo’s Grandevous has scheduled their training session for March.
Roberson said she has had some difficulty scheduling training sessions because it can be difficult for owners and managers to work with their staff’s conflicting schedules.
Joyce Flinn echoed this difficulty, but she and Eugene Flinn shared what they learned with their staff.
Roberson will continue training establishments through private education sessions and scenarios. To schedule a training session contact Anna at (201) 418-1004
Marilyn Baer can be reached at

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