Vashon SAFE launches this week, businesses aim to create safe places for all customers

Vashon SAFE is a new collective of island bars, restaurants and other businesses that have committed to training their staffs in intervention and prevention techniques, particularly regarding sexual assault and its relationship to drugs and alcohol.

The goal is to create a safer community, according to Betsy Archambault, DOVE’s executive director, who spearheaded the project after several requests last fall.

The program calls for business managers or owners to undergo a 90-minute training in which they learn bystander intervention techniques and information on drug-facilitated sexual assault. In turn, they must teach staff members what they have learned, and all involved must pass a test on the material.

“This is the kind of accountability the core people really wanted,” Archambault said. “They want Vashon SAFE to really mean something.”

Participating businesses can display Vashon SAFE decals when they are in full compliance and are also expected to post a values statement, indicating the business supports all efforts to prevent interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, to make the community safer.

Archambault first began working with bar and restaurant owners around this issue last fall, after Julia Anderson was drugged and assaulted. Within a week, Archambault said she had many people in her office, wanting to address what happened and take action.

“That is how it came together. It was based on community wants and concerns,” she said.

Archambault stresses that the program is not about Anderson’s experience — it is more expansive than that — but that her assault had a galvanizing effect.

“Without a public story, people would have thought I was crazy and there was not a need for this,” she added.

Since that time, a group of businesses have been working to create the program and are current participants: Seattle Distilling, Open Space, Snapdragon, Vashon Events, May Kitchen & Bar, Sporty’s and The Hardware Store Restaurant. Several of the participants crafted the value statement and standards for certification. Once all these businesses are fully certified — expected this month — Archambault said she will approach others to join, including the Red Bike, Bramble House and the Eagles as well as businesses such as Herban Bloom and the President of Me, which sometimes offer cocktails.

“The more people that have the opportunity to be Vashon SAFE-certified only makes our community stronger,” she said.

Melinda Powers, owner of The Hardware Store Restaurant, said business owners and managers were relieved when DOVE took the initiative and appreciate working with the nonprofit on this issue.

“Even though we have always had a zero-tolerance policy toward any form of violence or harassment at The Hardware Store Restaurant, DOVE took it to a level where we are confidently and proactively participating in preventing it,” she added.

At May Kitchen, Jake Heil, who is the bar manager and front of house trainer, as well as Anderson’s ex-husband, said any program that supports healthy and safe community gatherings is a valuable one.

“What I like about Vashon SAFE is that the issue it addresses goes beyond just sexual assault and creates an ever-greater onus on our small community to look out for one another,” he said.

He added that extra training creates a positive community responsibility for employees to look at their jobs differently, as stewards of enjoyment and safe environments.

With Vashon Events, which produces a variety of shows, Pete Welch and Allison Shirk, said they, too, are pleased to participate and have always taken safety seriously, even hiring security themselves.

“We want our events to be safe places and for people to enjoy the music or whatever the entertainment happens to be and to not have to their guard up,” Shirk said.

Welch concurred and encouraged people to seek out a staff member if they feel at all threatened. But he also cautioned people that no program can take away all risk.

“We live on a small island and think we are safe,” he said. “But we all have to be careful no matter where we are.”

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