- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - It’s Saturday night at Insert Coin(s). Hundreds of customers flock around the downtown bar’s slot machines and video game consoles.

Although a bartender is busy taking patrons’ orders, he notices a man at the end of the bar whispering to a young woman. She’s had at least three margaritas, while he hasn’t had a drink. The bartender recognizes the potential danger and alerts security to keep an eye on the two. Such a precaution, after all, may prevent a sexual assault.

In January, the staff of Insert Coin(s) received training from the Rape Crisis Center in an initiative that partners the center with the business community. Party Smart, launched online in 2013, encourages Las Vegans - particularly staff members at party spots - to become active bystanders in preventing sexual assault.

It’s the newest approach in the Rape Crisis Center’s efforts to combat sexual assault in the valley. Although few studies exist nationally to pinpoint strategies for preventing sexual assault, the center’s staff is confident that sticking to traditional methods, such as listing do’s and don’ts, simply isn’t effective enough.

The Department of Justice estimates about 700 rapes occur every day in the United States. A 2012 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped at some point in their lives.

Last year, about one-third of victims assisted by the Rape Crisis Center reported that their assault or contact with their attacker took place at a bar, nightclub or house party, center spokeswoman Gabrielle Amato said. Of the 552 victims staffers met at a hospital, more than half were young adults and teens.

Such statistics prompted the Rape Crisis Center to try to partner with the bar and nightclub industry to educate employees - the people who might see a situation developing and could head it off.

“We realized if we want sexual assault to stop happening, we need to stop the perpetrators,” Amato said, according to the Las Vegas Sun (https://bit.ly/1F44lUh). “So we decided to reach out to (businesses’) staff because they aren’t drinking and they’re well-equipped to handle the situation.”

Party Smart trains workers to watch people who buy drinks for someone but don’t drink themselves and ask intoxicated customers if they know the person they’ll be going home with.

“It was a very strong learning opportunity,” Insert Coin(s) founder Christopher LaPorte said. “We learned the behaviors of certain individuals and how certain customers can potentially become targets.”

The outreach efforts, however, have proved a tough sell. So far, Insert Coin(s) is the only company whose staff has received Party Smart training.

“It seems to a lot of bar owners this is an unpleasant topic,” Amato said. “I’m sure many owners don’t want to think of the possibility of harm to some of their customers.”

Amato said owners worry that if employees look out for unusual behavior, it could make customers uncomfortable. Having Party Smart fliers around clubs and bars also has been a source of contention, so the Rape Crisis Center decided to allow businesses to design the materials themselves.

“We’re not asking them to be confrontational,” Amato said. “Rather, it’s about disguising it as regular customer service, like asking guests how they are and if they’re having fun. We know the bar owners want the customers to come in and have a fun time.”

Robert Randolph, an assistant professor of strategic management at UNLV’s Lee Business School, said participating in Party Smart training could give businesses a competitive edge, particularly if customers feel safer.

“Businesses could build a brand of being a safe nightclub where you don’t need to bring a group of friends but can rely on the staff,” Randolph said.

In turn, businesses may be able to make more money if patrons choose their nightclub or bar over others.

“There is that desire to maximize profit,” Randolph said. “Businesses can establish a brand because they may be the only bar, or one of the few bars, that is a Party Smart outlet.”

At Insert Coin(s), the effect of Party Smart was immediate.

“Staff is looking with a more discerning eye,” LaPorte said. “It has improved communication between the bar and security and management.”

“These things happen,” he continued. “The statistics show they do. It’s better to be prepared.”

Despite Party Smart’s slow start, Rape Crisis Center staffers remain positive more businesses will join the initiative.

“We certainly expected the pushback,” Amato said. “We always know that when we start a new project, it takes time to get people involved.”

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, https://www.lasvegassun.com

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