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Asheville bartenders fight sexual assault with Our VOICE

Victoria Carlisle
News Staff Writer
[email protected]
Asheville bars, nonprofit organizations and the Asheville Police Department work together to protect guests from being taken advantage of due to recent incidents downtown.
Sexual assault has been the topic of discussion this past year as the #MeToo movement revealed extensive numbers of sexual harassment and assault victims.
Sexual violence can happen to anyone at any time, but researchers found many sexual assaults are directly related to alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), 50 percent of sexual assaults were reported by women against men who were drinking alcohol.
“Alcohol is a drug, it doesn’t matter how people wanna try to justify it, it’s a drug just like no other, it’s a way to get you intoxicated and be in a different state of consciousness and because of that it’s important for people to be safe,” said Lex Malakhovskii, local piercer at Sky People Tattoo and patron of The Southern.
The NIAA also states that alcohol involved sexual assault tends to occur more frequently at bars and parties. Because of this, Asheville bar staff are taking action to make sure their customers are safe.
“We’re pouring drinks and having fun but making it a safe environment for people, that’s our first priority,” said Lee Stafford, a local barback and door security for The Lazy Diamond and The Southern.
Bars and their employees can legally be held accountable for over-serving customers, but that is not the only reason the staff are looking out for their customers.
Emma Matson, a bartender at Sovereign Remedies, said she agreed with Stafford.
“Above all, kind of behind the scenes work is you making sure people are being safe and part of that is I genuinely care about people being safe and not going overboard with how much they are consuming,” Matson said.  
There is an ongoing investigation of a possible drugging at The Lazy Diamond, which led to a sexual assault at an apartment complex. The Lazy Diamond has been working with police to find the offender. The bar also began work with Our VOICE, a nonprofit intervention and prevention agency to help victims of sexual violence, as stated on their website.
“We’re working with Our VOICE, as far as getting some flyers up to let people know that they can talk to us,” Stafford said.“We’re a bar that very much takes care of our people first, especially women or anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s just what we do, we look out for everybody.”

Lee Stafford, local bar back and door security for downtown bars, checking a guest’s ID at the door of The Lazy Diamond. Stafford says the first priority of the bartenders is to make a safe environment for customers. Photo by Bryce Alberghini.

Stafford said the bar wants people to feel comfortable with letting them know if something is not right or if customers feel uncomfortable because of another person or situation.
Other bars such as Sovereign Remedies, tried to encourage communication between staff members if one of them feels uneasy about a specific customer or a situation. Through Our VOICE’s Bar Outreach Project, Sovereign’s staff learned to use their strengths as individuals to provide a stronger team in protecting their customers.
“For me I am better at observing and sort of being like, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on’ and then there are other people who are better at coming right up and being like, ‘Hey, you can’t do that’ and nipping it in the bud,” Matson said.
The Asheville Brewing Company and The Bywater work with Our VOICE as well to educate their staff and let their customers know that their safety is a priority.
While bars are working toward creating safer atmospheres for their patrons, some people believe the responsibility of the customer’s well being should not solely rely on the staff.
“I feel like everyone naturally as human beings should just have that sense for each other, to look after each other,” Malakhovskii said.

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