Among the drugs which are used for recreation, alcohol stands apart. No other drug has ever been prohibited by constitutional amendment, and no other amendment has ever been repealed. The laws which now regulate alcohol sale and use are aimed at keeping this addictive substance out of the hands of young people and anyone operating a motor vehicle, while preserving it as a social lubricant and economic powerhouse. There are also non-legislative programs designed to blunt the impact of irresponsible alcohol use. Through a collaboration of several local organizations, two of these programs are being heavily promoted in New Paltz to keep bar patrons safe while not sober.
The two programs are known by the acronym TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) and the initialism UCBASA (“Ulster County Bystanders against Sexual Abuse”). Training in both is being provided through the town’s police department and office of community wellness, SUNY New Paltz, and the Ulster County Crime Victim Assistance Program. Local bar owners, organized as the New Paltz Tavern Owners Association, are availing themselves of training for their employees, often on their own premises. Each of the programs has a slightly different focus, but bar employees who get both will be able to wear a conversation-starting button to raise awareness of the need. The pins also serve as a reminder that there are people present who are watching out for patrons when they may be in a vulnerable state due to their choice to consume this legal drug.
Emma Morcone, the deputy Title IX coordinator on campus, explained during a session at McGillicuddy’s on March 6 that the training allows officials from county, town and college to work together in a way that isn’t always possible to address issues which impact the entire community. As there is no longer a bar on the SUNY campus, alcohol consumption by students there always begins elsewhere. Collaborating with existing bar owners bolsters the impact of these programs.
TIPS is focused on encouraging responsible alcohol use, including prevention of intoxication, underage use and drunken driving. For bar employees, the training is focused on responsible service of alcohol to patrons, keeping customers from having one too many. Other variants include teaching store clerks how to prevent sales to minors and educating college students on how to intervene and prevent alcohol-fueled problems. Overall, the focus is on skills for observing potential problems and preventing them.
UCBASA was developed with a focus on offenders rather than victims. In that training, participants learn about offender behavior and how it’s impacted by the use of alcohol. Drinking can bolster someone’s willingness to cross the line, and alcohol can also be used to incapacitate a potential victim or that person’s judgement. Those who complete the training are more able to recognize problematic behavior, and also have learned skills to interrupt the pattern and potentially prevent an assault.
Amy Westberg and Sarah Kramer-Harrison work in the county’s rape crisis center. As they noted, it’s too late to prevent harm to the people who contact that office. They both feel that UCBASA training could defuse situations born out of lowered inhibitions and heightened hormones; 50% of sexual assaults include alcohol as a factor, with the offender or victim consuming, if not both. Outright assaults are unlikely to take place in bars, but the groundwork is often set for a later incident.
“Offenders are likely to test boundaries, find out if the target is alone, build trust, offer to walk the person home,” said Westberg. It’s a natural result of the “hookup culture” which infuses bars in particular. Recognizing when consent is and is not being given is part of the UCBASA training. There is no expectation that a potential victim seek out help; if something seems off the next steps might include alerting a manager, creating a distraction or intervening directly.
Funding for this current training push comes from the state office of alcoholism and substance abuse services through a five-year grant. Bar owners can arrange for the sessions by contacting Jaclyn Cirello, the prevention coordinator at the college; Phoenix Kawamoto, town community education coordinator; or the police department.