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Durango groups pitch ‘angel shots’ as a way to prevent sexual assault

Program seeks to collaborate with bars on code word to recognize trouble
Katrina Oakley, bartender at Mama Silvia’s, gets ready to open in June 2019. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Sexual Assault Services Organization is teaming up with the Durango Police Department and In The Weeds to prevent predatory behavior in Durango bars and restaurants.

Project Angel Shot is a safer way for servers and patrons to mitigate situations in which sexual assault could take place. If a patron feels uncomfortable around a person or is on a date and feeling uneasy, the patron can order an “angel shot.” This signals to the server that the person ordering the drink is in a potentially dangerous situation. The server would then discretely contact a taxi or a friend to remove the patron from the situation.

“The whole idea is try to get people out of situations that could become violent without making some big scene,” said SASO Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator Brian Williams.

Patrons can also order a “double angel shot” when more urgent attention is needed. For example, if a patron’s drink has been drugged or if a person has already been assaulted, a patron can order a double angel shot. With a double angel shot, the server will alert the Durango Police Department immediately.

Project Angel Shot was launched in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Organizers hope to put more emphasis on the program in the wake of a recent incident in which a Farmington man is accused of befriending an overly intoxicated woman in a bar before kidnapping her and sexually assaulting her. Law enforcement has said there may be other victims.

“I feel like he’s a public threat and this is a public safety announcement to women,” said Mercy Hospital Forensic Nurse Coordinator Bethany Bernal.

Bernal has treated several victims of sexual assault and said many stories tend to begin with a fun night out with friends.

“Every woman has a right to go out with her girlfriends, have fun, get drunk and not be preyed upon,” Bernal said.

(Courtesy of Sexual Assault Services Organization)

She said if Durango bars had a system to intervene in potentially volatile situations, she would see fewer victims come into the hospital to be examined and treated for sexual violence.

In The Weeds is a local nonprofit working to give restaurant and bar employees other options for socializing and choosing healthy lifestyles besides going to the bars. Along with SASO, In the Weeds is partnering with local establishments to help prevent sexual assault.

In The Weeds Program Coordinator Kayden Cooper said sexual assault is becoming a growing concern in Durango’s bar scene based on bartenders and servers she has spoken with.

Still, In The Weeds and SASO have found some businesses are reluctant to implement the Angel Shot Program, possibly because they don’t want any inference that sexual assault could be an issue at their establishment.

“It’s not an accusation that bad things are happening in your establishment,” Williams said. “It’s actually us helping you by saying you are doing everything you can to prevent this.”

In The Weeds and SASO would like to work with Durango-area bars and restaurants to implement training around Project Angel Shot. Cooper said successful implementation will involve team cooperation on the part of service and management staff members.

A successful angel shot intervention may involve a bouncer engaging with the potential perpetrator and the bartender or server providing assistance to the concerned patron, said Williams and Cooper.

“I think we just need to hit the management harder,” Cooper said. “Because the employees can be interested in it, but if we can’t get into those meetings and make the managers interested, then it’s not going to be as effective.”

Williams said it is important to get involved with all Durango-area restaurants and bars because each establishment has different features that must be accounted for when training servers for potentially volatile situations.

Organizers aren’t worried about perpetrators figuring out what the term “angel shot” means. Cooper said if the community is aware of the term, then it may make potential predators think twice about doing something, because that person will know a system is in place for a woman to report a threat.

“I have a lot of friends that work the bar and the door at El Rancho and The Garage,” Cooper said. “The door guys and security really listen to their bartenders; all they really have to do is point at the person and that person’s out.”

Bernal said she would like to see angel shot training become a requirement for renewing liquor licenses.

In The Weeds will be setting up a booth to provide information about Project Angel Shot at Fort Lewis College in the days before classes start to raise awareness. If establishments become interested in the project, Cooper would like to create stickers for businesses to put on their windows alerting customers of their support for Project Angel Shot.

Cooper said that would create a sense of security while deterring predators.


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