Workshop teaches bar staff how to prevent sexual violence

Locally developed video game used to teach intervention techniques to bystanders

Posted: April 06, 2018

In the game It's Your Move, participants respond to scenarios that depict inappropriate behaviour in a bar setting. (Supplied by Kenzie Gordon)

Two Edmonton sexual assault centres have partnered up to offer workshops that teach local bar staff how to intervene when they witness sexual violence or harassment in their establishments.

Members of the nightlife industry had approached the centres themselves to ask for training, said Stephanie Olsen, who is responsible for strategic partnerships at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

"There's been a real call to action over the last couple years around responding to or taking a really strong stance against sexual violence," Olsen said Friday. "And it's good for business to have safe, enjoyable spaces."


The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre noticed the same trend, according to director Samantha Pearson.

"It seemed like the perfect opportunity to work with industry to find programming that really met their needs," said Pearson.

Popular workshop

Together, the centres developed the Five-Minute Friend workshop, which has been used to train about 200 bar employees since it was introduced nearly a year ago.

Participants learn how to spot inappropriate behaviour and are taught techniques for intervening.

Pearson said the strategies vary depending on the situation, from direct confrontation, to checking in with a person who seems uncomfortable.  

"We also go through some conflict resolution skills around how to explain or describe the situation in a really non-emotional, non-personal kind of way," she said.


A separate workshop for managers is also being offered, tailored for workers in positions of authority.

"That workshop really focuses on what are the institutional changes we can make to create safer environments," said Olsen. "Things like policies and procedures, and strong role-modelling." 

The centres have partnered with Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to offer the training to more bar managers.

Learning through gaming

The workshop for bar staff uses a video game developed by University of Alberta grad student Kenzie Gordon to teach the different strategies.

Gordon explained that the game, called It's Your Move, is better at simulating real-life scenarios than traditional role playing. 
The game presents a wide range of situations, including some that challenge stereotypes, such as a scenario where the victim is a man.     

"That's been very positive for us, I think, to have people interact with it and learn something new, or have to rethink the way that they think about sexual harassment," said Gordon.

She intends to develop other versions of the game using feedback from participants, and eventually adapting it for a school setting. 

"It allows us to create these more immersive worlds, that I think that people can connect to better in some ways than perhaps they might connect to other forms of media."


Josee St-Onge

Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at josee.st-onge@cbc.ca