How a survivor-run nonprofit tackles sexual harassment in St. Louis’ service industry
In the summer of 2020, several St. Louis women took to social media to share serious allegations about safety at restaurants, bars and a tattoo parlor in the city’s Grove neighborhood. Their posts about personal experiences of sexual assault and harassment drew attention to a problem that persists across the food and beverage service industry.
Sam Hunerlach is the founder of St. Louis Against Sexual Assault, which offers free training around sexual violence prevention to hospitality workers. She told St. Louis on the Air that what happened in 2020 aligned with what she has seen and experienced herself in the nearly 20 years she has worked in the restaurant and service industry.
“I think all of us who have gone out to have a drink have witnessed sexual harassment,” Hunerlach said. “And all of us [who] have worked in bars and restaurants have also witnessed it, but intervening is difficult.”
Hunerlach said the group’s training program empowers workers by building competence. “[G]iving people steps really, really helps. … They can go in, they know what to say, they can bring someone with them. And they can either defuse the situation or redirect it, or remove that person from the establishment. So it's just about giving them confidence.”
Hunerlach also noted that changing restaurant culture is critical to ensure employee and patron safety against sexual violence. She sees a desire to make improvements among local bar and restaurant owners, even as she recognizes challenges that exist in running day-to-day operations.
“We’re talking about restaurant owners in a pandemic, struggling to just hire back-of-house cooks, let alone make a sexual harassment policy. So what we aim to do at St. Louis Against Sexual Assault is create a place that makes that easier for them. We have templates you can just print off and create your own sexual harassment policy. And we’re trying, again, with the training, to make it really accessible for them to change the way they’re handling the situation — not too difficult, something you can easily do. It’s free to the public also.”
For more on St. Louis Against Sexual Assault and its efforts to train the local service industry to prevent sexual harassment and assault, listen to Sam Hunerloch’s conversation on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.