'Safe Bars' hoping to improve nightlife culture, safety in Sioux Falls

In the wake of a nationwide conversation about sexual violence, an organization based in Washington, D.C. is working in Sioux Falls this week to make nightlife a little safer.

It's called 'Safe Bars'. Together with the Compass Center, a team of trainers is spreading a message about self-defense and bystander intervention.

"We know a lot of sexual assaults happen where liquor is involved," Compass Center Executive Director Michelle Markgraf said.

Michelle Markgraf, who leads the Compass Center, has been waiting for this training to hit Sioux Falls for a few years. She's now working closely with Safe Bars' director Lauren Taylor from Washington, D.C.

"Sioux Falls has the 5th highest amount of sexual violence per capita in the country. So, any dent that they can make in that will be huge and change peoples lives," Safe Bars Director Lauren Taylor said.

Safe Bars uses bystander intervention and empowerment self-defense techniques to help people improve the nightlife culture.

"Too often, we see something happen. With this bystander training,we become comfortable stepping in. Not necessarily throwing up our fist and having a fight but something as simple as 'how are you doing tonight?' or 'is there anything I can help you with?'" Markgraf said. "Simple ways we can intervene and make someone safer by creating a diversion."

The Compass Center is hosting two days of training. Organizers have invited local bar and restaurant owners and managers to become trainers themselves and help further the Safe Bars mission.

"I've seen they're excited about the skills and understand better how sexual violence happens, particularly in a nightlife setting, how to recognize the signs, what the vast range of stepping up and that they are passionate about bringing that to Sioux Falls nightlife," Taylor said.

If you'd like to connect with the Compass Center and get involved with Safe Bars' free training, call (605) 339-0116.