Dallas bartenders discuss sex harassment in service industry

Dallas bartenders met in Deep Ellum Tuesday afternoon to talk about sexual harassment and assault happening while on the job.

One study says employees in the restaurant industry file more sexual harassment claims than any other industry. Tuesday was the first of hopefully many conversations on the issue in an effort to start talking about difficult subjects like sexual harassment and assault.

They may not be issues that are talked about every day, but it's something those in the service industry say nearly every one of them has seen at some point.

Mandy Meggs has been in the service industry for almost a decade. She says over the years there have only been a couple incidents where a situation made her uncomfortable, but it does happen.

“I feel like working in a bar for so long you kind of just get desensitized to it after a while,” she said.

The statistics of sexual harassment and assault in the service industry are alarming. 

“The prevalence for sexual harassment is the highest in the service industry out of any other industry,” said Naomi Ayala, the Dallas chapter president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.

According to a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the service industry.

“Less than one percent of all those claims are actually reported to any local, state or federal agency,” Ayala said. “So reporting doesn't actually happen.”

So local bartenders are banding together to start a conversation about sexual harassment in an industry where employees rely heavily on tips for income.

“They kind of brush it aside because this is their source of income. This is their job,” Ayala said. “Without accepting this kind of behavior, they might lose their job.”

The Dallas chapter of the USBG is teaming up with sexual assault expert and co-founder of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center Monica Urbaniak to talk about recognizing sexual harassment and intervening on behalf of a customer or coworker.

“Sexual violence cuts across all gender, all social and all economic boundaries,” Urbaniak said. “But people in the service industry can because of the way the pay structure is and because customers are actually paying for the services. So they're actually ‘the boss’ of the staff person. They can be at greater risk.”

The Dallas USBG hopes to continue the conversation with future events so they can reach even more in the service industry. More info on the Dallas chapter can be found here.