Several national studies, including interviews with incarcerated rapists, victims' police reports, and surveys of college students, show that about 90 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol, whether imbibed by the victim or the perpetrator, or both.

Last month, the four-year old effort by Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM) called "Safe Bars" stepped up its efforts to combat alcohol-related sexual assaults in Portland. Bull Feeney's, a popular Fore Street pub, has become the first bar in town to have its staff take the agency's training course. (Previously the campaign had involved distributing information to bar patrons in several downtown bars, on table tents and with brochures.)

“This training will clear up the gray issues and give the staff the information they need so they can act,” says Bull Feeney’s owner Doug Fuss, referring to questions he has received in the past from his employees about what to do if they suspect a patron may be drugging drinks and how to respond to a patron's violent behavior.

Forty sexual assaults were reported to the Portland Police Department in 2005; the national average is 25 for cities with a population between 60,000 and 80,000, according to the department's 2005 annual report, the most recent information available (see "A Rape Victim Speaks Out," by Emily Parkhurst, January 19).

“People are taking advantage of our services, including hospital and police officer accompaniment more than ever,” says SARSSM executive director Cyndi Amato. “This could be contributing to the higher than average number of reported sexual assaults in Portland,” noting that it was most likely not the only contributing factor, though one that should be considered when examining the statistics.

“The bars have a responsibility to be safe but in order to continue to draw creative youth, we have to maintain a busy downtown district,” says Fuss, who is also a member of the Nightlife Oversight Committee, a group of downtown bar and business owners hoping to influence city council decisions on nightlife. In December the committee submitted a list of recommendations the council will use in reviewing liquor license applications and methods for paying for appropriate police coverage in the Old Port. The council's Public Safety Subcommittee will review the recommendations next month, according to city attorney Gary Wood.

Chocolate Lovers' Fling | to benefit SARSSM | April 1, 1-4 pm | Holiday Inn by the Bay, Portland | $20 | 800.313.9900| also watch for an April comedy night fundraiser for SARSSM

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