Team targets sex predators

The guy at the bar looks friendly enough. He's buying a woman drinks and telling her that she has had a hard day, and she should relax. When she goes to the bathroom, he orders her another shot and announces to the people next to him that the woman is really loosening up.

Melissa Jensen, the owner of Louie's Restaurant and Bar on the Ashland Plaza, now knows to watch this guy. He could be a sexual predator.

To prevent what she calls "Ashland's best-kept secret," Jensen and her staff have studied how sexual predators plot and plan and ply women with alcohol to make potential victims more vulnerable, less credible to police and less likely to report a rape.

A poster in the bar's bathroom states: "Most sexual assaults are premeditated. We can help you or a friend get out of a potentially dangerous situation."

Louie's staff members are not the only ones on alert. Bartenders and servers at other bars and restaurants are learning during an hourlong class taught by Ashland police Detective Carrie Hull and Susan Moen, the executive director of the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, how to spot a rapist's routine, prevent the crime and establish an environment that is unfriendly to predators.

"On a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, sexual assault is a huge problem in Ashland," says Jensen, who has owned Louie's for 11 years. "It's important for the men and women who come in here late at night to know that they are safe in every way and that there are people watching. If we are all trained, we can stop it at this level."

SART's Moen says her countywide team of sexual assault nurse examiners is called to perform an exam on a rape victim every four days, and studies estimate that 90 percent of rapes in Oregon go unreported. So far this year, nine of the victims she has worked with live in Ashland.

Bar employees who have been through the training have learned that a predator usually knows the victim, isolates her from her group of friends and sets a scene so witnesses see her as a willing participant.

At Louie's, the staff won't serve a drink if a woman declines and a man insists, and they will help make arrangements for the woman to get home. But Jensen says that simply making eye contact can sometimes stop a potential predator.

Louie's manager Roshan Smyth says the training, which she had in April, has helped her establish a rapport with her customers. "Since I'm more aware of male-female interactions at the tables and bar, I interact with my customers to build a relationship. This sets the tone during the time they are here," she says.

Educating the public about how sexual offenders operate is a key part of prevention, says Moen, who conceived of the bar training after learning of a similar program offered by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

"Most perpetrators of sexual assault have eight to 12 victims before they are caught," she says. "If they think their premeditated actions are being observed, they will most likely back off. We hope the posters will act as a deterrent, as well as encouraging people to come forward if they see something suspicious."

Moen is scheduling trainings at bars and restaurants throughout Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford, and hopes that the program, which is funded by a small grant from the Anna May Family Foundation, can be expanded statewide.

Each city police department assigns an officer to accompany Moen.

She says SART and local police work together to address prevention of sexual assault in the same way they collaborate to respond to the crime. In Ashland, they also teach middle and high school students prevention techniques.

Detective Hull joined the bar training program at its inception, helping to create the curriculum. She says that her department sees sexual assault as the city's major crime against a person.

"We also realize sexual assault is rarely reported," Hull says. "The bartender-server training is one part of the police's efforts to change that."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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