SAVE: A Grassroots Movement

Just a 4-hour drive east of the Rocky Mountains and a 6-hour drive north of the US border, Edmonton is the provincial capital of oil-rich Alberta. As a result of last decade's economic boom, Edmonton (pop. 782,439) has experienced sustained population growth, which has put increased demand on the city's services. In January 2009, after a reorganization at the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), the Superintendent of Criminal Investigations, Danielle Campbell, was assigned to oversee the policing of sexual assaults.

Campbell is not one to shy away from new responsibilities. In 1994, she became the first woman dog handler on the force, and in 1998, she was the first female member of the polygraph unit in Homicides. She was promoted to Inspector after more than 20 years' experience, and then became the EPS's first woman Superintendent.

In my telephone conversation with Danielle Campbell on Thursday night, she told me that in her new role as Superintendent she quickly became aware of a troubling issue,"Between one to three months into the new assignment, I became cognizant of a disturbing trend--alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults." After drawing her own conclusions, she went to her community partners for their feedback.

Sexual assault is vastly under-reported, with only 6% of victims filing reports with police (a Toronto Police Service statistic). According to a 1985 Solicitor General of Canada study, women gave the following reasons for not reporting their assaults to the police: 1) the belief that the police could do nothing, 2) concern about the police and courts' attitude towards sexual assault, 3) fear of another assault by the offender, and 4) fear and shame.

On February 10, 2010, Campbell invited community partners for lunch to discuss alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults (AFSAs). In attendance among the community organizations and front-line workers assisting sexual assault victims were city rape crisis centres, the Red Cross, public health nurses, organizations that counsel victims and work to prevent alcohol-facilitated sexual assault among teens and Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, whose mandate is to ensure that bars and restaurants comply with safety regulations when serving alcohol.

Over lunch, the group discussed the fact that some 56% of sexual assaults were alcohol facilitated and that the vast majority of perpetrators were males aged 18 to 24. Campbell said there had to be a fundamental change in how sexual assaults were treated. They needed to target the perpetrators of these crimes. The response all around the room was "It's about time!" The result of this meeting was the creation of the Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE*) Committee, a grassroots movement whose mandate was to reduce AFSAs by reaching potential offenders.

SAVE held its first media availability on March 4, 2010, to introduce the Committee and its mandate in an effort to raise public awareness about the AFSA problem. Their second objective was to launch a cutting-edge social marketing campaign that targeted potential offenders. The "Don't be That Guy" campaign was a series of three graphic ads that were posted above urinals in bars around the city, in Light Rail Transit stations, at the universities and in weeklies that cater to the 18 to 24 age group. SAVE conducted its own informal focus groups and found that the campaign did in fact reach its target group.

But Campbell still had to sell the campaign to her Chief, who decided that the EPS would hire Marcomm, a local media research company, to conduct a formal focus group. In the end, Marcomm validated SAVE`s findings: the advertising campaign did indeed reach its target market. The campaign received the go-ahead, and the Don`t Be That Guy campaign was released on
November 22, 2010.

There is also another key component in reducing and preventing AFSAs. Under the city`s Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, Public Safety Compliance Teams (PSCTs) have been set up to enforce city bylaws and to ensure that alcohol is served in a safe, responsible manner. PSCTs are made up of trained professionals from the police force, fire department, city standards branch and the provincial liquor and gaming commission. In addition, all bartenders and wait-staff are required to take training so that they can identify potential AFSA victims.

Since the Don't Be That Guy campaign was released, Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Kingston and Vancouver have adopted the campaign, and Vancouver has already reported a 10% drop in the number of AFSA`s in just six months.

"We`ve been contacted by groups in Scotland, England and Australia," said Campbell."There are apparently even bars in the US who are using our posters as coasters. We don`t care who uses them as long as we are given credit for our efforts."

I told Superintendent Campbell that I found it ironic that Don`t Be That Guy Campaign came out just months before Toronto Police Officer Michael Sanguinetti told 10 students at Osgoode Hall that to ensure their own safety, they should not dress like "sluts," which sparked the worldwide Slutwalk movement.

"Well there`s still some of that here, but luckily those officers still have to follow orders. Yes, change is indeed slow sometimes,"she added.

When I thanked Danielle Campbell for all her hard work in spearheading this campaign, she refused to take credit for it. "There are a lot of people in SAVE who have worked hard to get this initiative off the ground."

We are greatly indebted to the people of SAVE for creating this program, and for implementing a change in approach that has been so desperately needed.

*The number of SAVE members has since expanded, but here is the list of the original members:
Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton
University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre
Saffron Centre of Sherwood Park
Edmonton Police Service
Covenant Health Prevention of Alcohol Related Trauma in Youth
(The PARTY Program)
Responsible Hospitality Edmonton
Red Cross
The Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation
University of Alberta Women's Studies

Related posts:
Success: Don`t Be That Guy 
A Legal Definition of Consent
Sexual Assault: Victim Blaming
An "A" for Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign


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