An Example of Successful Community Intervention

Photo of the advertisement on the Skytrain taken by a cellphone. Reads: “If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s wrong. Not reporting sexual assault is the real shame. Nobody should touch, gesture, or say anything that makes you uncomfortable or unsafe.”

There’s something undeniably important in celebrating community victories in activism. I’ve found that often, amazing accomplishments go un-celebrated due to the overwhelming amount of systematic injustices that exist, and the feelings of knowing that there’s always more work to do.

Heyo~ Eunice here, representing Hollaback! Victoria. I just wanted to take this time to acknowledge and celebrate an amazing example of community intervention and calling-in that happened just across the pond in Vancouver!

Here’s the story:

Recently, Translink–in association with the Vancouver Transit Police–launched a new advertising campaign as a part of their ongoing sexual assault awareness campaign. The message in their advertisements read,

“If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s wrong. Not reporting sexual assault is the real shame. Nobody should touch, gesture, or say anything that makes you uncomfortable or unsafe.”

Now, there’s no denying that harassment on public transportation is a big issue or that it needs to be addressed–but it’s extremely important to acknowledge where the blame is being put in this message: on the victims of harassment. Not reporting sexual assault is in no way more shameful than committing sexual assault. 

Thankfully, the folks at Hollaback! Vancouver, as well as various other community members and organizations, chose to act and tell the transit authorities what’s up. After releasing an open letter to the Vancouver Transit Police outlining the problematic phrasing of their advertisements, Hollaback! Vancouver as well as many other people from the community were happy to hear that the Vancouver Transit Police acknowledged the problematic phrasing, and decided to pull the advertisements.

The Vancouver Transit Police also offered to create a team of community members to help in the process of creating replacement advertisements. Anne Drennan of the Vancouver Transit Police said that they did not notice the victim-blaming message.

“Vancouver Transit Police didn’t mean to blame victims, they genuinely wish to encourage people–victims and bystanders–to report what they see as they feel comfortable and safe.”

I think that this story is a wonderful example of how organizations can model accountability for what they believe in. The Vancouver Transit Police wanted to create awareness around sexual assault and their new program, however their phrasing was problematic. Hollaback! Vancouver and other community members constructively called them in, and the Vancouver Transit Police responded by pulling the ads and offering to have community members help create the new ones.

We are all striving to be the best that we can in the work that we do, and sometimes in figuring out that process we make mistakes. By constructively holding ourselves and others accountable for what we do, we can work together towards our larger goals and in doing so build stronger communities.

Here are some other articles that folks have written about this story:

Curious about what calling in vs. calling out is all about? Check out this awesome article: Calling in: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable

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