Using an approach that’s been successful in larger Canadian cities, the Howe Sound Women’s Centre (HSWC) is launching an education campaign aimed at curbing alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults and reducing their prevalence in the resort.
The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign is modelled after an initiative developed by Sexual Assaults Voices of Edmonton, using a similar program outline and imagery from that campaign, which later spread to Vancouver and Calgary.
“Making people in general a little bit more aware makes it a lot harder for people to get away with this type of behaviour,” said HSWC Society executive director Sheila Allen.
Posters depicting strong visuals and messaging about what constitutes sexual assault will appear in men’s washrooms at bars and pubs throughout Whistler. The idea behind the posters is to shift the focus from the victim to the perpetrator of these alcohol-driven sexual assaults, making potential offenders accountable for their actions, according to the HSWC.
Put simply, the campaign delivers the message that intoxicated individuals can’t give consent to sexual activity, and urges men to recognize that fact.
Between 2000 and 2009, the Sea to Sky saw an average of 53.4 sexual offences per year, representing 172 offences per 100,000 people, according to the Ministry of Public Safety’s most recent data. That figure is nearly three times higher than in the nearby communities of Richmond and the North Shore, said Allen, who attributes Whistler’s rate of sexual assault to the influx of people in the community each year coupled with the prevalence of alcohol consumption.
Allen is hoping the campaign will have a similar impact as the one launched in Vancouver in 2011, a year that saw a 10 per cent decrease in reported sexual assaults, which Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Doug LePard attributed to the initiative.
Allen said the campaign should be paired with efforts to educate staff at Whistler bars and nightclubs “about what alcohol-facilitated sexual assault is really about and the things to look for.” She also cited the use of so-called date rape drugs at resort establishments as something that needs to be addressed.
Tommy Africa’s general manager Jeff Cockle said bar staff and doormen are trained to recognize suspicious behaviour, and take various measures to ensure the nightclub is a safe place for patrons.
“The things we watch out for are intoxicated girls on the way in, we make sure they’re not over-intoxicated and have many trained doormen staff to keep an eye on people,” he said, adding that staff also has taxi vouchers for women who may not feel comfortable walking home or are obviously inebriated.
“This initiative aligns with the values of our industry,” said Joey Gibbons, owner of Gibbons Hospitality Group and representative of the Whistler Bar Group, in a release. “We must be leaders in creating more awareness around the issue of alcohol-facilitated sexual assault, and be aggressive in our efforts to target would-be perpetrators before sexual assaults occur.”
Gibbons Hospitality Group manages several resort establishments, including Tapley’s, Buffalo Bills and the Longhorn Saloon.
To learn more or become involved with the Don’t Be That Guy campaign, visit www.hswc.ca.
The site is also hosting an online Sea to Sky sexual health survey until Feb. 15, aimed at assessing services and sexual education in the corridor, as well as examining the occurrence and conditions of sexual assault in the region.