17 Oct

In Activist Interviews | on 10.08.11 | by HKearl | Comments ( 0 )

Safe Streets AZ is a pilot program of Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault that launched in July to address public harassment, particularly harassment aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified youth and young adults. Stephanie Arendt is the Senior Prevention Educator at SACASA and agreed to talk to Stop Street Harassment about the new program.

Stop Street Harassment (SSH): Hi Stephanie! Before we begin, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stephanie Arendt (SA): I have been actively involved in violence prevention in one form or another for the past eight years, and my main passion is in creating youth-driven primary prevention. Since graduating from Northern Arizona University I have interned with the Feminist Majority Foundation, worked in crisis response and advocacy, and developed programming for various youth populations, including high-risk and LGBTQ youth. In my role as Senior Prevention Educator with the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) I implement youth-focused programs based on Peer Educator models, and am constantly seeking and creating opportunities to integrate art, social media, and technology into our violence prevention efforts.

SSH: What is the goal of Safe Streets AZ and how does it work?

SA: The ‘big picture’ goal is a shift in the way that people think about and respond to public harassment. We want to instigate the move towards a culture where sexual violence of any kind, including street harassment, is not only not tolerated but unthinkable. Safe Streets AZ is one of the first steps toward that goal in that it gathers information about public harassment and builds readiness. It provides a platform for community members to share their stories, get support, and –together- help end public and street harassment.

Safe Streets AZ is a program of the SACASA and funded by the Alliance Fund Queer Youth Initiative. The program is two-fold: 1) gathers information and 2) creates a network of support. Although geared towards LGBTQ youth and young adults, anyone who has experienced public harassment of any kind can share their story –publicly or anonymously—and connect to local and national resources, including crisis advocacy services.
They can also connect to Safe Sites; a growing web of partner businesses and organizations where anyone experiencing harassment can go to feel safe and get resources. Safe Sites are mapped along with reported incidents on an interactive Google map, making them readily identifiable and accessible.

SSH: Did anything particular spark/inspire the creation of Safe Streets AZ?

SA: For me, it was the surprising lack of information and data about public and street harassment that really propelled me into helping to create Safe Streets AZ. We had a lot of anecdotal information and our cursory focus groups and conversations told us that public harassment is a recurring safety issue in our community, particularly for LGBTQ and female-identified people. But when we looked at the local and state level for data and resources specific to street and public harassment we came up blank. There is little to no information that speaks to the prevalence of public harassment or its impact, particularly upon minority communities.

We knew that before we could start looking to solutions, we had to get a better understanding of what is going on in our area, and Safe Streets AZ grew out of this need. On a personal level, I am also deeply inspired by the ground-breaking work of other activists like Emily May of Hollaback! and the ability to connect to and learn from a greater, growing movement against street and public harassment.

SSH: Gathering data is always an important first step toward creating solutions. I’m intrigued by the “Safe Sites” program, can you please tell me more?

SA: In creating the program we quickly realized that gathering and mapping stories –although a key way to raise awareness and build readiness- would not be enough. Opportunities needed to be available now for community members to step up and address the issue.

We created the Safe Sites component so that local businesses, organizations, and the individuals that work in them have a hand in creating a safer community. Prior to launching the program I met with several local businesses to get their feedback, and I know that their perspectives and buy-in has really contributed to the success of this aspect of the program. The result is a web of partner sites throughout the community where someone experiencing harassment can ask for help/identify that they are being harassed, and receive resources and short-term safety. This last part is especially important for youth and young adults who are being harassed because they can access Safe Sites and wait in safety for a short period –until their ride comes, until they feel it’s safe to leave, etc- without fear of being asked to leave due to ‘loitering’.

The degree to which local businesses and organizations have not only supported but embraced Safe Streets AZ has been unexpected and completely inspiring. So far Safe Streets AZ has been endorsed by the Pima County Small Business Commission, the Southern Arizona Chambers of Commerce Alliance, Pima County Public Libraries, Friends of the Pima County Public Libraries, and several locally-owned businesses. We also have partnerships with other non-profits and agencies, including Wingspan, Tucson’s LGBT Community Center, which are critical to shaping the program.

SSH: That’s amazing! What would you say the community response has been to Safe Streets AZ overall?

SA: The response on this program has been incredibly encouraging. About two days after the first story on Safe Streets AZ aired on KOLD 13, I received the most heart-warming phone call. A parent of an openly LGBTQ middle-school student in one of our districts called just to thank me and SACASA for Safe Streets AZ. She told me about how her 12 year old daughter has been harassed on multiple occasions in and out of school –some of them because of her sexual orientation- and was happy that resources are available.

The question I do get the most from community members and some of our Safe Site partners is, “adults and people of all sexual orientations and backgrounds are harassed – is this program also for them?” And the answer is, “of course.” Women, youth, and LGBTQ-identified individuals are more frequently the targets of public harassment, but as we expand the program we also want to expand the message that Safe Streets AZ is for everyone, and anyone can share their story, connect to resources, and join the movement.

SSH: Wonderful. What aspect of Safe Streets AZ is most interesting/exciting to you?

SA: The most exciting aspect is that Safe Streets AZ connects the gaps between private and public spaces. In schools as well as the workplace, there are policies in place specifically geared towards protecting individuals from harassment. How well these are enforced varies, but similar protections are not available for most public spaces. There are no clear cut channels to address the kinds of street and public harassment that are committed on a daily basis. The Safe Sites aspect of the program brings businesses into the mix to start bridging those gaps, and allows us to incorporate available technologies from blogs to QR codes.

SSH: Where do you hope to see the program in a year?

SA: Over the next 6 months the primary plan for Safe Streets AZ is to gather as much information as we can regarding the frequency and kinds of public harassment being perpetrated in our community, and then take a really good look at what the information is telling us.

The next step is to meet with law enforcement, public officials, and service agencies and use this localized data to start developing specific ways to address public and street harassment in Arizona. I also hope to see the Safe Site aspect of the program grow to include more business partners as well as an active bystander intervention training component. The goal is to empower community members of all ages to share their experiences and to call out harassment how-and whenever possible.

SSH: Anything else you’d like to add?

SA: One of the biggest benefits of programs like Safe Streets AZ is that it helps us start making connections between street and public harassment and other forms of sexual violence. Until recently, street and public harassment have not been included in most sexual violence prevention efforts, even though the majority of street harassment is rooted in (perceived or actual) gender, sex, sexual orientation, and sexuality of the perpetrator as well as the person being harassed. By continuing to connect these issues we can make stronger cases for primary prevention programs and solutions that address violence on multiple levels.

Find Safe Streets AZ on Facebook.

Stephanie is right on about the lack of information on street harassment, the need for more data, the need for businesses and local community groups to become involved in creating solutions, and in the need for traditional sexual violence prevention efforts to include street harassment. Well done, Safe Streets AZ and Stephanie!! As they continue forward, their work has the potential for being a model other cities can use to effectively track and then address street harassment on the local level. A multi-layered, community response is the only way street harassment has any chance of ending.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: