Red Deer organization launches annual #IBelieveYou campaign

Central Alberta Sexual Assault Centre was set up at Red Deer College

#IBelieveYou Alberta’s province-wide sexual assault responder campaign has launched a new year focused on celebrating and escalating the growing public support for survivors in Alberta. Organizers say the dramatic shift in public sentiment toward believing survivors as a first step is helping to reduce the fear of coming forward – increasing reporting rates and demand for services.

“Historically, survivors have been afraid to tell for fear of not being believed. That fear is fading. When we see an increase in reporting, we know we’re doing a better job of helping survivors feel safe to tell,” said Deb Tomlinson, CEO of Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) and a 25 year veteran of the sector. “We’ve made great gains, but we still have a distance to go,” Tomlinson added. “We’re encouraging more Albertans to add their voice to the chorus of support for survivors so that the message is even more commonly understood, and even more survivors feel safe to tell someone.”

Since last year, AASAS has seen a 53% jump in new counselling clients. Reporting to police increased in both Edmonton (13%) and Calgary (20%). As well, people reaching out to the Calgary’s Sexual Assault Response Team went up by 23%.

Since 2015 (the year the campaign began), the number of Albertans who would give a supportive response to a survivor has more than tripled. And the number of Albertans who would say, “I believe you” to a survivor has gone up 12 times.

Despite the positive trends in Alberta, the national reporting rate for sexual assault remains at 5% – that’s according to the latest Canadian General Social Survey by Statistics Canada. Notably, the rate of every violent crime in Canada has decreased from previous years with the exception of sexual assault, which remains stable.

“No one should have to suffer through sexual violence, and all Albertans have a role to play in preventing violence and supporting survivors,” said Minister of Community and Social Services, Irfan Sabir. “Through this campaign we will continue to reach out to Albertans and break the silence and stigma around this heartbreaking issue. To all those who have suffered and survived through violence, and on behalf of all my colleagues in government, I would like to say – we believe you.”

The campaign is a partnership between AASAS and the Government of Alberta Ministry of Community and Social Services. It has gained wide support from 28 post-secondary campuses, military, student, business, and community leaders, media, politicians, and every day Albertans. This year, the campaign welcomes the disability community, and for the first time, at least two student activation centres in Ontario will be participating. #IBelieveYou has taken a difficult subject and communicated it in very non-threatening way. Organizers say the level of support from students is a measure of how important this message is on every campus.

A new PSA takes people into the life of multiple survivors and shows the compassionate response by friends and family, modeling the behavior we want people to follow.

For the first time, a digital mosaic will pull together all messages of support that are hashtagged #IBelieveYou on Twitter and Instagram, and collect them within an interactive digital image. Everyone can watch the mosaic fill out, and add their voice with each #Ibelieveyou message. Through the mosaic, we’ll showcase the breadth of support for survivors in a single digital image.

On campuses this year, a portable graffiti wall will be installed as a way for students to visually send their messages of support and to provide a backdrop for photos and selfies. This was set up at Red Deer College on Sept. 12 between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The campaign has run each fall since 2015. It will run once more in 2018. This year, the goal is to encourage Albertans to add their voice to the chorus of support for sexual assault survivors so that the message can be even more widely understood and embraced – and so that more survivors will feel safe to tell someone.

– Fawcett

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