#SafeStampede social media campaign targets sexual harassment

Organizers of a social media campaign with the hashtag #SafeStampede want to drive home the message that the annual Calgary festivities are not free pass to ignore consent.

Organizers aim to spark conversation about sexual harassment

Advocates and supporters of #SafeStampede gathered to launch the social media campaign. Elizabeth Booth, community advocate, Kurt Kadatz, Calgary Stampede Director of Community Engagement, Stephanie McLean, Minister of Status of Women and Pam Krause, CEO of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

With the Calgary Stampede just a week away, a social media campaign using the hashtag #SafeStampede is gearing up.

Organizers say they want to spark a conversation about sexual harassment, consent and respectful behaviour.

"I think changing attitudes is what's going to change behaviour," said Elizabeth Booth, one of the community advocates who started using the hashtag during last year's event.

A lifelong Calgarian, Booth says she loves the Stampede, but she sees a dark side to the debauchery.

"There's a lot of alcohol and just this long-standing tradition that it's a time to misbehave," she said.

This isn't Booth's first social media-based campaign. She started the #SafeRedMile hashtag during the Flames play-off run in 2015.

She says she knew women who lived in the Beltline who would stay at their parents' homes during the playoffs.

"They felt if they had to walk from wherever they were meeting friends to their apartment, that they would be grabbed, that they would have people yelling at them to pull up their tops."

Booth and other campaign organizers hope the #SafeStampede initiative will encourage people to speak up if they see harassment.

"People don't come forward and so when people are harassed they take it as normal. They think that's just how it goes during Stampede," said Pam Krause, the CEO of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, which is part of the initiative.

The Calgary Stampede has endorsed the social media campaign.

"We believe that our city's reputation as a safe, welcoming, warm city should be at its best during Stampede," said Stampede spokesman Kurt Kadatz.

"For the gents, we believe that putting on this hat should elevate your behaviour," he said, tipping his own brown cowboy hat.

Organizers welcome the Stampede's support.

"I think the fact that the Stampede is willing to talk about the not-as-positive aspects is really important. There's an acknowledgement that we could do better," said Krause.