Edmonton wants a safer city for women; police still searching for assault suspect
'Each one of us has a part to play. We can say it's never OK to do this'
On the same day Edmonton police released video of a man suspected of assaulting a woman near the University of Alberta campus, the city joined a United Nations initiative to make the city safer for women.
Edmonton became the second Canadian city to participate in the U.N. Women Safe Cities Initiative, which has already been championed in places such as Quito, Ecuador, Kigali, Rwanda, and Dublin.
"Knowledge is power and I think it's important for us to say that, in the future, we're working toward something that will make it so that we feel safe and we are safe," said Zanette Frost, a program manager in citizen services at the City of Edmonton.
"That might impact our urban design, it may impact how bystanders get involved, it may impact other programs we may create. And it's important to change the notion of power and equity. That's fundamental to addressing gender-based violence — we're looking at changing some of those attitudes and beliefs."
At the announcement, it was noted that Edmonton has some of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in Canada.
Initial work on the program will involve research into the current state of gender-based violence in Edmonton, the available programs, and gaps that exist, said Frost.
'At the end of it, the only person responsible is the offender'
As an organization that works with those who have faced gender-based violence, the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton said it welcomes the new U.N. program.
"We're thrilled with it," said Mary Jane James, executive director at SACE. "Obviously, we provide lots of public education but this is on a different level. I think it's a great complement to the work that's already being done."
She had firm thoughts on the direction new policies and initiatives must take.
"At the end of it, the only person responsible is the offender. When it comes to this issue, the way to make change is by education and informing the community about the issue, and the severity of the issue and the prevalence of the issue," James said.
"Each one of us has a part to play. We can say it's never OK to do this.... It's about having a proper response to disclosure, not only as individuals but also as a community."
Each one of us has a part to play. We can say it's never OK to do this.- Mary Jane James, Edmonton Sexual Assault Centre
The U.N. Women Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces website lists actions such as in Quito, Ecuador, which amended local bylaws to strengthen action against sexual harassment in public spaces. In Rwanda, a gender monitoring office launched training to prevent harassment on public transportation. The web site also advocated the need to invest in public infrastructure, such as safe potable water, improved sanitation, and lighting.
"Being able to use the gems of information that other cities have found will really inspire us to find that one piece that might fit for us.... I think it comes down to the reality that sexual violence is sexual violence," said Frost.
Police hoping for leads on suspect in Saskatchewan Drive attack
The issue of safe public spaces for women in Edmonton was put in the spotlight again when police released a video of a man suspected of dragging a woman into the River Valley bushes at Saskatchewan Drive and 116th Street and choking her unconscious. The attack occurred near midnight on Aug. 5.
"Other investigative techniques have not led to an arrest at this point. We're releasing the video to the public in the hopes that someone will recognize this individual's look or mannerisms and come forward with some information," said EPS spokeswoman Anna Batchelor on Wednesday.
The suspect in the incident fled when bystanders intervened. The woman was treated in hospital with serious injuries but later released. There was no sexual assault reported.
"This is considered a serious assault being investigated by the serious crimes branch of EPS," Batchelor said.
While the Saskatchewan Drive attack has received media attention, James, from the sexual assault centre, noted that the vast majority of gender-based violence happens in families and relationships.