A teacher looking like a pre-teen because she was wearing a hat with cat ears says, “While walking to work, I was often approached [by men] even more than when I carried a briefcase.” She adds, “I’m so sick of being followed.”

Women are reporting being trolled by men at various times of the day, all over the neighbourhood, on main roads and residential streets, while walking their dog, and sometimes even when they have children with them. While this isn’t new, the concern is that men seem to be getting more aggressive in their approaches.

Maggie Glasgow started the conversation in a womens’ Facebook group mid-March when she shared a frightening incident. “I was waiting to pick up books outside the library when a guy drove by, slowed down, nodded at me, and pulled around the corner driving up on the sidewalk.” When she didn’t respond to him waving her over, he got out of his vehicle and came towards her. 

“I was really worried that he would try to grab me, so I started yelling at him to back off, [telling him I was going to] call the cops.” He didn’t get back in his vehicle until she pulled out her phone.

A couple weeks later, a woman reported what she called a “creep alert” on the same Facebook group after she was followed by a white van while walking her dog on 114 Ave. She says the van slowed down, then reversed quickly. The driver made eye contact, showed up in front of her for several blocks, then came up behind her. He only left after she shouted his licence plate number at him.

Another woman on the Facebook discussion shared, “I think they know that we are not sex workers. I think they’re fully aware that someone walking a dog or going to school carrying a book bag or standing at the bus stop with a briefcase is not a sex worker. I think the purpose is to be intimidating and gross and threatening because it gets them off. I also think that they try to use fear and intimidation and coercion as well as drugs and money to make vulnerable women enter the sex trade. I don’t think they’re dumb or naive or innocently approaching us. I think they’re being predatory.”

Members of the Facebook group, local community leagues, and a local business have recognized the need for action. The priority is safety for everyone. 

If you have been harassed in any way, record and report! Call 911 if you are in immediate danger or fearful in any situation, otherwise call the police non-emergency complaint line: 780.423.4567. The more incidents are reported, the more the data will show action is needed. Recorded reports help to allocate police resources.

EPS doesn’t accept reports on prostitution as it is not an illegal activity and no longer runs Report-a-john, although you can make all kinds of reports via crimestoppers.ab.ca/edmonton/ or download the P3 Tips app on your phone. 

To aid in developing community initiatives and requesting resources from police, community leaders developed an online form to report harassment and john activity in the RCP neighbourhoods: http://bit.ly/118report.

Community organizers and the EPS agree it is time to revisit grassroots initiatives that increase community presence. Some ideas include starting regular walking groups; setting up “play streets”; greening alleys; picketing against johns in hotspots; and witnessing and calling out inappropriate behaviour.

Men especially can help protect women and girls by being a witness in a non-confrontational manner. Call out anyone for objectifying behaviour such as cat calling, making lascivious comments, or inappropriate actions. Add your voice to any person who may be in a threatening situation. Remember that young boys can be targets of sexual predators and unwanted attention as well. Witnesses are more of a deterrent than one might imagine. Being a witness is as simple as observing from a safe distance. Everyone has the power to witness. Be safe.

The community is exploring means to deter this unacceptable behaviour. As numerous different organizations become involved, key organizers will rally volunteers to help deal with these community challenges. Neighbours, sisters, friends, husbands, male friends and brothers, it is time to own your community. 

If you are interested in getting involved, you can email [email protected] or call 780.477.2773. Or drop by The Carrot Coffeehouse and ask about community safety initiatives.

Feature Image: A man seeking a sex worker approached a local woman outside the Sprucewood Library. | Karen Mykietka