This frustration clearly translated into action on April 25 when the 118th Ave communities launched the Dear ‘john’ campaign. The aim of the project was to discourage sexual exploitation, raise public awareness of the issue and encourage participation in the promotion of community safety.
We’re happy to say the campaign was a success. Edmonton Police Service records, a public survey NET conducted and social media activity show that when the City, Edmonton Police and the Community work together, we can make a difference!
First, Edmonton Police Services statistics indicate some positive trends started during the campaign:
Compared to February and March, April and May, when the campaign took place, there was a rise in “report a john” reports submitted through the Edmonton Police report a ‘john’ website.
There was also a decrease in the number of complaint calls about solicitation. (note: warmer weather may have also played a role here)
As well, NET did a public survey about the campaign to measure public perception. Respondents were overwhelmingly positive:
75 per cent of those who took the survey said it had a major impact on deterring sexual exploitation in the community . One community member wrote, “Thanks to the organizers for all the hard work. I look forward to a time when my kids can play in the front yard without having to witness this kind of exploitation.”
The campaign itself also generated public awareness and discussion on social media, bringing the issue to the forefront of Edmonton’s online community. During the campaign:
There were 1,771 page views on the Transforming Edmonton blog (the most ever!)
45 people wrote their own letters to ‘john.’
159 Tweets with the link to the blog post, and the hash tag #dearjohn was trending on Twitter all day in Edmonton on April 25th.
The campaign’s use of social media helped the community connect with each other and to other Edmontonians around this issue.
Here is some of what the community has had to say…
I’m sure you have noticed all great changes on 118th. The Ave is all about arts, dinning and family (…). We have moved on, you are not welcome here anymore (…). How about you find something else to do? Spending more time with your wife and kids would be a great start.”
The women that you are purchasing are worth so much more than you could ever afford. Every time you pay for sex you devalue her, yourself and your relationships. She is worth more than that and so are you”
Your actions cause many ripples of harm and exploitation. You hurt yourself, those you love, children and women in the communities you drive through, and the vulnerable girls and women you pick up. (…) Think about the young boys who see you – what kind of role model are you???? You can break the cycle of harm. Just stop! Get help if that is what you need! Be part of transforming our wonderful communities and great City of Edmonton!”
We want to thank everyone who contributed to the project. The effort sparked interest in truly exploring the causes of sexual exploitation and working to end them! The community has let ‘john’ know that he is no longer able to lurk in the shadows, and that this community is aware of him and the best ways to stop him.
Although the campaign has ended in the 118th Ave area there is still much work to be done. Currently the Dear ‘john’ signs are in the process of being moved to other communities. A local safety committee in the 118th Ave area has expressed an interest in organizing a city-wide public forum on sexual exploitation. The Neighbourhood Empowerment Team will continue focusing on this issue and will work with the community to connect those who are interested in long-term change to the organizations that are working towards them.
Alec Stratford is a social worker with the City of Edmonton and a member of a specialized Neighbourhood Empowerment Team working in the 118th Ave area. Alec and his partners Constable Kurtis Hauptman and Cassie Smith work with the community to identify and implement ways to reduce and prevent crime and the fear of crime.