Toronto group launches safety alert system to help protect women from sexual violence

SIS has been created to fulfill a need to raise awareness of, and prevention against, sexual violence.
SIS has been created to fulfill a need to raise awareness of, and prevention against, sexual violence. Shutterstock

The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children has launched a sexual violence alert system in Toronto that it hopes will catch on across Ontario and throughout Canada.

The new system, called SIS or Safety Information System, has been created to fulfill a need to raise awareness of, and prevention against, sexual violence.

METRAC progam director Andrea Gunraj told  FindLaw.ca: “People still express to us that, while they have learned more about what sexual violence is, they still don’t know what to do about it in their own lives. . . . Our hope is that SIS will help fill that gap and raise general public capacity to prevent and address this violence.”

The numbers on sexual violence in Canada are often considered low. A 2015 report from the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada stated in 2013, there were about 21,300 sexual assaults reported to police. The problem is that these are only reported sexual assaults.

While Statistics Canada reports that the number of police reported sexual assault fell in 2014, it also reported that almost 90 per cent of sexual assaults in this country go unreported — a potentially staggering number.

Obviously, tools like SIS are needed in Canada to raise awareness of sexual violence, warn women of incidents that happen in their community, and educate in order to prevent sexual violence.

Subscribing to the unique SIS tool for the service, you will get:

  • police-issued crime alerts;
  • information about how to challenge sexual violence;
  • information about safety-related events; and
  • materials about reducing violence and building safer spaces, as well as creative messages.

Subscribing to SIS is free, and you can choose to receive alerts in a variety of ways, but you may face standard cell phone carrier fees for using the service.

METRAC has also partnered with well-known activist Jane Doe to help with the SIS project. “Early in the inception of this project, we reached out to Jane Doe because of her great work in the area,” Says Gunraj.

Doe is the woman who was at the centre of the well-known 1998 case: Doe v. Metropolitan Toronto (Municipality) Commissioners of Police.

Doe had been sexually assaulted in her Toronto apartment, after police failed to warn the community that four rapes had already occurred in the neighbourhood and a sexual predator, known as the “Balcony Rapist” was on the loose. Doe sued the police, making the point that police should have warned the community. She won her case.

Now, 17 years after the ground-breaking case, both Doe and Toronto Police Services are supporting the sexual violence alert system.

With the support of the police, the City of Toronto is “providing METRAC $25,000 annually to pilot the SIS Project in Toronto,” says Gunraj.

With that limited budget, there is not much left to get the word out about SIS.

“Much of our effort [raising awareness] will be through community-based promotion, social media, partnerships, and word-of-mouth,” she says.

However, Gunraj acknowledges METRAC could do more with SIS if it had a larger budget: “We would love to do a big campaign and our hope is that in the future this project will grow.”

She adds it also needs to reach communities across the “digital divide,” communities that do not have much online access.

 “Our hope is that we will gain more support, funding, and public interest to make this project what it could be and support our city and province to become global leaders in sexual violence prevention.”

While it’s not been officially launched, you can already subscribe to SIS to get alerts.

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