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Stephanie Arendt

The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault recently announced a new project called Safe Streets AZ that will track and map public harassment against LGBT youth ages 13 to young adults. Youth will be able to anonymously report incidents of harassment by phone, text, online submission or e-mail; share their stories; find resources; and request follow-up services. SACASA's senior prevention educator, Stephanie Arendt, who oversees a lot of youth and family programs, recommends interested youth go to the project's blog for more information.

When did you start working on this idea?

We'd been thinking about it for a little while. Street and public harassment is not really addressed and there's not much data and information on any level, local or national; there's nothing. There are programs like Hollaback (www.ihollaback.org) that have been around for years, and was a community response to street harassment. We're a little inspired by that program and others like it.

Where did this project's funding come from?

The opportunity came through the Alliance Fund's Queer Youth Initiative. We started doing some focus groups to find out, is this really an issue? We went to a couple of GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) at high schools, to a few youth groups, and obviously we talked to the youth at EON (at Wingspan), and we heard that this is something that's a problem and needs to be addressed.

When you say LGBT youth, what is the age range?

We're looking at the same age range that Wingspan works with (at EON), 13 to young adult, an age when you are mobile, you use more public transportation and are more vulnerable. Across the board, youth said to us that yes, this is an issue. When you're in school, there are safeguards in some ways and obviously there's a lot more attention on bullying and harassments, and usually there's a point teacher to go to or a policy in place, which may or may not be enforced. Being in school offers some level of projection, even though bullying continues in school. But there's a policy and if you experience sexual harassment or harassment based on your sexual orientation, at least there's a system in place. But going from your house to your car, waiting at the bus stop, the same kind of harassment—who do you go to? Where is that system? When we allow that harassment to happen, it allows for this environment of fear to grow, and an environment that excuses this type of harassment. There should be safeguards. There should be some type of accountability.

What is your final goal?

It is a pilot program, and as far as I know there are no other programs that are doing this, particularly for LGBT youth and created by the youth. So, really we're going to see what's out there. Right now we have no information or data, and when I was trying to build this I couldn't find anything, especially not in Tucson. A lot of people, especially youth, said no, they don't report it. It's considered part of normal daily life if you are female-bodied or identify as a woman, or identify your sexual orientation. You're meant to put up with it somehow.

We wanted to start collecting information and stories. If folks aren't reporting this through official avenues, we need to create another avenue for people to report it, so we can see ideally if there are any hotspots. Ideally what will come out of this is that if street and public harassment isn't an issue and it doesn't happen at all, then wonderful, then we'll focus our energies elsewhere. But if it does happen as often as we hear anecdotally or as often as I experience it, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

You're going to track harassment that occurs on a map. Is the idea to alert people to stay away from certain areas?

Our intention isn't to call out a neighborhood and say, "Stay away from here; this is where harassment happens." But what we're hoping happens is that we have information we can bring to law enforcement that during this time of day we are seeing a lot more of this type of behavior. That's why we ask folks to tell us what happened. If it's physical violence that takes place as part of the harassment, maybe it's working with law enforcement to watch that area. Another example is working with Sun Tran around bus stops and on buses to create some type of system. Once we know what happens, we can figure out who our partners can be.

More by Mari Herreras

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