Defund the Police: A SAVE Manifesto

Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to exist in solidarity with people who’ve experienced sexual violence and amplify their voices. SAVE was formed in 2013 in response to increased reports of alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults in Edmonton. We started as a coalition of local police, Edmonton and area sexual assault counselling and crisis services, and sexual violence prevention educators and activists. Historically, we worked to create our vision of a world free of sexual violence through campaigns that attempted to hold people who engage in sexual violence accountable for that behaviour, raised awareness of sexual assault in the community, challenged myths, and addressed victim-blaming beliefs. Campaigns such as ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ generated international attention and helped to shift the narrative away from messaging that targeted the behaviours of people who experienced harm, and instead focused on those who caused that harm in the first place.

Despite this important work, we recognize that the collaboration between sexual assault support services and policing agencies has perpetuated the deep roots of white supremacy and racism by prioritizing relationships with policing organizations over the lives of Black and Indigenous people, people of colour, people experiencing poverty, sex workers, LGBTQ2S+ folks, and people with disabilities. As such, SAVE began their internal divestment from police in 2017. Currently, we exist independently of any specific agency, and are no longer affiliated with, or funded by, the Edmonton Police Service or its charitable foundation. SAVE is also taking our commitment to those who’ve experienced sexual violence a step further. In solidarity with local Black organizers, including the Black Lives Matter Edmonton chapter, we are pushing for systemic change by calling for an end to policing in our community. This is crucial because the work to end sexual violence is just one facet of many rich and ongoing movements to end all systems of oppression, including anti-black racism. Ultimately, the way that we think about and respond to sexual violence is evolving, and it’s time for change.

Unfortunately, we know all-too-well that policing practices most often fail to bring justice for survivor-victims, instead increasing trauma symptoms or even causing additional traumatization. In practice, this looks like denying survivor-victims’ experiences and/or responsibilizing them for what someone else subjected them to, ultimately exposing our community to further violence as those who’ve caused harm are free to continue their behaviours with impunity. This happens because contemporary policing was created in a settler colonial society which values domination, control, and forms of hierarchical power that support the maintenance of a white cisheteropatriarchal status quo. To believe the experiences of survivor-victims and hold those who’ve caused harm accountable for their actions would ultimately challenge this social order. It’s also important to consider the sexual violence that occurs at the hands of the police themselves. While this issue is largely hidden from the public, the few studies that do exist illustrate that this is a considerable problem, and that women of colour, particularly trans women of colour, experience police sexual violence at a disproportionate rate. ​

While many anti-sexual violence advocates have openly recognized the shortcomings of policing and the criminal legal system, the contemporary, mainstream version of this movement has largely been dictated by second-wave White feminism, which favours a deference to White patriarchal power. For example, one of the defining achievements of this iteration of the feminist movement was shifting abuse and assault out of the realm of the domestic-–where it was seen as a ‘private’ matter to be dealt with by those involved-–-and into the realm of the political, where the State had a vested interest in dealing with it. While this move created previously unimagined legal protections for many women, it also carried with it the anti-Indigenous and anti-Black foundations of the State. These historical underpinnings sought to control and assimilate-–and when that wasn’t possible, erase–those populations. Functionally, this means that we’ve offloaded our sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ onto a system that is inherently racist and violent. Unfortunately, we’re only going to continue to replicate that racist violence if this is the mechanism we rely on to stop sexual assault. 
Where the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement has attempted to address issues with policing and the criminal legal system, it has largely relied on reformist approaches. As described in Our Communities, Our Solutions: An Organizer’s Toolkit for Developing Campaigns to Abolish Policing by Critical Resistance, while the inclination to reform, or change something, is not inherently bad, the reformist mindset maintains the status quo by insisting that the system just needs to be fixed. However, we know in reality that the system is always just doing what it was intended to do: control and oppress those most marginalized in our community. This means the bulk of our efforts have gone into improving an institution that is rooted in oppression so it can better inflict harm and violence. In practice, all of the awareness campaigns, advocate case reviews, and implicit bias trainings have just allowed the institution of policing to superficially claim to be improving while it continues to terrorize and murder Black and Indigenous folks, particularly those who are queer, trans, and/or disabled.
Ultimately, our experience shows us that police don’t keep our communities safe. It is a reactive system that will never address the root causes of sexual violence, and efforts to reform it only better equip it to cause harm. However, SAVE believes justice and accountability are possible for survivor-victims outside of a retributive, carceral system. We envision a city in which everyone is working toward a future without sexualized violence–where the attitudes and norms that are at the root of that violence are discouraged, individually and societally. This includes the framing of violence as an inevitability, the belief that some people are less valuable than others, and a sense of entitlement to other people’s bodies. As such, to reach this goal, we need to undertake the important work of divesting from policing more broadly. This means immediately limiting the scope of policing in our community, while working towards the complete elimination of police presence in Edmonton. 

We believe:

  • Sexual assault is a tool of oppression that is often tacitly condoned by the state and used to subjugate Black and Indigenous folks, people of colour, women, the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, and those who are disabled;
  • Attitudes and norms can change–neither sexual assault nor policing is inevitable;
  • Survivor-victims are never to blame for their experiences and deserve pathways to justice that recognize this;
  • The actions of people who cause harm should be made visible and pathways to change and healing should be made available to them;
  • Campaigns to end sexual violence should center the experiences of those most marginalized in our community and unapologetically confront audiences with strong messaging;
  • Community collaboration is necessary and powerful–we can invest in each other to promote collective safety in our communities;

In alignment with the statement developed by Black Lives Matter (BLM) YEG, and after a community consultation conducted in the summer of 2020, SAVE is currently working to:

  • Bring to light instances of police violence experienced in this city, particularly those of sexual violence, through the creation of a Police Violence Archive;
  • Cultivate and share narratives about how non-punitive accountability and safety exists outside of our carceral system through the creation and distribution of a zine;
  • Pressure the City of Edmonton to recognize that the report released by the Community Safety Task Force does not go far enough and instead focus on reducing the EPS budget by 32% as a starting point to eliminating policing in our community;
  • Generate awareness of the importance of investing in community mental health workers, transformative justice initiatives, and free transit for all;
  • Demand that Edmonton City Council transfer crisis response and intervention for non-violent calls related to mental health response, homelessness, and addictions, as well as 911 call centre operations and response to non-emergency calls from the Edmonton Police Service and re-allocate them to other public services provided by the City of Edmonton. 

Unsurprisingly, when we no longer rely on policing and turn our attention to addressing the rampant inequities and disparities that often underlie what we consider ‘crimes,’ a whole host of community alternatives become apparent. As stated in the Critical Resistance toolkit: “communities across the world are fighting for change with embodied knowledge that radical, life-affirming infrastructure and support along with a flowing stream of resources are what creates safe, secure, healthy, sustainable and equitable communities— conditions that allow us to not only survive but thrive.” In Edmonton this means investing in education, increased mental health and addiction support services, free transit, housing for all, a universal living wage, harm reduction services, conflict resolution options, and transformative justice practices. SAVE believes that, when we are invested in the wellness of those most marginalized in our community, putting an end to the cycle of abuse might actually be possible. So please, join us in divesting from policing and investing in community.

For more information on the topics and concepts discussed in our manifesto, check out the Defund the Policesection of our website.