Advocates hope boxes boost crime reporting

NANAIMO – Anonymous reporting part of initiatives from City of Nanaimo's $12,500 grant to Community Action Team.

On the street people learn to keep their mouths shut, but volunteers hope they’ll open up with a pen.

Locked metal boxes have been installed across the city for people to slip in anonymous crime tips.

It’s just one initiative of the Community Action Team, a peer-based group that aims to make the streets safer for sex-trade workers.

While a small percentage of the city’s sex trade is done on the streets, the RCMP reports that it’s where prostitutes are most at risk. CAT, a joint effort of the Nanaimo Women’s Resources Society and Haven Society, started two years ago with a mission to take sex-trade workers out of isolation and give them a place to check in and report violence.

It’s been doing research on the sex trade in Nanaimo and has installed four boxes. A $12,500 city grant is expected to help CAT continue its work, including a website, training and more anonymous places to report crime.

Aimee Chalifoux, a CAT volunteer and former street kid, said it’s about keeping people safe. She wishes a system like the locked boxes existed years ago – she would have used it.

One of the first things learned on the streets is to keep your mouth shut about what you see and hear, or get labelled a rat, she said.

With the boxes, people can report crime in privacy. A volunteer from CAT picks it up, records the data and reports it to the RCMP.

“You don’t necessarily feel comfortable telling somebody what’s going on, but to be able to write it down and put it in a locked box where no one can access, I just think it’s great,” Chalifoux said. “It gives people that chance to say, you know what, we need help here.”

Chalifoux said city funding will be a “big help.” CAT wants to raise awareness about sexual exploitation, educate the public and be there for those people who are being exploited. Her hope is to see sex-trade workers safe and if and when they are ready to exit, ensure there’s proper services in place to help them and they aren’t set up to fail.

City councillors Wendy Pratt and Gordon Fuller both supported the grant for CAT. Fuller said a program like this is able to build relations with the women and possibly get them out of the situation they’re in. Pratt believes the women deserve all the help they can get.

“I don’t think every woman out there made a plan to do that or even came from a bad family. Sometimes circumstances get them there,” she said.