Responding rapidly to threats to community safety: a case study from the AIDS Action Council of the ACT
This case study demonstrates the theory of change working in practice. Through their engagement with their communities, alignment with the sector, and their adaptation, the AIDS Action Council of the ACT were able to achieve increased reach, increased effectiveness and stronger partnerships – all of which, led to better outcomes for their communities.
The AIDS Action Council of the ACT has earned and retained the trust of the Canberra community by providing culturally safe services that foster shared respect (engagement). This trust was demonstrated when several people contacted the Council to report that they had been targeted by a blackmail and extortion scam on Grindr – an online sex and dating app for gay and bisexual men.
The Council had an important role in bringing this issue to the attention of the police. Over the years, the Council has built a strong relationship (alignment) with the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers at the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The relationship between the AFP and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) communities has been tense at times, due to stigma and discrimination, and issues related to the policing of beats. As a trusted member of LGBTIQ communities and a reputable, credible organisation with strong relationships with the AFP, the Council played an important – and new – role as the liaison between victims of the scam and the police to ensure that victims were able to access justice mechanisms (adaptation). The Council raised awareness of the scam through its peer-based communication channels and encouraged victims to come forward. This increased the reach of police communication about the scam. The Council facilitated meetings between the police and victims at the AIDS Action Council office, which is seen as a safe space by LGBTIQ communities, reducing barriers to reporting. With the support of the Council, a number of people came forward and made formal statements to police.
The collaboration with the AFP was highly effective and the Council and the AFP have agreed to work together to address barriers that LGBTIQ communities may face to reporting crimes and accessing other police services (stronger partnerships).
In addition to working with police to ensure victims could access justice, the Council also identified the need to provide support to those affected by the scam. For example, the Council received several calls from community members looking for support after the suicide of one of the victims. The man was well known within the Canberra LGBTIQ community and his death had wide reaching impacts. The Council was responsive to these needs, providing additional counselling to anyone affected by the scam, facilitating forums for community members to come together, support each other and discuss strategies for protecting their safety. The forums were facilitated by peers who had a deep understanding of the issues (peer education). This helped to create a safe space for participants to talk openly about their experiences and needs, which ensured the forum was relevant to those in attendance.
The Council also became aware that community perceptions of safety had been shaken by the scam. The Council implemented an Online Safety Campaign to raise awareness among LGBTIQ communities and people living with HIV that online threats and harassment are against the law, and that the Council will support victims to access justice mechanisms. It also raised awareness of strategies for reducing risk when using sex and dating apps, and built the capacity of service providers, in particular sexual health clinics, to provide information and referrals to anyone experiencing online harassment in the future.
These programs, and the liaison work of the Council, contribute to building safe, inclusive and stigma- free communities, where people living with HIV and men who have sex with men are protected from extortion and blackmail.
Case Study Theory of Change
Communities are safe, inclusive and free from stigma and discrimination