In many quarters, Santa Barbara is regarded as the urban equivalent of Disneyland, but to the women who call its streets home, it can still be a dangerous and sexually violent place. County social worker Ken Williams, who devotes most of his energies to dealing with the South Coast’s homeless, has unveiled a new program to distribute anti rape whistles to the city’s homeless women. The aluminized whistles, ordered from a Canton, Ohio firm specializing in corporate trinkets and souvenirs, will bear the inscription “Protect Yourself.” The first shipment is scheduled to arrive May 5, and the whistles can be obtained at the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter. Williams said he’s trying to prevent a repeat of last year after the homeless shelter shut down, during which many homeless women seeking refuge in camps far off the beaten track were sexually assaulted. “We’re hoping the loud noise will scare off would-be rapists,” he said. “But we’re also hoping that the whistles will be a form of rape education, making them more cognizant of where they go and who they go there with.”
In addition, Williams said that he’s organized one rape prevention self defense class already for homeless women and that he’s seeking funding for more. The whistles, he stressed, will not be worn around the neck. “The last thing we want is for someone to get strangled these things,” he said. Instead, he said, he’s hoping the women in question keep the whistles in their pockets. “If they lose them, that’s OK,” he said. “We’ll keep giving them out as long as there’s a demand.” Williams said no accurate records exist indicating the number of sexual assaults on homeless women; many refuse to file reports. But last year, he said, there was a marked increase. And already this year, he said he knows of at least two assaults.