Sexual violence campaigners urge action from Wellington City Council

6:13 pm on 22 April 2021

Three weeks on from their rally calling for more action against sexual violence, members of the newly-formed Wellington Alliance Against Sexual Violence have voiced their demands to politicians.

Wellington bar owner Matt McLaughlin

Hospitality owner-operator Matt McLaughlin said the industry's Don't Guess the Yes campaign was looking to ensure patrons were protected. Photo: RNZ/ Tom Furley

At the beginning of the month, about 500 people turned up to Courtenay Place, the heart of the capital's nightlife district, to [

rally against sexual violence].

Two representatives of the Alliance arrived at a Wellington City Council meeting this morning and demanded more funding for prevention organisations, better street safety, and more prevention and intervention training for hospitality staff.

"We are here before you today because we are scared, we are here before you today because it has been this way for far too long," said Ella Lamont.

"We are here for every person that has been assaulted in our capital city ... we are here for every person whose cries has fallen on deaf ears, and we are here before you today because we want change."

Lamont, alongside Sophia Harrison, presented the findings of their online survey, which had nearly 3000 respondents.

The survey found 10 percent of respondents said they experienced sexual violence or abuse daily. A third said it happened every weekend.

"It's not a small amount of people experiencing sexual assault and sexual violence.

"It is a huge group of people. And it's an issue we all need to take extremely seriously, and we all need to play our role in making Wellington safer."

The survey also found over two thirds thought sexual assault and abuse was increasing in prevalence in Wellington.

Nearly all respondents thought there needed to be a culture change.

Ella Lamont and Sophie Harrison said they had three demands for the council to become the catalyst for that change.

They wanted it to re-envision Courtenay Place and the nightlife district to make it safer and more pedestrian-friendly, with more space; increase funding for prevention-based organisations; and work with the hospitality industry to ensure all workers are trained to deal with sexual assault and abuse.

"Bars really should be taking care of their patrons regardless. If you go and buy a drink, you're thinking this place should be keeping me safe because I'm their customer.

"But they're not. We find even if you go and say to a bouncer 'this person is not okay' or 'I've just seen this' they won't really do anything despite being the security."

Hospitality owner-operator Matt McLaughlin said the industry's Don't Guess the Yes campaign was trying to address that problem.

Training sessions teach hospitality staff "prevention, intervention and response" in the event of a sexual assault.

"We've put it out to the whole industry. It's been a little bit sporadic as to who's come to the training sessions.

"The first training session that we held, which was about two years ago, we had about 180 people turn up to an unpaid training meeting.

"I thought it was fantastic, it showed the industry, and the staff from our industry, were really engaged in the issue."

He said some businesses had not engaged with the voluntary campaign, however.

"We've pushed Don't Guess the Yes pretty hard for the last three years.

"We've got those bars that want to be involved, have had really good engagement, and I know they're working really hard on that kind of stuff.

"But there's certainly bars that haven't been involved."

He said they were also introducing an industry-wide code of conduct which would make engagement in the campaign mandatory.

The industry is also one of the members of the Social Contract, alongside the Council, retailers and the Police, asking everyone to take collective action to address the safety issues within the CBD.

Councillor and city safety portfolio lead Tamatha Paul said she was interested in trying to get more funding to prevention and response organisations.

"We will be taking a really hard look at where our grants funding goes, because we give away millions and millions of dollars away every year, to all sorts of worthy causes.

"But I think we need to look at the scale of this issue, which is massive, and think about its importance in relation to other things that we give funding to.

"It's at the top of our priority list."

At the council meeting, she also requested a report be done on how best to improve city safety, and implement harm reduction initiatives.

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