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Capital labelled less safe, more seedy during cup

Oct 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

PARTY CENTRAL: Courtenay Place will be closed to traffic tomorrow night for the party to take place

YOUNG Wellington women say a “seedy vibe” has descended over Wellington since the Rugby World Cup started.

As Wellington prepares for 70,000 attending two quarter-final matches this weekend, two 19-year-olds say they are thinking twice about going out and enjoying the occasion at night.

Rachel and Alice (not their real names) say they experienced an unprecedented level of sexual harassment when they went out after a rugby match last weekend.

NewsWire asked police and Wellington City Council whether they had more complaints of sexual harrassment during the cup.

Police did not answer the question directly, while council said there had been no anecdotal evidence of more complaints.

Hollaback! Wellington – a lobby group established to receive and share stories of harassment – says it has not had much increased activity on its website, but organiser Josephine Hall says she thinks people around the city have definitely felt a different vibe.

Last Saturday, Rachel and Alice and three other friends headed to Courtenay Place, but even before they had reached any bar the harassment started.

“We all walked past a big group of people and one of them grabbed our friend around the waist and he said, ‘I want to make you my girlfriend’. He asked her for a kiss but we managed to get her away,” says Rachel.

Later, in a crowded bar another man approached the girls without any indication he was welcome.

HIGH HOPES: Rachel and Alice's hopes for a good night were ruined.

“We were just standing around talking, it was crowded. All of a sudden, this guy came up behind [our friend] and put his hands around her waist and kept trying to pull her away from the group,” Alice says.

“He came up to [Rachel] and did the same thing. She pushed him and gestured for him to get away, and I started yelling, “no means no”. It took like two or three big shoves for him to leave us alone but he still kept standing there and just watching us.”

The harassment continued in this fashion throughout the night almost non-stop, and it made little difference whether they were with a group, with men that they knew, or where they were.

 “It’s not like it was a dingy bar or a dark street, it all happened in full light and packed bars,” Rachel says.

Eventually the girls had had enough, cut their night short and went home.

They say when they updated their Facebook statuses about the night’s events they found a lot of other people had experienced or seen similar things happening around the city.

Rachel and Alice say their harassers were all foreign and could speak very little or only broken English, and that they were likely French or Argentinean and in town for the Rugby World Cup.

“The vibe that you got was almost like they had singled you out. It’s like they don’t understand boundaries and that no means no. There’s a line you don’t cross. You’d think it would be the same in every country.”

The girls say they find Wellington to be a pretty safe place, but since the Rugby World Cup started they are having second thoughts about going out.

“I’ve never had a problem with Wellington before that weekend. That’s the first time that’s made me think twice before going to town. It’s just a different, seedy vibe,” Alice says.

Rachel agrees: “It cut our night short, we just didn’t feel safe.”

It’s news to council and police, but not Hollaback!

Wellington City Council communications manager Richard MacLean says the council has not had any anecdotal indication that harassment has increased specifically during the Rugby World Cup.

When asked the same questions, Wellington Police District spokeswoman, Victoria Davis did not answer directly.

Instead, she responded with an email explaining actions police were taking.

“We have developed a number of strategies with partner agencies such as Wellington City Council and ‘Safe in the City’, as well as supporting Hollaback! Wellington.

“We encourage people to report any crimes committed against them, including sexual assault complaints, and whilst these types of offences are abhorrent, they are being reported to Police, allowing us to then investigate them thoroughly and bring offenders before the Courts,” she says.

However, Josephine Hall of Hollaback, pictured below, says there are definitely a large number of these types of crimes going unreported.

“In fact, Stats New Zealand even says in the fine print that the sexual assault statistics aren’t entirely reliable and that’s unusual for them to say that.

“When they say that, it means the actual numbers are likely to be a lot higher than what we’ve seen published,” she says.

“Often these kinds of claims are not taken seriously. We have a history of brushing off claims of sexual assault or victims don’t necessarily identify it as sexual assault so it’s hard to label it. It’s never black or white.”

As to how many unreported crimes of this nature there are, Ms Hall says she would not want to speculate but has some idea.

IMAGE: Jason Mann

“I suspect it’s similar to the amount of unreported child abuse or crimes of a similar nature where victims are uncomfortable with [coming forward].”

With approximately 25,000 people expected to attend the party in the Courtenay Precinct tomorrow night there is cause for concern.

 “If there are going to be more people in the city, these incidents are more likely,” says Ms Hall.

She says the fact that there has not been any increased activity on the Hollaback! website could be put down to a lack of awareness, but they are still trying to reach a bigger audience.

Rachel and Alice said they were not aware of Hollaback! which was launched in August this year, but they say they would have used it if they had known about it.

NZ sexual assault and harrassment statistics 

National crime statistics released by New Zealand Police this week, show national sexual assault (and related offences) numbers are up 12.4% over the last fiscal year and roughly 40% of these went unresolved.

There were more than 3000 reported sexual assault and related offenses, and more than 13, 000 recorded reports of harassment and threatening behaviour.

Over the past two years, sexual assault and related offences are up 26%, yet the resolution rates for cases of sexual assault, and abduction and harassment offences have all continued to drop each year.

Sexual assault and related offences in Wellington district total 11% of all sexual assault offences in the country.

It has a rate of 74 reports per 100, 000 people, compared with major centres Auckland with 70 and Canterbury 68.

There were 351 reports of abduction, harassment and related offences per 100,000 people in Wellington, accounting for 12.5% of such offences in New Zealand.

However, while sexual assaults and related offences across the district are up 6% from last year, they are actually down by 4.2% in the city.


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