Making Wellington City free from sexual violence


The Wellington City Council Plan aims to move the city closer to the goal of making it free from sexual harm (Photo supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, December 15,2023

Sexual violence has been on the rise in Wellington central city, prompting the Wellington City Council (WCC) to put a plan in place to check this trend.

Following concerns from local  communities, the WCC has officially launched a Sexual Violence Prevention Roadmap and Action Plan which aims to make “our city safer and move closer to the goal of it being free of sexual violence.”

The roadmap defines sexual violence as “any act (physical, verbal or digital) of a sexual nature that is directed towards a person without their consent.”

The document stresses the  “inherently violent and violating nature of non-consensual sexual behaviour (of any type).”

The roadmap has been developed in collaboration with sexual violence prevention specialists and community representatives, in order to “enact long-term, sustainable, systemic change.”

As per the WCC website, around 94% of sexual violence goes unreported because of shame, stigma, and “systemic barriers to reporting.”

In Wellington, around 30% of harm happens within the central city area, with a majority of victims and survivors identifying as females between the ages of 15 to 24.

According to the data, a majority of the perpetrators   were European males aged between 20 and 34 years.

The data showed 90% of the sexual violence was perpetrated by someone known to the victim, (including those who met over the past 48 hours).

In Aotearoa, sexual violence impacted 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men, and 1 in 3 trans/non-binary people.

Maori women and girls were more likely to experience harm than Pakeha, as per the research.

Disabled people were the most likely to experience harm from a stranger.

The data showed 1 in 3 students experienced sexual harm.

The WCC relied for its data on an online student-led survey, which explored people’s experiences of sexual harm in the central city and presented its findings to WCC in April 2021. The survey received almost 3,000 responses in 48 hours. Of the respondents, 90% experienced harm in the central city, with 61% reporting “it was sexual in nature.”

WCC worked alongside a coalition of youth organisations committed to sexual violence prevention.

Out of this alliance came the Poneke Promise – a community- driven partnership working to make central Wellington safe.

A Sexual Violence Prevention Project took shape under the leadership of Jahla Lawrence.

Jahla Lawrence (Photo supplied)

“We wanted to develop something that would be enduring and sustainable and based on evidence, rather than a bunch of one-off initiatives that aren’t impactful over a longer period of time,” Lawrence observed, adding, “We work alongside communities and organisations to help move Poneke [Wellington] towards being a safe, inclusive and welcoming place.”

Lawrence believed the “Council can shape the social norms and culture of a city.” Primary prevention was the goal, with a view to creating an environment in which “sexual harm behaviours are prevented before they can develop.”

The roadmap was at the core of this effort.

Lawrence added: “We are currently working with multiple partners; Respected Aotearoa, Take10, the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association and Thursdays in Black VUW to help support sexual violence prevention O-Week 2024.”

The group is also running a “positive sexual consent” campaign in the central city, working with upcoming music festivals to help promote safety, and “supporting our partners to deliver the Safer Venues Project, which aims at increasing sexual violence prevention capabilities in the hospitality industry.”

Lawrence is brimming with optimism about the future.

“While the work is just getting started, it’s exciting to have a plan in place that will support us moving to a sexual harm free city.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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