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May 4, 2014 | by  | in News |
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PROGRESS MADE ON PATH: But more change needed

TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.

The University and VUWSA are continuing to look into ways to improve student safety on campus, following three sexually motivated attacks on the Boyd-Wilson path in three weeks.

A meeting was held between the University and VUWSA on 1 May, where they agreed to “take a coordinated approach to issues involving student safety.”

The University agreed to investigate the possibility of its safe van being able to transport students who are on campus late at night to the city, on top of its current service returning students to Kelburn from the city.

Both VUWSA and the University will also continue to research safety initiatives used by other universities. However, Salient understands that the University is concerned about the cost of comprehensive campus-security measures like panic buttons, such as those in place at the University of Otago.

CCTV cameras were finally installed on the path on 23 April, following what Police told Salient was a decade of sexual assaults on the path, and three attacks over three weeks around the Easter holidays.

At the time, VUWSA President Sonya Clark said she would like to see the introduction of panic stations, which are in place at the University of Otago and University of Canterbury.

“We want to see the introduction of ‘emergency help stations’, like the ones at Otago and Canterbury Universities, with a panic button, phone and light attached. The introduction of a service where Campus Security walk people off campus at night is also a change VUWSA would like to see.”

The path has been the site of multiple assaults over the years, and Salient has covered student concerns about the path since 2010. Official responses have been slow, and it was not until the end of 2013 that lights were installed along the length of the path, despite this having been promised when the path became more heavily used after the 2010 redevelopment of the Boyd-Wilson Field.

When asked why CCTV had not been installed prior to April’s attacks, despite at least one assault occurring already that year and in 2013, Director of Campus Services Jenny Bentley said that “a range of improvements have been made over the past decade” and that the University would continue to work with the Police and Wellington City Council to improve safety.

A woman was sexually assaulted on the path on 28 March 2014. This triggered a meeting between the University, Council, Police, Chubb Security and Te Aro School. Foliage maintenance on the path was increased, and the Council and University agreed to work together to install CCTV.

Salient reported on 14 April that first-year students in University Hall of Residence Te Puni Village felt unsafe using the path, and they had been told not to use the path. The University told Salient that they were advising students not to use the path alone.

On 19 April and 20 April, two women are assaulted in separate, sexually motivated attacks. The descriptions given by both women indicate the same attacker in both incidents.

Media scrutiny following the two attacks, as well as a student petition for greater safety measures, lead to the fast-tracking of installation of CCTV along the path.

Victoria students expressed fear and frustration at the third attack, and questioned whether Police and the University were doing enough to keep them safe. Some students suggested reintroducing the Campus Angels service run by VUWSA until 2012, or the installation of panic buttons along the path, as well as increased lighting.

Students also noted that advice not to use the path was not practical, as the path is a key access route for students in Te Puni, a University Hall of Residence which is home to around 400 first-year students, as well as for students who live in Kelburn and surrounding suburbs.

Richard MacLean, Communications Advisor for the Council, said better lighting would be installed along the path. However, MacLean told Salient that safety concerns had to be balanced with the concerns of residents, as “no one wants bright glaring lights.”

VUWSA President Sonya Clark said that it was very important to improve safety on the path, as well as many other paths around Wellington where students feel unsafe.

Clark also stressed the importance of not blaming victims, and said that it was not good enough to tell students simply not to use a key campus path.

“It isn’t good enough to tell women, especially students, that they shouldn’t walk alone at night,” said Clark.

MacLean denied that the Council was placing the blame on victims. However, the Council continues to advise women not to use the path alone.

Clark said VUWSA wants feedback on the security changes, and that there was still progress to be made.

“It is good emergency towers or panic alarms are being investigated. We also think there needs to be better signage on the pathway itself to inform students of the University numbers to call for assistance, or if there is something that needs fixing.”

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