UPDATED: 05/09/16 16:45.
There have been reports of at least two assaults on students in the area between Kelburn campus and Aro Valley, around Fairlie Terrace. The assaults were reported to VUWSA, Victoria University, the police, and posted online.
A post was made to the Overheard @ Vic Facebook page on August 19 by Masters student Matire Ward warning students of the assaults.
Ward made the post after she heard from a source who wished to remain anonymous that a student had been grabbed and chased from Aro Valley to the Te Puni hall by a male assailant while on the way to an evening exam.
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VUWSA posted two warnings on their Facebook page on August 22 and 23 about the assaults. The first post said that VUWSA had notified the university, advocacy and security groups on campus, and the police about the incidents. The second post informed students that police would be patrolling the areas where the alleged assaults took place.
VUWSA President Jonathan Gee said, “we acted quickly once reports of physical and sexual assault were made to us. We informed the relevant services, including the university. We also also informed students via Facebook. We followed up with those who contacted us and have identified areas in which lighting can be improved, including Dixon St steps, Fairlie Terrace above Te Puni, and Adams Terrace stairs. I’ve informed our local city councillor of these areas to ensure it is given urgent attention.”
Jenny Bentley, the Victoria University Director of Campus Services, was quoted in news reports up until August 26 saying that the university had not been notified about any assaults occurring in the area at the time.
A VUW staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Salient that they notified campus security and the course co-ordinator of the paper that the student was about to sit the exam for, immediately after hearing from the victim about the incident. The staff member said Bentley’s claim that the university was not aware of the assaults at the time of the news reports prior to August 26 is “categorically not true,” and “outrageous.”
VUWSA President Jonathan Gee believed that “the university should be actively monitoring areas where we’ve had reports in the past, such as Boyd-Wilson steps. We’d like to see plans put in place to increase security in these areas.”
Lights were installed along the Boyd Wilson steps to the Terrace following a series of sexual assaults in 2013 and 2014.
Mayoral candidate Justin Lester responded to the news of the assaults by vowing to upgrade the walkways and street lighting around university areas if he wins the election. Lester said that this was a priority for him, as he wants to “ensure every Wellingtonian can feel safe getting around our city at night.”
Lester has only specifically stated he will light up Plimmer steps, Wigan Street, and Forresters Lane.
Matire Ward thinks Lester’s proposal to “light up areas already lit” is “a joke,” because it does not target student-populated areas like Aro Valley or the locations where the assaults took place.
VUWSA supports the Thursdays in Black campaign, led by Tertiary Women New Zealand and the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, that aims to take a stand against rape and violence. Members of VUWSA have had training from the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, and they have been working with the university in the past few years to “get sexual violence prevention on the agenda,” resulting in the formation of the University’s Sexual Violence Prevention Working Group and a poster campaign around campus.
The Kelburn Library has two different types of protection alarms for hire. One works on campus, contacting security when pressed, and is only available for staff members. The other type is for students to hire, and consists of a loud alarm and bright light. These items are not regularly issued, nor are they listed on the university’s website, or advertised by the library.
Gee suggested that students who feel unsafe walking to and from campus should ensure someone knows where they are and have their phone on them. If they feel unsafe they could call the police or campus security on 04 463 9999.