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April 14, 2014 | by  | in Homepage News |
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Is it safe for women to walk home at night?

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

Is it safe for women to walk home at night?

A key campus path has been the site of at least one reported sexual assault of a Victoria student already this year, despite work having been done to make it safer.

The path, which runs between the Boyd-Wilson Field and the Terrace, has been the site of numerous assaults and years of student complaints.

Police are investigating one reported assault of a student which took place on the path on 28 March. In addition, students have told Salient that two further assaults of first-year students have occurred on the path this year, but these have not been reported to police or the university.

Last October, Salient reported that LED lights had been installed along the length of the path, following three years of inaction.

The path is the joint responsibility of the Wellington City Council, which controls the path, and the University, which owns the land the path is on. Wellington Police, Te Aro School and VUWSA have also been involved in improving security around the path.

A student living in Te Puni, the hostel above Boyd-Wilson, said she was aware of the reputation of the path, commonly known as ‘Rape Alley’, when she came to the hostel.

“We all hear about [the assaults]. It’s horrible to think that harmless people are being abused because nobody is taking any action.”

“[Te Puni] haven’t talked to us, the girls from last year say that they will soon. All they really said to them was you aren’t allowed to walk down there alone, but that’s not really going to solve much.”

Ross Barnett, Victoria’s police liaison officer, said that the City Council had increased regular maintenance of foliage surrounding the path from every three months to every eight weeks, and the police had increased patrolling of the path at peak times.

In the past two weeks, a new light had also been installed in the Te Aro School carpark.

Despite this, students Salient spoke to said the path was still dark.

“There are two lights about ten metres apart at the start of the path, opposite the school. Then there are the street lights at the bottom of the stairs. At night it isn’t pitch black, but with the trees it’s pretty dark and gloomy.”

Jenny Bentley, Director of Campus Services at the University, said that “to our knowledge, police are investigating one incident… which relates to an alleged assault on Saturday 23 March,” but were not aware of any further assaults. “Full pastoral and academic support and care” had been offered to the student.

Bentley said that the University is “extremely conscious of student safety” and had been working closely with the Wellington City Council and the Police to improve the safety of the pathway between Boyd-Wilson Field and the Terrace.

“These initiatives include regularly cutting back trees and greenery to improve visibility, improving lighting, proposed installation of CCTV cameras on pathway, installing and extending pedestrian barriers, and a programme of safety messages to students.”

“We are advising our students not to use the pathway if they are alone – only if they are with a group of people.”

Sexual assault timeline
2010 – VUWSA survey of 4000 students found that 26 per cent of women felt there was inadequate lighting and a lack of safe pathways on campus.

2012 – Over half the respondents to a VUWSA Campus Safety Audit reported feeling unsafe when on campus after dark. 80 per cent of these people said their primary reason for feeling unsafe was poor lighting in many areas of campus.

2012 – VUWSA discontinued the Campus Angels programme, whereby students would walk other students home or to public transport late at night, due to high cost and low usage.

2013 – At least one student was assaulted on the path.

October 2013 – LED lights were installed along the path.

March 2014 – a new light was installed in the Te Aro School carpark

28 March – a student reported having been assaulted on the path; police investigations are ongoing.

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