Young women pushing for safer Wellington streets gather momentum online

Warning: This story contains reference to sexual assault.

Two young women “tired of feeling scared” on the capital’s streets have created an online space for others to share their experiences.

The informal survey had gathered more than 2600 responses just days after being posted to Wellington Facebook page Vic Deals.

The creators of the survey are Victoria University students Ella Lamont and Sophia Harrison, flatmates and friends who were tired of experiencing and hearing about sexual assault and harassment in Wellington.

“We are speaking out because we are tired of being scared to exist as women,” Harrison said.

“Our friends are scared, our classmates are scared, our sisters and our mothers. And things do need to change.”

As long-term friends and now flatmates, the pair said they often talked about feeling unsafe on the streets, which they had both noticed since moving to Wellington from Christchurch last year.

“We would just get so upset and annoyed and sad and angry, and be absolutely overwhelmend with all this emotion and anger … and with nothing being done about it,” Lamont said.

“So we decided that instead of just sitting and complaining about it all the time, we would actually go out and get some data and present it to the council and try to make some change.”

Safety on the capital’s streets has been in the spotlight recently, with police data showing the number of sexual assaults in Wellington had increased by nearly 50 per cent in the past five years.

Last week National MP Nicola Willis also admitted she did not feel safe walking in the city.

Posted on Monday, the survey from Lamont and Harrison included questions such as how likely respondents would be to walk home alone, and whether they had experienced occurrences such as catcalling, public indecency or unwanted touching.

More than 700 people also chose to write in with their own experiences, much of which included more serious allegations.

Lamont and Harrison said the responses had been saddening, but not particularly surprising.

“It’s stuff we’re constantly seeing and hearing, it’s not anything that’s super different. It didn’t necessarily surprise us but it did make us sad.”

They aimed to take the survey to council to push for physical changes in the city such ensuring unsafe areas were well-lit and cameras were in place.

But deeper cultural change was also needed, the pair said.

“At school we were always taught how to keep ourselves safe.”

“But when talking to our brothers and guy friends at their school, they barely had a single class on consent or on what is okay and what isn’t okay.”

While sexual assault was a huge issue, they said the culture started from more everyday occurrences.

“It starts with a laugh along at a rape joke, or maybe people are silent while their friends are flirting with a girl who is very intoxicated,” Harrison said.

“These micro-aggressions, we let them slide so much and it begins this chain reaction where the boundaries are kept being pushed until they become macro-aggressions.

“And then suddenly someone’s daughter doesn’t make it home.”

“We can’t keep letting these little things slide because they add up to become this one dreadful huge thing.”

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