Sex attacks expected to increase during RWC

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2011
NOT SO INNOCENT: A still from the educational video produced for the Who Are You? anti-crime campaign. It can be seen online at whoareyou.co.nz.
NOT SO INNOCENT: A still from the educational video produced for the Who Are You? anti-crime campaign. It can be seen online at whoareyou.co.nz.

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Sex attacks are expected to increase during the Rugby World Cup – and bystanders are being urged to intervene to stop them.

Agencies including police, the Wellington Sexual Abuse Network and Regional Public Health have banded together for the Who are You? initiative, which aims to raise public awareness of how sexual assaults can be prevented.

It will be the first known New Zealand campaign to push the concept of being an "ethical bystander", an approach that holds everybody responsible for the safety of those around them.

There were 327 reported sex assaults in Wellington last year, and hundreds more thought unreported. Nationally, there were 3016.

Police are expecting an increase in crime during the World Cup because of the volume of people in bars and on the streets.

An educational video has been produced for use in schools and hospitality training institutes, with talks planned at schools to encourage young women to appoint a "guardian angel", like a designated driver, to stay sober and look out for the group's safety.

Wellington police district crime manager Detective Inspector Mike Arnerich said other people could play a big part in reducing sexual violence. A simple intervention was to overtly take a photo of any suspicious person or behaviour on a cellphone camera: it might make them think again about pursuing an attack. "One of the big things is looking after your mates."

But people should only intervene if it seemed safe, and call police if necessary.

Sexual Assault Assessment and Treatment Service doctor Cathy Stephenson said the "stranger down a dark alley" rape scenario was very rare; the typical 15-to-24-year-old female victim had met her assailant in a bar or at a party beforehand. Victims – both male and female – had frequently downed about 20 standard drinks and were most commonly assaulted by someone they knew.

"So often no-one steps in, and we often see victims who ask us: `What if someone had helped me?'

"It's as simple as: if someone is really drunk, you don't serve them four more shots; it's a taxi driver making sure people get home, or a doorman who sees a guy propping a girl up and taking her out the door just asking what's going on."

Unsafe alone in the city

Two recent sexual assaults in Wellington could have been prevented had someone intervened, Sexual Assault Assessment and Treatment Service doctor Cathy Stephenson says.

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In one incident, a 23-year-old woman caught a bus home late at night, leaving her friends on the bus as she got off to walk home. She was bashed on the back of the head and raped.

Another incident took place in a car park outside a central city bar after a woman, 21, was convinced to go outside with a man who had been eyeing her all night. Once they were alone, he sexually assaulted her.

"If just one of her friends had thought, `oh, she's going outside with a guy she's never seen before, and she's really drunk ...' The impact is horrendous on these young girls, it is terribly sad."

'I had to do something'

When Wellington mother Leigh Morris saw the child being dragged down the street screaming, she knew something was clearly wrong.

When she saw the child's father smack him so hard he went flying to the ground, she knew she had to do something.

Ms Morris said she and her 12-year-old son witnessed the abuse in central Wellington on Sunday, and it was so bad she had to intervene.

"I headed back towards him and stepped between him and the child and said `you need to take 10 paces over there,' in a really low voice. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, because his eyes were really wide and he was angry. "I said `I'm going to call the police' and he said `go right ahead'."

Ms Morris said at least six people witnessed the standoff in Chews Ln, but not one of them stepped forward to help her.

- The Dominion Post

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