40 requests after varsity sex assaults

Melanie Beres
Melanie Beres
More than 40 people have sought help from a newly-established support service for victims of sexual assault at the University of Otago, one of the centre co-ordinators says — but uptake of the centre’s prevention programmes has been slower than expected.

Te Whare Tawharau, set up in May, provides support, information and advocacy for victims of both historic and recent sexual assaults, and is the first such drop-in centre at a New Zealand university. Sociology, gender and social work senior lecturer Dr Melanie Beres, who is running the academic side of the centre, said as well as offering support services the centre had begun the rollout of three separate sexual assault prevention programmes. Ten workshops had been held  across the three prevention programmes and 11 out of the 15 residential colleges for university students had expressed an interest in running consent workshops.

"We were hoping for more students, although it is not uncommon for new initiatives to take a little while to get off the ground," Dr Beres said.

"We have been conducting research with those who’ve taken a workshop, and those who haven’t,  to better understand what will draw students to the workshops, and will be using this information as we move forward." 

The consent workshops were peer-facilitated, and went through legal definitions of consent, discussions of alcohol, and misunderstandings about sexual consent — including the misunderstanding miscommunication was a cause of violence. More than 40 students had come to Te Whare Tawharau seeking support since the centre opened. 

"Considering this is the first centre of its kind in New Zealand, it was difficult to predict demand, although it is consistent with demand in similar institutions internationally," Dr Beres said.

The centre would continue next year  and was further developing its support and prevention services.

Police records from August showed sexual assaults in Dunedin were being reported in record numbers. Rape Crisis Dunedin development co-ordinator Angelo Libeau said MeToo and related movements were likely to have contributed to the rise of sexual assault reports in Dunedin.


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