Red Light initiative catching on

It started out as a class assignment, but now a Dunedin sexual assault prevention programme is gearing up to go nationwide.

The Red Light programme was dreamed up by three Otago Polytechnic students, Anna-Lena Bininda, Corey Allan and Paige Devlin, as part of a health and wellbeing course.

They were challenged to do something to help their community, and they decided to focus on raising awareness around sexual violence.

They soon discovered that while there were "code word" initiatives overseas, there were no similar programmes in New Zealand.

They came up with Red Light. It works like this: people in participating bars, cinemas or other venues can approach staff and order a Red Light drink.

Police senior prevention partnership adviser Toni Paterson (left), Catacombs venue manager Jack...
Police senior prevention partnership adviser Toni Paterson (left), Catacombs venue manager Jack Greenlaw and Red Light co-founder Paige Devlin. Photo: Gregor Richardson

The code word lets staff know they need help, whether it be as simple as a drink of water or needing somebody to be removed from the premises.

"Even after the assessment we decided to carry on with it. We just really wanted something like that to stick in the community," Ms Devlin said.

"We had all had our own experiences."

It has since expanded rapidly.

About 130 venues across Otago and Southland are now signed up with Red Light.

That number is set to grow even further.

Ms Devlin said the founders were doing the paperwork to establish Red Light as a charitable trust.

That would open the door for them to apply for funding for things such as bystander training, which in turn would mean they could expand nationwide.

"It’ll bring a lot more opportunities for us to fully be what we want to be."

The programme has been well supported by both police and venues.

Police senior prevention partnership adviser Toni Paterson described it as a great opportunity to support a community action.

"Anything that helps to create a safe, supportive environment is a good thing."

It is not just punters who have been noticing the benefits of the programme.

Octagon club Catacombs venue manager Jack Greenlaw said it provided a system for staff to follow when someone needed help.

"Obviously we’ve got quite a big capacity here, so there’s always a risk of these things happening. Although we train our bartenders to look out for signs of uncomfortableness, we’ve got procedures in place ... it’s kind of just great to get on board.

"I know some people can be intimidated by staff, they think if they go up and ask for help they might get kicked out or something like that, so being able to train people to ask for a Red Light drink, it takes away that stigma."

There was always a staff member on duty down near the line for the bathrooms, and that was where the Red Light phrase most often came up, he said.

"The dance floor can get really crowded, there’s a lot of pushing and shoving, females especially can start to feel unsafe.

"We’ve got a door that goes straight into the kitchen so we can take them in, see what’s going on, if we need to better manage the line or if it’s just one particular person who’s causing havoc."

For Ms Devlin, the rapid success of the initiative was something that never crossed her mind when they first came up with the idea.

"It’s just been kind of taking it as it comes, but it has been really nice to look back and see how far we’ve actually come. We’re really excited for the future of Red Light.

"Venues tell us that it has been used and that it’s gone really well. The feedback from people out in the community is that they feel safer going to the places that have Red Light than the places that don’t."