New Year’s visitors report sexual harm

Despite a belief sexual assault "won’t happen" in Wanaka, it does, a community support worker says.

New information has revealed five sexual violence complaints were made to police following New Year’s Eve celebrations in Wanaka, all by visitors to the town.

All up there were 15 reports of "sexual assaults and related offending" — including five allegations of rape — reported to Otago Lakes Central police stations in Wanaka, Queenstown and Cromwell during December and January.

A police spokeswoman confirmed all five Wanaka complainants were visitors, and their complaints related to incidents on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Red Frogs Otago co-ordinator Ray Thomson said volunteers from the youth support service were operating in Wanaka over the new year period.

"On New Year’s Eve in particular our volunteers experienced an increase of female patrons saying they were feeling unsafe, or had experienced negative interactions including unwanted sexual attention," he said.

"This had increased from the previous responses we have done in Wanaka during the new year period."

Red Frogs is a group set up to safeguard and help young people in different situations, particularly ones involving alcohol.

Mr Thomson said young people would always congregate in Wanaka.

"Some are perfectly fine, out having a good time with their mates; however, we do encounter a large number of young people at various levels of intoxication, as well as drug use.

"Many of the youth come from outside of the region — particularly Christchurch and Dunedin — and can range from early teens through to young adults.

Preventing sexual assault was a team effort and a real concern for Red Frogs.

"It is easy to think in regional areas such as Wanaka it won’t happen here but unfortunately it does and the effects are devastating," he said.

Wanaka medical centres did not respond to requests for information and Wanaka social workers and community network staff declined to comment.

Wanaka Community Board member Jude Battson said the town’s long-held reputation for alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour on New Year’s Eve had always carried an undercurrent of sexual assault rumours.

Riots have occurred over the years, and Wanaka police routinely bolstered their numbers during the festive season.

In 1987, every window of the newly built Lake Hawea Hotel was broken in a riot.

In 2005, a mob of 500 revellers overturned a car at the Albert Town camping ground and set it alight.

Sexual assaults were nothing new, Ms Battson said.

"I think sexual assaults were possibly even more then than what they are now, but not reported. I know from Women’s Support there are some people who don’t go to the police," she said.

She urged all people who had been abused to speak out, even anonymously.

If parents knew their teens were coming to Wanaka for New Year’s, they should talk about what could happen and reassure their teens they were there for them.

The Otago Daily Times asked Senior Sergeant Kim Chirnside, of Wanaka, if police had been aware that more people than usual were in distress at New Year’s in the town, or complaining of inappropriate behaviour towards them.

Snr Sgt Chirnside referred questions to the police media team.

"This is not something police is aware of or has any way of measuring, but police are concerned about the reports of sexual offending we did receive and these have been investigated and taken seriously," a police spokeswoman said.

"Young people consuming alcohol at New Year is not a new thing, and remains a concern for police in the Wanaka area," she said.

"We would remind people to stick to their limits when it comes to alcohol, and look out for each other. Also remember that if a person is intoxicated they are not in a position to consent to sexual activity."

Police had deployed extra officers to meet the expected demand for occasions such as New Year’s Eve.

"While it is always a busy time, providing a supportive response to victims who make reports to police is our top priority."

Complaints

Sexual offending complaints received at police stations

Alexandra 
Dec 2021 0
Jan 2022 0
 
Cromwell
Dec 2021 0 
Jan 2022 1
 
Wanaka 
Dec 2021 0 
Jan 2022 5
 
Queenstown
Dec 2021 7 
Jan 2022 2
 
Total: 15
 
Alexandra
Dec 2020 3 
Jan 2021 0
 
Cromwell
Dec 2020 2 
Jan 2021 2
 
Wanaka
Dec 2020 1 
Jan 2021  7
 
Queenstown
Dec 2020 0 
Jan 2021  3
 
Total: 18
 

marjorie.cook@odt.co.nz

 

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