Katie Harris on Wellington violence: Why I no longer feel safe walking at night

OPINION

I like walking alone at night, the cool air, quiet streets and the eerie calm that falls just before the city goes to sleep. But I can’t any more; central Wellington feels unsafe.

I’ve lived in the capital for more than a year, and during that time I’ve been followed, harassed, catcalled, touched by strangers and accosted too many times to count.

My young female friends have also experienced the same issues, and now many have also sworn off walking the streets by themselves at night.

I wasn’t taught to be afraid. My mum and I would walk our dog around our neighbourhood before bed during my childhood, and when I was at university in Christchurch I went on regular evening hikes to the grocery store to get snacks. I wasn’t bothered, I wasn’t scared.

But in central Wellington, taking a walk just isn’t an option for many, who now feel locked out of the nightlife.

In the past few weeks there have been multiple serious assaults in the city, including one that occurred outside Te Papa on a Saturday night, while it was still bright out. It ended fatally.

When I first made the move, I lived in an apartment on Taranaki St. It was busy, it was cramped, but when I went for a nightly wander I still felt a sense of safety in the hustle and bustle of the Capital’s thronging streets. Yes, there were the occasional issues, but by in large it was fine.

In the year that’s passed, however, I find myself increasingly reluctant to leave the house once the sun goes down. Even just a short trip to the dairy can be frightening when you’re having to weave your way past people defecating in the streets or a slow-moving brawl.

Maybe it is just me, maybe it is just poor luck, or maybe we have a major problem.

These days, if I want to walk to my car from the apartment at night I have to get someone to come with me – even though my vehicle is only a block away – because of how many dicey situations have occurred before in the area.

If I’m on an early shift, I dial 111 on my phone app as I walk down upper Cuba St, just in case.

I hear tales of stalking and following almost as often as I hear about a good night out.

Last week, hospitality business owners voiced their concern regarding the state of the safety in the city’s nightlife. Matt McLaughlin said he had been calling for a crackdown on poor behaviour in the area for years.

He said the change in culture and safety was staggering for those who have been operating in the city for decades.

“It’s still a safe place to go to, but there are elements and areas that are really dodgy as we’ve seen, and who would have thought Te Papa carpark would be the scene of a homicide.”

I used to love walking at night, but now, it feels unsafe to go alone.


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