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  • Phoebe Robertson

Safety and Harassment in Wellington's Clubs

PHOEBE ROBERTSON (SHE/HER)


CW: Sexual harassment, assault. 

Wellington is facing growing concerns over the safety of its night-time venues. A survey conducted by Salient, comprising responses from over a hundred students across various academic years, paints a stark picture of the current state of club safety. In our survey, over 75% of students responded that they had felt unsafe at at least one of Wellington’s nightclub venues. 


A visual representation of responses, seperated by club. [CLICK TO EXPAND]
Reported assault and harassement, seperated by venue. [CLICK TO EXPAND]

This feeling of insecurity was often attributed to frequent incidents of harassment, groping, and assault. One respondent, a fourth-year female student, shared: “Ivy, San Fran, Valhalla, and Circus used to be my go-to places. Now, I can’t go to these clubs without feeling a looming threat of being groped or followed. The situation has deteriorated over the years”.


The survey revealed that one in two students had felt unsafe in Mishmosh. It was described by one survey responder as a “cesspit of old creepy men” where patrons felt constantly at risk of being groped and harassed. One third-year female student detailed her experience: “Mishmosh was unbearable; creepy old men couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. I’ve never gone back since being grabbed and groped there”. One in five students surveyed reported having been harassed in Mishmosh. 


One in three students surveyed felt unsafe in clubs Dakota, Shady Lady and Red Square. Dakota, for instance, emerged as a hotspot for harassment. Numerous respondents recounted instances of groping and unwanted advances. A third-year female respondent stated, “I have literally never gone to Dakota without being groped. Unsurprisingly, my male friends always have a great time there”.  


Respondents percieved safety, seperated by venue [CLICK TO EXPAND]

When contacted, venues Red Square, Shady Lady and Ivy Bar and Cabaret all stressed that if paterons are feeling unsafe, or an incident of assault happens, they should approach bar or security staff who are trained to manage the situation. Shady Lady and Ivy both highlighted their zero tolerance policies. 


The role of bouncers, who are supposed to ensure the safety of club-goers, was also examined in the survey. While some respondents reported positive interactions with bouncers at venues like Ivy and San Fran, a significant number shared negative experiences. A fifth-year female respondent recounted her experience at Lulu, stating, “I was harassed by bouncers on a power trip. They let in guys known to sexually harass girls, giving them a line skip because they’re friends. It’s a serious issue”.


In response, a representative from Lulu Bar highlighted that the venue follows the host responsibility policy which requires them “to provide a fun, welcoming and most importantly safe environment for all our guests and staff.” They also have five security staff, along with venue managers every weekend to ensure this. However, they declined to comment on the specific incident in the above quote. 


The survey highlighted that experiences of safety and harassment in Wellington’s nightlife are heavily gendered. Female and gender non-conforming individuals reported significantly higher rates of harassment compared to their male counterparts. A third-year nonbinary respondent stated, “It’s exhausting to constantly have to be on the lookout for trouble. You can’t even be nice to guys without them expecting something from you”.


One in four survey respondents had been harassed in Dakota, the highest level of harassment recorded in the survey. One in five reported being harassed in Shady Lady and Red Square. 


Bouncer interactions, seperated by venue [CLICK TO EXPAND]

One in four people who completed the survey had been assaulted in a Wellington club. Of that group of respondents, 20% of the assaults happened in Mishmosh, 15% happened in Dakota, 14% happened in Ivy bar and Cabaret, and 12% in Red Square. A fourth-year student recounted being assaulted at a Wellington club and reporting it to the bar manager, only to be told that “nothing could be done” unless the manager witnessed the assault. Minutes later, the same person assaulted one of her friends and was then removed from the venue.


An ex-bar manager, in conversation with Salient, identified “a massive discrepancy between the dangerous environment that town can be after midnight, and the tools staff are given to handle that environment. Effective staff training is pretty much unheard of in Wellington hospo. If you haven't trained you staff on identifying dangerous behaviour, de-escalation, enforcing their own boundaries and those of customers, if you haven't given them the tools and confidence to remove problematic customers, cut people off when necessary, and generally look after their customers and coworkers, you can't turn around and be surprised when you're bar isn't a safe environment."


The survey also highlighted safety issues during late-night journeys to and from clubs, worsened by limited early-hour public transport options. As Dan Moskovitz reported in May, the situation has worsened since the Greater Wellington Regional Council discontinued the After Midnight services.

A fifth-year female student articulated this concern: “The walk home is one of the most unsafe and inconvenient parts of the night. Ensuring you have people leave with you to avoid being harassed or followed is such a downbuzz”. A first-year student recounted: “I was walking home alone one night because my friends had left earlier. This guy started following me, making lewd comments. I had to duck into a 24-hour dairy and call a friend to come get me. It was terrifying”.

Inspector Dean Silvester, Wellington Area Commander stated that the Wellington Area Police “have heard the community’s concerns around safety in our central city and we are committed to addressing their concerns.” They note an increase in police presence on Friday/Saturday nights, and their work alongside Wellington Free Ambulance. 


The council has also attempted to improve public safety, implementing the Pōneke Promise in 2021. The Pōneke Promise is a collaborative initiative in Wellington's Courtenay Place, involving the City Council, Police, local businesses, and community stakeholders, aimed at enhancing safety and vibrancy. It focuses on reducing antisocial behaviour, supporting vulnerable individuals, and improving the area’s safety perception through measures like enhanced lighting, additional CCTV cameras, and a stronger police presence. Support services feature the "Take 10" safe space for nightlife patrons needing a break or medical help. 


A Take 10 representative explained to me that;  “Take 10 is a safe space for young people, based on Courtenay Place city on Friday & Saturday nights. We make sure people have a good night, by offering phone chargers, games, bean bags, water, lollies, first aid and help getting home if needed, as well as a friendly team to connect with. We are there every weekend, no matter the weather, from 10 pm until 3 am. Sometimes people just need a bit of time out from their night , in a quiet, safe, and non-judgemental place”. 


The overwhelming sentiment among the respondents is a call for change. There is a pressing need for clubs to implement stricter measures against harassment and to ensure a safer environment for all patrons. “Clubs need to take responsibility and create safe spaces. It’s not enough to just have a bouncer at the door. There needs to be a proactive approach to tackling harassment” emphasised a second-year female student.


For a more in depth analysis, including which clubs students felt the safest at, please scan the QR code below, or check on this article on our website.


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