This year in Canberra, there have already been 143 sexual assaults reported to police.
According to ACT Policing’s crime statistics, the suburbs with the most sexual assaults reported were City and Gungahlin, with 10 incidents each between 1 January and 31 March. (Note, these incidents have not been identified by gender).
The numbers significantly increase when you include general assault.
The City precinct has been flagged as an area of particular concern, with Women’s Health Matters teaming up with the City Renewal Authority to urge more Canberrans to help prevent harassment of women in public spaces.
The Step Up! campaign has been designed to encourage everyone to take a stand if they see disrespect or harassment of women. It coincides with Women’s Health Matters’ existing Canberra Safety Map.
CEO Lauren Anthes said it was important to give people the tools they needed for when they witnessed this type of behaviour as everyone had a role to play in preventing violence against women.
“There will be many times when we see sexist behaviour and harassment of women even when we are not directly involved,” she said.
“When this happens, there are lots of different ways we can step up. We can all take action to prevent discrimination and violence against women.”
In the past 18 months, there have been 80 reports on the Canberra Safety Map, with almost one in ten occurring in Civic specifically.
Areas of particular concern have been Alinga Street and City Walk.
“[I] have been harassed and intimidated walking along here with friends, by big groups of men, presumably intoxicated and walking to other venues,” one woman submitted.
“There are people regularly loitering in Garema Place, in particular, men who will literally chase women demanding money from them and following them to ATMs. I have seen women being physically assaulted by these individuals in broad daylight and police are regularly attending to incidents,” wrote another.
The benefit of having active bystanders and other people around was made clear in some of the submissions to the Canberra Safety Map.
“I was approached by a person. I asked them to leave me alone and they continued to follow me and grabbed me,” one woman wrote.
“There were a lot of people around that could see the person was following me. When the person grabbed me, another person intervened.”
The ‘Step Up!’ campaign includes posters around City Walk and in light rail carriages advising people how they can help someone they think is being intimidated or harassed.
Ms Anthes hoped they would make people feel more confident in challenging disrespect when they saw it.
“Research shows that violence against women is driven by traditional and harmful gender stereotypes that influence our attitudes and behaviours,” she said.
“Violence against women is serious and common, but when you take action, you will have the support of most people around you.
“You don’t need to be a hero. There are little things you can do.”
These little things include challenging a friend’s behaviour, alerting event or venue staff, and approaching an impacted person to make sure they’re ok.
City Renewal Authority Acting CEO Craig Gillman said this was about making the City Centre safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
“Initiatives such as this are important in continuing to shape a diverse and vibrant City Centre where all members of our community, as well as visitors, can live, explore and thrive,” he said.
The initiative has received funding from the City Renewal Authority and the ACT’s Office for Women.
Minister for Women Yvette Berry said safety at home and in public spaces was essential for women and girls’ full and equal participation, both for them and the entire community.
“We are partnering with Women’s Health Matters to not only encourage women to speak up about the places where they feel safe or unsafe but also for the general public to step up when they see inappropriate behaviour towards women and girls,” she said.
“We all have a responsibility to build a Canberra that is safe and inclusive for everyone.”
Free active bystander training packages for city-based workplaces will also soon be available. You can express your interest by contacting email@example.com.