We slid out of the door into the darkness that was beckoning. Footsteps shuffled. We traipsed towards the park, hardly talking. Questionnaires were clasped tightly in our hands and I hugged a box of pens tightly to my chest. For a moment, we felt like a secret society and the thought of that sent shivers down my spine.
I shivered, pulling my brown furry jacket closer. I intensely dislike the cold and I would not be out at 7pm if not for this. I had forsaken the comfort of my hall to satisfy my curiosity – to feel how it is like to be part of a student rally.
‘It is dangerous to walk through Auckland Domain or Albert Park at night,’ Nich, my floormate, had warned me when I first moved into the hall.
‘What? Why? I didn’t know that!’ I was incensed, outraged and extremely surprised. I had chosen to come here because New Zealand is reputed to be one of the safest countries in the world. But I took his advice and, upon reflection, decided that he was probably right.
And so I was indifferent when I found out that several international students had been severely assaulted when they walked through Albert Park at night. ‘They shouldn’t have,’ I thought unsympathetically.
‘IT’S TIME WE STOPPED THIS VICTIM BLAMING CULTURE!’
I felt a trickle of guilt.
‘IT IS OUR BASIC HUMAN RIGHT TO FEEL SAFE AS WE WALK THROUGH ALBERT PARK. IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE THAT ALBERT PARK HAS BECOME A PLACE TO BE FEARED.’
‘SO WE ARE HERE TO RECLAIM ALBERT PARK!’
I scanned the crowd. The turnout was poor. Apart from the group of us from AUSA, and the politicians and office holders we had invited, there was barely anyone else. Three young Chinese males stood huddled together. A few couples stood around uncertainly.
Our President, Will Matthews, stood in front of the camera brought in by the New Zealand Herald. A tall, towering figure, he commanded attention. He barely flinched even as the street lights shone into his face, casting a long shadow. Though his brow was slightly furrowed, he held his ground.
‘I WAS A VICTIM MYSELF. Last year, I was pushed to the ground and my laptop was snatched away from me,’ the petite president of the New Zealand Chinese student’s association started.
I was startled. It just started to dawn on me that I could have been that victim. I had honestly not given much thought to it. I had walked back from Queen Street twice, alone. I felt safe enough to leave my torchlight in my room after a few weeks, feeling quite assured that, with the continuous flurry on the streets, I would not be attacked. Only now had the sense of insecurity started to creep in.
I started to make a mental note to look up the Unisafe department. They are the security branch of the University and, apparently, they could provide escorts upon (valid) requests.
‘SOME MAY THINK THAT ALBERT PARK IS NOT PART OF THE UNIVERSITY, AND SO, THE UNIVERSITY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE. BUT, I am glad that the university recognizes Albert Park as a major thoroughfare and is taking an active response to this.’
‘Earlier this week, we had a meeting with the mayor, school management…They have promised to have more CCTVs and lamps in Albert Park.’
‘The safety audit that you are conducting tonight will tell the authorities the exact locations that are in need of these CCTVs and lamps. Your AUSA volunteers will hand you the questionnaires.’
I waved brightly. I had flipped through the questionnaire earlier on and basically, it asked these questions, ‘DOES THIS AREA HAVE CLEAR AND VISIBLE EXITS?’ I looked at the shadowy trees and circled ‘No’ on my copy.
‘ULTIMATELY, WE NEED TO LOOK DEEPER. BEYOND THESE PUNITIVE MEASURES. We need to look at the insecurities that are driving the behaviour of the youths who carried out these attacks. Our solutions cannot be a divisive approach.’ Izzy O’Neil, the National Women’s Rights Officer, concluded in her steadfast tone.’
I nodded. That was a very sensible suggestion.
‘WE THANK YOU ESPECIALLY FOR COMING HERE TONIGHT. WE ARE STANDING IN SOLIDARITY WIITH THE STUDENTS WHO HAVE BEEN ATTACKED. THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN.’
My chest swelled with pride.
As we trooped back to the AUSA house, I did not feel any safer. I did feel a sense of satisfaction that something was being done though. Everyone had responded immediately and that was a good start. As I handed back the blue AUSA volunteer’s t-shirt, I smiled. I felt that I had done the right thing by coming.
Special thanks to Nicholas Yeo, for the Safety 101 you gave me when I arrived in Auckland.
Very special thanks to Ricky Qiao, for being my walking buddy from Britomart back to hall. Gracias :,)
And of course, my most heartfelt thanks to the AUSA Exec and Volunteer team 🙂 Thank you so much for our effort.