News | 7 July 2022

Standing together to prevent sexual violence

What started as an unsettled feeling between friends in Wellington city a year ago, sparked a 500-people-strong rally against sexual violence that influenced the start of the Pōneke Promise – a joint commitment to making the city a safer, more vibrant, welcoming place to be.

Woman standing on the street and smiling.

We sat down with Jahla Lawrence, who spear-headed the rally in 2021 and is now the Project Lead for Sexual Violence Prevention at Wellington City Council, to find out more about what sexual violence prevention looks like in the capital.  

From doing her Honours research around masculinity and rape-myth attitudes in young men, to her PhD looking at anti-sexual violence digital activism with teenage boys, Jahla has done extensive mahi in the field. 

Over a year ago, she observed feelings of unsettledness amongst young people across Pōneke, both while out and about in the city, and through social media. 

“We organised a rally [against sexual violence] and from that we began working with Council to develop the need for a long-term strategy or plan,” Jahla says. 

The rally kick-started a new programme of work within the Council, which took action and started working with the community to find out what they thought would make the city feel safer, says Jahla.  

“The Council committed to developing a Sexual Violence Prevention Action Plan. I worked as a contracting specialist on the plan, providing a bit of advice and support. Then, I got recruited to lead the project. 

“[This plan is] essentially a way of understanding sexual violence in Wellington, what the Council’s responsibilities are, what we’re going to do about prevention, who are our key partners, and the values that are driving our work,” Jahla says. 

The key to the success of the plan is the partnerships and community voices involved. 

“We expect to see lots of different initiatives, projects and partnerships to happen within this plan, and a lot of it will be in collaboration with communities, young people, and existing initiatives that we can support. We've partnered with the Wellington Alliance Against Sexual Violence to do a bunch of urban design hikoi and we’ve partnered with the student associations to do an art installation for Sex Week,” says Jahla. 

“We have a Safer Venues Coordinator on board and the two of us will be able to come up with some really tangible strategies for how we do prevention in the hospitality industry and for us to be able to be the people that pull together all the different institutions and organisations that work across that space.” 

Decal on a window.
Sex Week decal on Manners Street.

The work is just getting started. There are big plans to see how the city can transform with this project through the Pōneke Promise. 

“We're hoping to kind of provide a template for how a city Council can take responsibility for this kaupapa and be a role model in this space and for other councils around the country,” says Jahla. 

“We're also showing how a Council can work across different types of work plans, with different types of people, different types of communities, and be that body that brings everybody together.” 

When it comes to what people can do, Jahla wants people to know that they can speak up in any situation and that the Pōneke Promise wants to hear what people have to say.   

“I just want everyone to know that if there are people who are working on things, or have ideas or have something that they want to see change, to come and talk to me. 

 “[My role] was developed from the people. It's really been driven by the survivor voice and the lived experience voice. It is for people, and so we want them to feel reflected and we want them to feel seen and valued.” 

To read more about the Pōneke Promise, visit the webpage. If you’d like to get in touch with Jahla or share some insights or ideas, please email pōneke.promise@wcc.govt.nz.