Darkness increases fear of crime. In 2014, 38% of those responding to a quality of life survey felt unsafe walking around their neighbourhoods at night, while 52% felt unsafe walking around city centres at night.
Improvements in perceived safety
In 1989, 7% of people felt it was safe to be in the Auckland city centre after dark. This jumped to 25% in 1993 and 44% in 1999. The police considered that the main factor affecting this increase in perceived safety was the reduction in the number of street kids. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the police, council and other community groups had put in place programmes to get street kids off the streets. More apartments were also built from the 1990s and as the inner city got more pedestrian traffic, perceptions of safety increased.
Fear in the home
A 1993 study in Christchurch found that two-thirds of young women and around half of middle-aged women and the elderly did not feel safe in their homes at some time due to fear of attacks by strangers. Men, and younger men in particular, had lower levels of fear. A recent trend in a minority of new subdivisions is gated communities, where there are perimeter fences and access by the public is limited – some have their own security patrols.
Self defence no defence
Carrying weapons such as guns or knives for self defence or personal security is illegal. Stun guns and irritant sprays such as mace, which are used for self defence in some countries, have been banned in New Zealand since 1984.
Neighbourhood Support Groups
‘Neighbourhood Watch’ groups were established in many parts of the country in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s Neighbourhood Support Groups emerged. Neighbours introduced themselves, swapped phone numbers and agreed to monitor each other’s properties. Neighbourhood Watch was aimed at preventing burglaries, while Neighbourhood Support Groups sought to bring together local communities to combat all types of crime. In the 2010s these groups continued to build community networks and work with the NZ Police and community organisations.
A survey in 2011 of attitudes towards safety in the Auckland region found that 41% of those who participated would feel either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ unsafe waiting for a bus alone after dark. 51% of women and 52% of those under 30 indicated that they would feel unsafe in this situation. Men and older adults were less likely to feel unsafe in this situation. Waiting for a train or ferry alone after dark was perceived to be safer than waiting for a bus.
Graffiti removal and vandalism repair
Even if an area has little criminal activity, vacant lots, run-down housing, graffiti, signs of vandalism and litter can intimidate people and create a fear of crime. Some city councils have responded by trying to remove graffiti within 24 hours and attempting quick repairs to vandalism. Maintenance of bus stops and train stations and keeping them clean are also important for perceptions of safety.
‘Never say die till you’re dead’
The Peace Scouts came into existence when Muriel Cossgrove begged her father, Colonel David Cossgrove, for a girl’s version of Boy Scouts, which he had introduced to New Zealand. He complied and published Peace Scouting for girls in 1910. The book demonstrated moves such as ‘wrist lock No.2’ which makes an attacker ‘howl with pain' and if carried out quickly, could break his wrist. One of the Peace Scouts mottos was ‘Never say die till you’re dead’.1
In 1913 Flossie Le Mar published a book on jiu-jitsu and toured New Zealand. Such early self-defence advice for women was before its time and did not become popular until the 1970s when Sue Lytollis began teaching self defence through the Auckland Young Women’s Christian Association. By 1992 more than 100,000 girls and women had done a course by Lytollis or one of the 30 teachers she trained. Carrying horns or whistles to sound in case of attack has never been very common among New Zealand women. Cellphones are widespread and parents often give them to children and teenagers so that they can be contactable.
In the 2010s the YWCA continued to offer self-defence and empowerment courses, but many other self-defence courses were available. S.A.F.E Self Defence offered courses and workshops directed at ensuring that participants could defend themselves effectively if they were attacked at home or in the street. It also focused on how to avoid situations that might put you at risk. Protect Training Systems also offered self-protection and self-defence programmes for corporate businesses, government departments, schools and colleges. Many of these courses were particularly developed for girls and women.
Self defence law
Anyone who is attacked is legally justified in using force to protect themselves (including deadly force if the circumstances warrant). The level of force used must be in proportion to the threat faced and not excessive. For example, if someone attacks with a knife or gun people may use lethal force if necessary. The law also permits the use of force to stop someone breaking and entering a person’s house.