WARNING: This story contains reference to sexual assault.
The pleas of two Wellington students calling for a safer city nightlife have been heard by council with "a sense of urgency".
Last Thursday Ella Lamont and Sophia Harrison, both 19, presented the results of an informal survey completed by nearly 3000 Wellingtonians.
The vast majority of respondents were women that had experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment on the capital's streets.
Wellington City Councillor Tamatha Paul, who holds the city safety portfolio, said she found the presentation inspiring and reaffirming.
"I know anecdotally that these things happen, and being a young person myself, I hear all these stories that are similar to some of the things Sophia and Ella were talking about," she said.
"It was nice to see someone had done some work to actually show how common that experience is.
"It's not just something that happens in a horror story – it's so frequent and so common in Wellington."
A redesign of the city's streets, as well as sexual violence training and increased funding for prevention services were on the table as potential solutions.
Paul said these were "great asks" and "things we should have been doing a long time ago".
"I think we haven't because there's never really been that sense of urgency, and that's why I really appreciated that presentation to us."
"It really enforced that sense of urgency, and decision-makers shouldn't be willing to accept one more assault happening in the city – we need to act urgently."
Lamont said it was "a massive relief" to have the survey presented to council after weeks of compiling data.
"We felt like we had the weight of everyone who completed the survey on our shoulders, waiting for us to do something with the information they had trusted us with," she said.
The pair are best friends and flatmates in their second year at Victoria University, having moved from their home city of Christchurch last year.
Both fell in love with Wellington – it's beauty, inclusivity and "vibrant energy". But both felt unsafe on the streets late at night.
With a hunch they weren't alone, the students took to community Facebook page Vic Deals last month, asking Wellingtonians to weigh in on their experiences in the capital.
A total of 2886 people responded to the survey, 85 per cent of whom were women.
Participants were asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they would be to walk home alone at night or allow a friend to do so – nearly 40 per cent scored a 1 out of 10.
44 per cent of the respondents said they had experienced sexual assault, 17 per cent said they had experienced rape, 26 per cent catcalling and 25 per cent unwanted touching, groping or grabbing.
Most shockingly of all, just 12 of the nearly 3000 survey respondents reported not experiencing any of these things in Wellington.
Harrison and Lamont had not expected such a staggering response.
"We kind of threw ourselves in the deep end, and we went into this not thinking we were going to get that much attention," Harrison said.
"We thought this would end with us sending an email to council that wouldn't be read."
Among the thousands of survey responses were close to 800 written experiences. Harrison and Lamont looked over every single one. Some people would write "miles" of their own experiences.
"But I'm glad people felt that they could trust us with their information," Lamont said.
"And a lot of people said they were glad someone was doing it."
But the process of reading through sexual assault testimonies was "definitely gruelling at times," Harrison said.
"It was quite a hard process and we had to keep in mind that we're doing it for them," she said.
"We didn't want to disappoint anyone in any way. We wanted to uphold the stories of everybody who submitted."
The first of their three key asks was a redesign of the city's busiest streets to make them safer and more pedestrian-friendly.
"The current design of Wellington is not up to standard with construction, hectic roads and poorly lit streets," Lamont said.
"Overall there hasn't been a new vision or work done on this area in years and a new vision is long overdue."
They had suggestions on how Courtney Place and Cuba St could be redesigned to end sexual violence.
"We've got the ability to make the street lights brighter, we can cut trees to make the area clearer, we can even potentially remove the cars," Harrison said.
"It's such a crowded street - there's no area to sit, there's very little space. We're all literally shoulder to shoulder on a busy night."
The second ask was for a city-wide strategy - involving hospitality staff, management and patrons - to keep Wellington's bars, restaurants and clubs free from sexual violence.
Harrison said this would involve "comprehensive, evidence-based sexual violence training", which would also "target narratives of stranger-rape and victim-blaming attitudes".
She addressed the "social contract" proposed by bar owners, police and local council last month as "satisfactory for reducing violence and disorder". But it would not be a direct solution to sexual violence and harassment in Wellington, she said.
A third request called for increased funding for local sexual violence prevention organisations.
"There needs to be a bigger emphasis on prevention rather than only taking measures after the fact," Harrison said.
The pair had the backing of Wellington Alliance Against Sexual Violence (WAASV), formed in the past month after the petition.
WAASV organiser Kate Aschoff said they would also be pushing the agenda raised by the survey's findings.
"We're going to be pushing those three asks and trying to get commitment from council," she said.
"Even though these things are long-term projects, just getting a clearer public commitment on them would be really valuable and meaningful for us."
She said the group knew they needed Lamont and Harrison's involvement.
"And we kind of knew off the bat we needed to bring these young people into the room and have them be a part of it," she said.
She said the survey had also shown "the strength and care young people have for each other" in facing this issue.
"If our voices aren't going to be represented at these tables or if they're not going to take action on these things that are affecting so many people, we're going to stand up and do it."
Wellington City Council had contacted Lamont and Harrison to discuss the implementation of their requests, and the students felt positive about the city's future.
"Our voices have been heard so now we're just really excited for what's to come from this," Harrison said.
And Lamont hoped the conversation started in Wellington would spur other cities to take action against sexual violence.
"The idea is that the changes that happen in Wellington are hopefully reflected nationwide, because it's not just a problem in Wellington," she said.
"It's a problem everywhere."