A group of students from Dundee are campaigning for improvements in safety for people walking the city’s streets late at night.
Abersafe was set up by 20-year-old Abertay University student Olivia Robertson following the murder of Sarah Everard in London at the hands of a serving police officer.
The group began by campaigning for voluntary training against gender-based violence at Abertay but recently decided to expand online following the rise in spiking cases across the UK, to share resources and help students stay safe on nights out.
Last week, members of the group took part in the Girls Night In movement, where people were encouraged to boycott night-time venues for one night to encourage owners to take action against spiking in clubs.
But Olivia says that was just the first step in making the city a safer place for people who head out at night.
Abersafe is now calling for Dundee City Council to work on increasing the number of streetlights in the city, particularly in dark alleyways close to popular night-time venues.
After conducting its own survey online with nearly 200 students in Dundee, the group found that many feel unsafe when walking alone or with friends in the city.
Olivia said: “A lot of people came forward after I started Abersafe to say that they do not feel safe walking home at night, and even when they’re with their friends they’ve been harassed on the streets, they haven’t felt safe.
“They feel a lot of the places in Dundee like the dark alleyways are quite dingy and cause anxiety, especially on nights out.
“I’m going to try and get involved with the council so I want to take it a lot further than just universities.
“What I’m going to do is create a map in Dundee and we’re going to pinpoint every single street light and known CCTV cameras.
“That’s going to give me a basis to take to the council and say, ‘these are the areas where students are frequently going that do not have enough light, they don’t have enough safety’.”
The group also hopes to map out ‘safe routes’ for students walking home after a night out to ensure they are staying in well-lit areas and near main roads.
Although the group is currently called Abersafe, it hopes to rebrand as Taysafe to be inclusive to all students in Dundee.
Olivia says she wants to work with both Abertay and Dundee University to increase awareness around their taxi and bus schemes and to set up workshops, coffee mornings and future campaigns.
The group is also keen to increase awareness of taxi and bus schemes run by both universities in Dundee.
Olivia said: “It’s all about making sure everybody is safe in Dundee no matter who they are.
“Everybody is wanting to go out and have a good time but it just doesn’t feel safe enough to do that and with the safe routes it’ll mean that people can plan their routes ahead a lot easier.”
In addition, Abersafe wants to see venues in Dundee publicising the measures they are taking around spiking and assaults on their premises, and to ensure staff are trained in initiatives such as Ask for Angela, as well as being given bystander and consent training.
Council ‘happy to meet with group’
A spokesperson for Dundee City Council said: “We welcome the engagement and mobilisation by students and young people in the city on this issue, and have recently been working with Reclaim the Streets (a group of young people/students) as part of the planning towards the UN’s 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence.
“Experience from across the country suggests that adding lighting to a previously dark area does not necessarily stop anti-social behaviour, but makes it more likely to move it to another unlit area.
“This is one of the reasons that the Dundee Violence Against Women Partnership is putting considerable effort into challenging the root cause of behaviours such as spiking and assaults in the context of violence against women.
“Our streetlighting is designed in accordance with the British standard for lighting roads and footpaths and we have recently completed a two-year roll out of more than 18,000 new energy efficient, long-life LED lights throughout the whole of the city.
“We always look at requests for lighting and would be happy to meet with this group to focus on any areas of concern.”
Universities ‘keen to support’ work
A spokesperson for Abertay University said: “We commend our students for creating the new Abersafe initiative and are keen to support their work to augment our existing good practices in this area.
“The safety of our students and staff is paramount and we have robust processes in place to ensure all members of the Abertay community have the information, support and reporting tools needed in relation to gender-based violence.
“We work closely with the University of Dundee and DUSA to develop and promote messaging that applies to all students, and also with city partners such as Dundee City Council, NHS Tayside and Police Scotland to share best practice initiatives and targeted safety information campaigns at key times of the year.
“The university operates a 24/7 student support helpline and our Support Enquiry Zone acts as a one-stop-shop for access to support, counselling and our mental health advisors.”
Dimitris Vidakis, president of DUSA, said: ‘‘DUSA and Dundee University welcome any new measures that enhance student safety and we would be happy to meet with Abersafe to discuss their plans.
“We already have a number of initiatives in place to ensure that students are not only safe when they are within our building, but that they also get home safely.
“Our free night bus service shuttles students door to door, to and from their residence, every evening during term time, whether they are studying in the library or socialising in our venues.
“For students not on campus, DUSA have an agreement with Tele Taxis to make sure everyone gets home safe and sound.
“If students find themselves struggling to pay, the driver will take the matriculation card and drop students home.
“The card will then be handed into DUSA and students can pay the taxi later.”