Rape victim walks safely

May 30, 1997

Canadian's idea leads Newcastle women to take back the night .. with an escort

When Sandra Dunkin heard there had been a rape on campus at Newcastle University her thoughts flashed back to her own traumatic ordeal five years ago. While an undergraduate at Concordia Campus in Montreal, Canada, a stranger attacked and raped her in a university building.

The experience left her shell-shocked and she was forced to switch from a joint honours programme to a single major in Anglo Saxon studies after missing lectures for a few weeks. "I just couldn't cope," she says.

The Rape Crisis Centre helped her get through it and as a result of its care Ms Dunkin later became a volunteer for the Walksafe programme at McGill University. This is a well-established volunteer scheme aiming to prevent night-time attacks on women. Ms Dunkin subsequently took up postgraduate studies at Newcastle University and had the idea of launching a similar scheme there.

"When I read about the rape outside the computer user centre here I realised that a Walksafe scheme could work in Newcastle too," she says.

The idea was welcomed by the university and now it has teamed up with neighbouring Northumbria University and Newcastle College to launch a pilot project. The service is designed to provide a safe, friendly and reliable escort across campus after dark.

Students requesting the service phone a central dispatch number and two patrollers, at least one of whom is always a woman, are sent to escort the student to any campus or nearby location.

Being a volunteer is fun, Ms Dunkin insists. "I've met some really interesting people who I would never normally come across," she says.

Northumbria police support the initiative which is run entirely by volunteers - about 50 at the moment. Mary Barker, the project manager, said: "We have done some research into student perceptions of Newcastle and security was a major concern."

The city, which is home to some 60,000 students, is perceived to be unsafe even though this is not really the case now, according to the university. Volunteers are screened and self-defence and first-aid training are provided in case of emergencies. Volunteers commit between ten and 30 hours each semester to keep the campuses safe. "We never refuse anyone the service," Ms Barker added.

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