Don't Guess the Yes: Wellington's bar staff and police unite to combat sexual assault

Bar staff, police and the council are teaming up to prevent sexual assault in the capital during the festive season. 

More than 50 venues have teamed up with the police and Wellington City Council for Don't Guess the Yes, which launches over the weekend of November 23-24. 

"We want to let people know that behaviour's not acceptable in Wellington and we won't stand for it," says Matt McLaughlin, Hospitality New Zealand Wellington branch president and managing director of Hoff Hospitality Group. 

"You won't be welcome into any bar in the city, it'll ruin their night, and hopefully the next morning they're going to say, 'You know what? I'm going to change my behaviour next week,'" he said of troublemakers. 

The first training session at Wellington's Jack Hackett's Irish Pub in June "was an amazing success, with 120 of Wellington's bar staff turning up voluntarily", says Mr McLaughlin.

He hopes the campaign will give staff the resources to help. Rather than being too nervous to go into the situation, he says, there's "some easy conversation starters to just walk and have a chat to people and then feed off the body language".

Don't Guess the Yes supporters include the Sexual Assault Prevention Network, the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association and the Massey University Students' Association. 

People working in the hospitality industry "love the fact that we're looking after them and that we want to look after their friends when their friends are out there", Mr McLaughlin told Newshub. 

"We're not just money-grabbers sitting there trying to fill our pockets, but an independent industry with a strong social conscience." 

Between October 2016 and September 2017, there were 5828 sexual assaults reported nationwide, according to police. 

Sexual violence has a low conviction rate in New Zealand, with only 13 percent of cases recorded by the police resulting in conviction, Rape Prevention Education says, adding that up to one-in-three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. 

Wellington Det Sgt Ben Quinn says the Don't Guess the Yes campaign is part of a wider conversation, seen with the #MeToo movement. He hopes the campaign will be launched nationwide. 

"The collaboration between hospitality and police is great," he told Newshub. "We're happy to ride the wave of #MeToo and get the word out there."