Rape stays as safety issue for the Bay
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
A DANISH backpacker's unsuccessful rape claim against a homeless Byron Bay man has again focused attention on the safety of women in the tourist hot spot.
The coastal mecca attracts 1.7 million visitors each year, including a high percentage of young backpackers, who drive the town's nightclub industry.
However, along with the influx of visitors, the Northern Rivers Sexual Assault Service has revealed the majority of attacks in Byron Bay now occur in public places.
Elsewhere in NSW, statistics show two thirds of all sexual assaults take place in homes where victims know the offenders.
A Lismore District Court jury on Thursday found a 51-year-old homeless Byron Bay man not guilty of raping a 21-year-old backpacker in November.
The Danish woman told police she woke up half-naked next to the man on a soiled mattress in a Byron Bay alley. She said the last thing she remembered was dancing at Cheeky Monkey's nightclub the previous evening.
The court heard the woman had drunk a cask of Lambrusco with a friend before attending the club and was later removed by security. Despite not recalling the entire evening, the woman said she had not consented to intercourse with the man she woke up next to.
The jury found the man not guilty because of a lack of evidence contradicting his statement the sex was consensual.
Cheeky Monkey's manager Mike Hasler said the responsibility for women's safety should be shared by the entire community.
"It's our responsibility if they're on the premises, but it's also partly the police, security guards, their friends and themselves," he said.
"It's our responsibility not to get them drunk, but if they've had too much to drink we try not to kick girls out alone and we send them home with their friends.
"We also have a bus service to take them home so they don't have to walk through town alone at two in the morning."
Northern Rivers Sexual Assault Service counsellor Sharon Brodi said men and women could take all precautions in the world but still be at risk of assault.
"There are a whole number of safety tips people can consider, but at the end of the day, if they are assaulted it's not their fault," she said.
"The entire community is responsible for safety. It's not just women and it's not just nightclubs. The entire community has to say 'we don't see violence as acceptable against anyone'."
However, Ms Brodi said a Sexual Assault Inter Agency set up to deal with attacks in the Byron Shire had been working on a number of projects to make the area safer and raise awareness.
She said they were looking into conducting a safety audit of nightclubs that would rate how safe they were and reward the best.
Other initiatives included a poster campaign for nightclubs and backpacker hostels and a local radio program.
A proposal by Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham to erect signs warning visitors about sexual assaults has not yet been considered by the inter agency.
German backpackers visiting Byron Bay Franzis Hold and Joana Kollner, both 19, said their best method of keeping safe was to stay together.
"Bad things happen everywhere to everyone, no town or person is safer than another," said Franzis.
"We always go out and go home together. We try to take care of each other."
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