An initiative launched this month by ACON’s Anti-Violence Project (AVP) comes against the background of a wider safety push by the organisation in the lead-up to the Sydney Gay Games.

The Safe Place Program, which was officially unveiled on 1 October, provides places of refuge for gays and lesbians who feel threatened on the street.

Under the program, businesses identify their premises as secure through a familiar means.

Participating businesses will have a Safe Place pink triangle put on their door or window to identify them as a safe haven for people who feel their safety is threatened, said ACON president Adrian Lovney. AVP’s On Any Street campaign highlighted that homophobic violence is still a reality for many gay men and lesbians in Sydney and the Safe Place Program will help improve the sense of safety within our community.

So far, more than 100 businesses have registered for the initiative, which was originally developed in 1991 as part of the Whistle Project.

The Safe Place Program comes as the AVP begins to implement a wider safety strategy in time for the upcoming Gay Games. This broader approach will primarily target two types of anti-gay and lesbian violence.

Brad Gray, coordinator of the AVP, told the Star that the first of these areas involved working with staff of gay and lesbian venues. We have reports from a number of venues on Oxford Street where the staff have been violent towards people, he said.

To address the problem of staff aggression, Gray said that the priority of the AVP was education. The level of violence has probably got to do with a lack of training and a lack of training in the industry.

We’re looking at trying to regulate security who work in gay and lesbian venues.

The second strand of the AVP’s program will address a decidedly more sinister form of violence. There have been reports to the Anti-Violence Project Line, to the police and to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sexual Assault Service that have identified that drink-spiking has been increasing, Gray told the Star. That [drink-spiking] has led to both sexual assaults and robberies, and there may be patterns emerging.

One of these patterns is especially relevant in light of the Gay Games. According to Mark Griffiths, deputy manager of the Eastern and Central Sexual Assault Service based at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, drink-spiking is typically a problem in areas with high tourist numbers.

One of the groups that does seem vulnerable to these sorts of assaults are visitors, backpackers, tourists, said Griffiths.

He added that the drink-spiking ruse is not necessarily a new phenomenon. We’ve been monitoring a rise in it since about mid-1998, and approximately 20 percent of our crisis intake appears to have been drugged and assaulted, Griffiths told the Star.

Added to this increase was the stigma attached to sexual assault by some people. Griffiths said this was especially the case for male victims. Within the community a lot of people just don’t believe that men can be assaulted, he said. The reality is they can [be], and they are being assaulted.

To combat drug-related sexual assault, the AVP will first aim to increase community awareness of the ploy. We’re looking at producing a poster that will go up in the venues as well as a beer coaster, said Gray. And then we’ll have some advertisements and we’ll also be doing some education with venue staff so they know what to look for.

As well as this awareness-raising push, the variety of assistance available at the Eastern and Central Sexual Assault Service is reassuring for victims. Griffiths said that the Service provided counselling and forensic medical examination, as well as emergency treatment through Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

He stressed that the facility’s emphasis was on accessibility. Our services are confidential, they’re free, they’re for males as well as females that have been sexually assaulted, and it’s always our intention that our service is seen to be available to all members of the community and therefore is seen as gay-friendly.

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