Otago Law 'a smorgasbord of young women'

The University of Otago has confirmed one complaint is under investigation.
The University of Otago has confirmed one complaint is under investigation.
A former University of Otago law student claims members of the law faculty have acted inappropriately towards women for years.

"Otago Law has been a . . . smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for men in the faculty," said the woman in a message to a third party following a Herald on Sunday report today.

The woman agreed to allowing the Herald to use her comments today, albeit anonymously.

​"Even if relationships weren't consummated, there were a lot of inappropriate conversations, caresses and carry-ons," she said.

In one of her first days at the university she recalls a staff member walking behind her and complimenting her physique.

"He once walked up the stairs behind me, whispering in my ear, 'you have such a lovely bum'.

"Being young ... I felt so special because for years I was his favourite," the woman said.

The Herald on Sunday reported today on claims of drinking and nudity at a camp that second-year law students of Otago attend.

 

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Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities at the University of Otago, sent out an email to all Otago Law students today following the story.

"The story focuses upon very serious issues that require careful examination.

"Yesterday some concerns were also raised with me about alleged inappropriate behaviour at a past Law Camp and a process will be initiated this week to look into those issues.

"Any student with concerns about past Law camps or other events should contact me directly," Ballantyne said in the email.

Yesterday, one student told the Herald on Sunday she attended the camp in 2012 and said it rapidly descended into "an American fraternity house".​

The 25-year-old said she soon discovered it was, in her opinion, a weekend designed to get the students drunk and to take part in "bizarre" activities.

Some were fun, but others were uncomfortable, she said.

The group of about 150 students was split into groups of five that had one fifth year student as their leader.

One girl was selected from each group to take part in a jelly wrestling competition.

"There was a sense of confusion and some were a little grossed out by it — obviously no one wants to call it out because there was a lot of social pressure.

"All the senior fifth year students pulled out chairs right next to the pit while everyone sort of sat back."

She had not laid a complaint, but yesterday Otago University confirmed one complaint was under investigation.

"We received concerns from a person this afternoon about a law camp from a number of years ago," a spokeswoman said.

"The concerns outline inappropriate behaviour allegedly witnessed at a law camp. This concern is taken seriously and will be promptly investigated."

The university said it had also previously received complaints from two parents — one about excessive drinking and another about "nudity during a student performance".

The Herald on Sunday spoke to three other students who did not want to be identified but told similar stories from camps they had attended.​

Ballantyne said in the university statement that the concerns were addressed and "it was made clear to those participating in future camps that respectful behaviour is required of them".

In a statement, the university went on to say that staff members attend the camp.

"Mostly the person who attends is the Dean of the Law Faculty as an invited guest."

The Dean, Professor Mark Henaghan, 63, last week announced he was leaving his role after 19 years to take up a post with Auckland University next year.

Asked if any students had complained about the behaviour of staff, the spokeswoman said: "Student safety and welfare at these events is paramount.

"In light of today's concerns about a camp held several years ago further inquiries are required about this event," she said.

It comes as the culture of the legal profession in New Zealand is under intense scrutiny after allegations that male Russell McVeagh employees engaged in sexual acts with female interns.

 - Herald on Sunday

 

 

 

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