Reports of boozing and nudity at Otago law camps supported

Feedback from seven students interviewed prior to a law camp review backed up media reports of alcohol-focused activities, sexual behaviour and nudity, the University of Otago has revealed.

Earlier this year, controversy raged around the annual second-year law camps organised by the Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls), after former students reported jelly-wrestling and nudity.

The university announced in April Dunedin barrister David Sim would look into the camps, after the university interviewed eight students who attended camps between 2011 and 2016.

His investigation is expected to be completed by the end of July.

A document containing the background to the investigation and its terms of reference was released yesterday after a request from the Otago Daily Times.

``The pro-vice chancellor for humanities (Prof Tony Ballantyne) invited any students (past or present) with concerns about past law camps to contact him,'' the terms of reference said.

``Eight students came forward and were interviewed about their experiences in order to determine whether there was a reasonable factual basis for the media reports.''

One female student came forward and said she had a positive experience at the 2016 camp and felt ``safe and respected at all times''.

However, the other students interviewed said most, if not all, activities had been ``alcohol focused''.

``It was said that pressure was put on attendees to drink to excess, many activities had a sexual focus frequently involving nudity, there was a ban on mobile phones which removed access to outside support, and a `what happens at law camp stays at law camp' culture discouraged the raising of concerns,'' the document said.

``While the interviewees displayed different levels of tolerance to the behaviour described, their feedback was consistent with media reports which referred to excessive drinking, nudity, and sexual behaviour.''

The law camp was cancelled this year, after the university withdrew its support for the event.

It was unclear from the students' feedback whether students who were reluctant to get involved ``felt pressure to do so'', the document said.

Mr Sim would look into whether the alleged behaviour occurred and, if so, whether it was `` the norm not an exception''.

He was also asked to establish whether the conduct described in the media ``arises from a law camp culture so entrenched as to make it unlikely that future camps could be held without risk to the health and wellbeing of attendees''.

If in the course of the investigation Mr Sim became aware of behaviour which could breach the code of student conduct or the university's ethical behaviour policy, he would advise vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne, providing the evidence and the allegations.

Prof Hayne would then be able to order a separate investigation.

Mr Sim could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon, and Souls was unable to respond to requests for comment before the deadline.

 

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