First it was jelly wrestling, nudity and excessive drinking — now a mock attempted sexual assault skit in the Talent Quest is the latest allegation made about activities at the now-dumped annual Otago University law camp.
A woman, who the Herald on Sunday agreed not to name, attended the 2012 camp and said the “bizarre scene” unfolded in front of scores of students and a university staff member.
“A girl ran through in a red negligee, being chased by a guy, and he caught up to her and started ripping at her clothes. She was like ‘no, no, help’ … she’s trying to fight him off.”
The top half of the woman’s body was exposed — the woman’s nipples were covered by duct tape — before a second man involved in the skit came to her “rescue”, the woman said.
The rescuer then sprayed whipped cream on the woman’s chest and licked it off, the woman said.
The Herald on Sunday last week reported the comments of another 2012 attendee, who described a boozy camp with naked drinking games, jelly wrestling and a lot of social pressure.
The university confirmed last weekend that a complaint about alleged inappropriate behaviour at a camp “a number of years ago” had been made and was under investigation.
Two parents had also previously complained about the camp, a university-sanctioned event that has taken place annually for about 10 years. One complaint was about excessive drinking, another about “nudity during a student performance”.
Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities, said those taking part in future camps had been told respectful behaviour was required.
After the revelations, camp organisers, The Society of Otago University Law Students, said changes had been made ahead of this weekend’s camp, but the event was later cancelled after the university withdrew support.
‘She got a nickname – Boobs’
The woman spoken to by the Herald on Sunday this week said as well as the jelly wrestling — “it was only girls and it was a bit pervy, they had the pool set up and fold out chairs stacked around it with the older law camp leaders sitting on the chairs” — men at the camp took part in a striptease show called Miss Natural Justice.
The men – one was chosen or volunteered from each of the teams the students were split into – stripped naked for the audience and did “whatever other lewd acts they wanted to perform”.
“Obviously I wasn’t party to what kind of pressure the men got, but I imagine that not all of them would’ve wanted to strip down in front of their brand new classmates.”
But it was the mock attempted sexual assault which most shocked her.
“I don’t want to be madly PC but it just didn’t sit right with me at the time … a lot of people felt the same way. And [the female participant] sort of became known for that. Whenever I think of her, that’s the first thing I think of … she also got a nickname, Boobs, which is pretty unfortunate for her.
“People were saying that it was inappropriate and that it was a really bad look for her, and actually in hindsight I don’t think anyone ever said it was a bad look for him, the guy who was acting it out with her.”
‘We went through it, so you have to go through it too’
The woman also described how isolated the camp was “in a paddock way out in the wops” with bad cell reception.
“Not that I ever felt like I want to go home, but if you wanted to you probably couldn’t. You’re stuck out there with these people and you want to make friends and fit in.
“It’s almost like there’s this established culture of what happens at these camps and what’s expected … there’s this living culture that you’re coming into as an outsider and you have to conform to it.
“You’re not coming in as yourself, you’re coming in as someone who has to fit within the mould … we went through it, so you have to go through it too, which feeds on to what you get at law firms, like a lot of graduates are expected to work crazy long hours.”
‘Range of concerns received’ – University leader
Ballantyne said the university had received no information regarding a “mock sexual assault”, so couldn’t comment on that.
“We would take any such concerns seriously and we would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to us … the behaviour you outline is unacceptable.”
Anyone with concerns about the camps should contact him directly, Ballantyne said.
Since last week’s Herald on Sunday story the university had received “a range of concerns”, which were being examined. They couldn’t comment further at this stage.
The woman who spoke to the Herald on Sunday did so in response to others defending the camps or claiming previous allegations were false.
“I love Otago but at the same time things can be imperfect. I’m just hoping all the right information gets out there, especially with all the stuff that’s coming out about Russell McVeagh. It’s like the whole legal [profession] needs to have a look at the kind of culture that’s being promoted at the university level, because that’s spreading into the law firms.
“It starts with jelly wrestling and then suddenly you’re at a law firm and a partner’s making seedy comments to you.”
Woman’s own #MeToo experience ‘changes everything’
Now practising law, she had experienced an unwelcome sexual advance from a mentor.
She reported it and was happy with the firm’s response.
But the experience made her question earlier glowing feedback from her mentor, the woman said.
“You think ‘was I a good lawyer, or was he actually grooming me?”
The experience “changes your perspective on everything” — even antics from a camp six years ago.
“With hindsight now I look back to stuff like law camp and I’m like ‘Oh, ok. This is where the culture starts.'”