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Culture of drunken and sexualised behaviour at Otago Uni Law Camps review finds

A review has revealed drunken and sexualised behaviour is rife at annual camps organised by Otago University law students.

The review was launched after a number of students raised concerns with Pro-Vice-Chancellor Humanities Professor Tony Ballantyne and reports of excessive drinking and nudity led to this year's camp being cancelled.

The independent review, by Dunedin barrister David Sim, spoke to six witnesses who had attended law camps between 2011 and 2017.

The report - which is partly redacted to protect individual privacy - concluded while there was no evidence of sexual misconduct or criminal offending, some students found the camp "a deeply disturbing and unpleasant experience".

The report details how students were encouraged by the organisers of the camps to drink alcohol, with a "large amount of alcohol available when they arrived at the camp".

"There is evidence that drinking alcohol was encouraged by the senior students," the report said, "and that drinking was not limited to the evenings but was encouraged throughout the day."

At one law camp, a topless woman lay on a male student who proceeded to do press ups and some of the 'Miss Natural Justice Competition' involved males stripteasing down to nothing.

The report found that "alcohol consumption and sexualised behavior have had the effect of leaving some students feeling excluded and uncomfortable," and concluded that there "has been an entrenched Law Camp culture for a number of years."

Pro-Vice Chancellor, Humanities Professor Ballantyne said he was disappointed by the findings.

"Second year law is a very important time for students to form life-long friendships. This is an important and valued aspect of student culture at Otago. However, that culture must be realised through events that are safe and inclusive for all.

"As an event intended to welcome a new group of students into the law programme, all students need to feel that they belong and are welcome and safe. Students cannot be allowed to feel pressured to take part in activities that may be unsafe, or where they feel uncomfortable.

The university is not going to ban the camps, which have been run by the Society of Otago University Law Students for over a decade.

The Society of Otago University Law Students have "indicated a willingness to make changes" the report said, but it is not yet known what the changes will be.

Dean of Law Professor Jessica Palmer said that across the wider legal profession there is a need to build a healthy, inclusive and safe culture.

"The Faculty of Law is acutely aware that, as legal educators, we play a key role in setting appropriate standards for our students as they prepare to enter the profession. We also want to ensure that our students continue to benefit from the special community feel for which Otago is known.

"I will work with SOULS to ensure that future events are part of a strong and healthy culture within the Law Faculty."

Professors Ballantyne and Palmer concluded that the University considers it feasible for law camps to be run safely, and intends to work with SOULS to help them lead future events that will be inclusive, safe and enjoyable for all students.

rnz.co.nz

View of The University of Otago in Winter, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Otago University (file picture). Source: istock.com


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