1 Mar 2016

Rape threats and racial slurs in student area

8:35 pm on 1 March 2016

A group of Otago University students has written to its vice-chancellor calling for action against an unacceptable level of verbal abuse in North Dunedin.

There has been a break-in at Otago University.

Otago University Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Women who are current and former Otago University students are reporting experiences of sexual harassment and other abuse, including a rape threat and racial slurs.

The problems spiked again last week during the annual orientation week.

Former Otago student Jessie-Lee Robertson said last Friday afternoon she was in her car on Albany Street outside the university when a group of mostly young men pulled up alongside.

"I was in traffic, waiting to go green, and a van pulled up next to me, opened its sliding door while my window was down and a boy said "If your dog wasn't in your car, I would rape you."

Ms Robertson believes the men were Otago University students.

"There was a lot of them in there, so it was terrifying. I was alone in my car, which is one of the safest places you can be.

"I don't put myself in positions where I am near a group of men, or a group of students, so for it to happen in my car, with my dog, my two safe things... it was awful," she said.

The rest of the young women and young men in the van just laughed along.

"Where is it coming from?" she asks.

"Who says to these boys it is okay to do this? What happens to the young girls who come from small towns to Dunedin to study, and meet these guys?"

This, and other recent incidents, have prompted 11 students to send a letter to the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Harlene Hayne, asking her to do something.

One was PhD candidate Emma Tumilty, who says the aggressive, harassing culture has been around a long time but it has to be broken.

"While it might be a small group of individuals, they are a loud group of individuals, and they have an influence of the new and young students coming in.

"So it's definitely something the university has to address head on and it has to be vocal and be seen to be doing it across the board."

"We can't tolerate that 'bro culture'."

It's a culture that has been around for a long time, and nothing seems to be done about it, she said.

Professor Hayne said she was incredibly empathetic for the women because that behaviour was completely unacceptable.

She replied to the students' letter saying Otago was developing two educational programmes, one for second semester this year, and another for Orientation next year.

She was in discussion with other universities overseas to identify the best kinds of programmes.

But she also warned that not all the problems were coming from students.

Anyone between 18 and 23 years old in Dunedin is identified as a student, but that was not always the case.

"I am happy to take responsibility for my students, but it is difficult for me to take responsibility for the entire city."

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