“Frightening, disgusting and unacceptable" - the words used by a group of Dunedin residents to describe the street harassment of women by young male university students.
Eleven people have signed an open letter to Otago University's Vice Chancellor Harlene Hayne, calling for action over the intimidation and verbal abuse, which includes a threat of rape, as well as racist and homophobic slurs by drunk students.
The letter says there is an implicit tolerance of this behaviour, fuelled by the view that it is simply orientation week and that “boys will be boys”.
"We worry how men who feel entitled to approach unfamiliar women to harass them in the street during daylight, treat young women undergraduates behind closed doors".
Emma Tumilty, PhD candidate at the University of Otago and one of the letter’s authors, says she and others are fed up with groups of men getting away with every day abuse. “We’ve been here and we’ve been around this kind of behaviour for a really long time and nothing seems to be done about it.”
While the inappropriate behaviour is likely isolated to a small group of students, says Emma, it is nonetheless not a small problem. “They’re a loud group of individuals and they have an influence over new and young students coming in. It’s definitely something the university has to address head-on.
“There is actually an underlying culture and attitude that need to be changed and addressed, and I think that is our people and our community’s responsibility.”
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Former Otago University student, Jessie-Lee Robertson, says she was subject to vile behaviour from students last Friday in Dunedin. She was in her car with her dog on Albany Street when a van load of young people pulled up next to her.
"[They] opened the sliding door of their van while my window was down and a boy said, 'If your dog wasn't in your car, I'd rape you.'"
The most shocking part, she said, was that it happened while she was in her car – at 5.30pm. She had already begun avoiding the main streets of "studentville" for fear of abuse, but did not expect it on the road.
“There was a lot of them in there, so it was definitely terrifying.”
She says the other boys in the van, as well as “a couple girls in the front” laughed and stared at her. “In hindsight, I would have followed them [and] got their rego, but at the time I felt quite vulnerable.”
Much of the problem is caused by out-of-towners she says. “They're all Auckland kids; it's not a culture that comes from the South Island - I really think that.”
A University of Otago employee, who doesn’t want to be named, believes that aggressive student behaviour is intensifying.
“I can attest that the behaviour during O week, and in general, is getting far worse each year. It’s as if these young adults have had their cultural compass shifted into the obscene and deplorable.”
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A text to RNZ’s Nine to Noon from a concerned mother points to online as a fertile breeding ground for disrespectful attitudes.
“My daughter just started uni in Dunedin this year,” the message read. “She was quite concerned about comments on her halls private group messages. Guys talking about ‘fresh meat’. Can't the halls/uni/police monitor and sort out this stuff?”
Dunedin taxi driver Stuart Mathieson emailed RNZ to say it’s not just students doing harm.
“As a taxi driver I am very aware that predatory males descend on Dunedin during O week,” he wrote. “Many are from Invercargill, Christchurch and even Wellington. Many are ‘tradies’ and farm workers from local towns and some are even in their 30s and even 40s.
“Frequently their cards don't work in the taxi and the naive often drunk girls pay for the privilege of being used.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis says the police will continue to work closely with the university where there is “behaviour of a concerning nature”.
“The police take a strong stance on any inappropriate behaviour which makes another person feel unsafe. We have no tolerance for offences of a racial, sexual or discriminatory nature. They will be actively investigated and where the evidence exists the offenders put before the court,” he says.