Warning: Graphic content
The university college students are kneeling in the dirt. In front of them stand college men, their flies unzipped. A crowd of students — all male — gather around to watch the initiation ritual about to take place. Slowly each of the kneeling men will lean forward placing his lips tentatively against the base of the standing man's penis.
The ritual is only half complete.
Next, a student in the crowd will open a beer and begin pouring it down the base of the standing man's penis into the mouth of the kneeling student.
One student physically recoils after a member of the crowd tries to push his head onto the exposed penis.
Other men lean in and slurp the amber ale. Some of the men standing up have devised a kind of genital drinking cup: by pulling the skin of their pubic hair region forwards, they have formed a pouch of skin from which the kneeling student can directly suckle the alcohol from.
Welcome to "Lads' Weekend" — an annual initiation weekend for male college students from Evatt House at the University of Newcastle, news.com.au reported.
Held each year in Melbourne, the 'lads' from Evatt House will make the pilgrimage south where they will undergo a series of initiation rites. Foregoing their usual Evatt House hoodies, the men dress in suits bought at thrift shops so that they cannot be easily recognised as they perform the rituals — including the penis drinking — in broad daylight at St Kilda's Catani Gardens.
Today is the start of O-Week, which is known widely as "initiation week", at the university but the "Lads' Weekend" is generally held in a few months time.
A university spokeswoman said in a statement that the safety of its students across the campuses was its "top priority". We take any reports of inappropriate behaviour very seriously."
Former student Andrew* said: "The way that it operated with Lads' Weekend is that a fresher would be assigned to a returning student and before they left [to go to Melbourne] the freshers would be given hair cuts. The returning student essentially treats their fresher like sh*t who internalises it all as a rite of passage: we treat you like sh*t and next year you get to treat someone else like sh*t. It's a sick cycle."
Sharna Bremner, the director of End Rape On Campus Australia, is particularly concerned about vulnerability of junior students.
"Initiation rituals in general, are very problematic, but those which involve sexual contact are completely unacceptable and have the potential to become unlawful, especially if a student is ever pressured, forced or coerced into participating."
"We know that first-year students have such a strong need to fit in and belong, that it's very easy for them to end up participating in activities which might conflict with their normal values. Students will often say that no-one is forced to do anything they don't want, but pressure rarely works that way. It's often more subtle and inadvertent."
A two-month investigation by news.com.au into college culture across Australia has unearthed more than 200 pieces of footage associated with the University of Newcastle colleges, including footage of the penis drinking ritual occurring in 2014, 2015 and 2016. News.com.au understands that the tradition is on going.
Other footage from Evatt House "Lad's Weekends" also captures:
• A degrading ritual where students wear dog collars and behave like dogs. One student wearing a dog collar is seen kneeling down and drinking water directly out of a dog bowl left outside a cafe;
• Male students having their heads shaved in humiliating styles. Other students will then pour alcohol over the shaved portion of the man's head while a third man slurps the alcohol from his scalp;
• Students drinking off other unsanitary objects including the wheel of a wheelie bin, or out of their own shoes.
In another bizarre Evatt House tradition — also caught on camera — students are required to drink their own vomit as part of a drinking competition.
Known as "Throwie Cup", the rules of the game are simple: in pairs, students must consume 24 beers in the minimum amount of time. Students are provided with bins to throw up in. Those who vomit, must drink their own vomit to remain in the competition. (The time record was set in 2012 by "Team America" who consumed the 24 beers in 26 minutes. The winners are also required to hold their beer down for at least an hour after the competition, but are then free to "projectile wherever you want").
Footage obtained from the 2012, 2013 and 2015 annual Throwie Cup event shows students repeatedly vomiting, drinking their own vomit, and giving each other wedgies.
Andrew*, who attended Evatt House in 2014, says that "from the first day, alcohol was just present … consumption of alcohol was encouraged as a cheat-cut to meet people, especially during O-Week.
"The first year students, predominantly women, drank at a rate where they were throwing up. They were put in a situation where, if there were people there that wanted to commit assault, they were vulnerable to that.
"I think that for a lot of people, [going to college] is kind of an adventure. It's the first time away from home, and you're all going through the same thing … but the students who are straight out of school, they will drink more than they should. They don't tend to know what their limits are. O-Week is the time when people are put most at risk.
As part of the news.com.au investigation into university colleges, we also obtained footage from other University of Newcastle residences. This footage depicts:
• A student being cling-wrapped to a pole at night
• Sexual pressure to hook up, including a group of students repeatedly chanting "hook-up, hook-up, hook-up, hook-up" at an embarrassed female student;
• A college student leader yelling to the camera "someone stole my f**king phone, I'm looking at you c**t! If you stole my phone I'm going to f***ing rape you";
• Male students dancing naked in public areas, skateboarding naked in the hallways and doing nudie runs around the college grounds;
• Students trashing the campus and destroying property;
• A heavy binge drinking culture, which includes beer bongs, "lock-ins" (where students from the same living quarters congregate, spending the night in the communal living area where they get blind drunk) and various other traditions such as waking fresher students up early in the morning and chanting at them to drink.
In one particularly disturbing piece of footage, a student who is so intoxicated that he cannot stand is held down as another male student pours more alcohol down his throat, while a third student pulls his pants down.
In 2017, the University of Newcastle on-campus accommodation was named best in the sector, and UoN also won an "Excellence in marketing" award for its campaign promoting student lifestyle.
"If these are the best colleges in Australia to live in, imagine what must be taking place in the worst," says Ms Bremner, director of End Rape On Campus Australia.
"Watching boys drink their own vomit, or drink beer off each other's penises, is disturbing."
A spokeswoman for UoN said it "takes any reports of inappropriate behaviour very seriously".
"Our approach to campus living at UoN promotes a safe environment for all students while also respecting students' sense of autonomy to grow as adults throughout their university experience," she said.
"We do not tolerate disrespectful or unsafe behaviour amongst members of our community. UoN has a robust framework for managing conduct issues and has clear measures to take action when breaches of our standards are found to have occurred.
"Our Code of Conduct, the Student Conduct Rule and our ResLife Program are explicit in laying out our expectations to students. Every year, the university provides comprehensive orientation and training to incoming residents and our resident mentors. Staff and resident mentors are trained to respond to the individual circumstances to support students when instances arise.
"The criteria to receive the APSAA [Asia-Pacific Student Accommodation Association] Housing Operation of the Year Award (2017) demonstrated our commitment to student safety and a positive living experience at UoN. We are proud of our achievement and to continuing to support our students to live and learn at UoN."
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said in a statement : "This is exactly why there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to anyone being denigrated, abused or violated.
"There's no place for this sort of rubbish at our universities let alone in modern-day Australia.
"There's no doubt these cases are the exception not the rule in Australia's world-leading institutions and we expect all universities to take their responsibilities for student safety and wellbeing seriously and to act. Some university leaders clearly need to take a good hard look at the sort of environments that have been allowed to ferment on their campuses and at their colleges.
"Many of these examples appear to involve consenting adults who have forgotten the age of smartphones mean behaviour and comments like that will rightly be called out and follow them forever. I'd urge anyone who has been abused or assaulted to speak up and approach police and the tertiary regulator TEQSA will be investigating these examples to ensure that universities are adhering to the strict student safety and wellbeing standards they set.
"Many universities have taken big steps since last year's report on sexual assault and rape from the Australian Human Rights Commission and I urge all to deliver action that matches the spirit of their sentiments at the time of release. TEQSA has been closely monitoring the sector on their responses."
* Name has been changed.
- Nina Funnell is an ambassador for End Rape On Campus Australia and the author of The Red Zone Report.