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New Zealand rugby team under fire over stripper assault allegations

Logo of the Chiefs' sponsor Gallagher Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Gallagher Group is one of the main sponsors of the Chiefs

A row has erupted in New Zealand after members of a major rugby team were accused of sexually assaulting a woman hired to strip at a club party.

Police are looking into allegations that players from the Chiefs - a club based in the city of Hamilton - groped and licked the woman as she danced.

The issue drew more attention after an executive from the club's major sponsor said the woman was partly to blame.

The team's management also initially said she was "not beyond reproach".

Women's groups said the comments were "shameful".

A second woman has now come forward making similar allegations.

'Intimidated'

In interviews this week, the first woman, identified only by her professional name Scarlette, said she had been booked to perform a strip routine at the Chiefs' "Mad Monday" end-of-season party at a local hotel.

She alleged that the players were drunk when she arrived and touched her inappropriately, including "forcefully" between the legs, poured alcohol on her, threw gravel at her and used sexual insults.

"I made it very clear that I didn't want to be touched," she told Radio New Zealand.

She said that when pressured, she agreed to let one player perform a sex act on her for NZ$50 (£28), but that four more then did so without her consent. She was not given the money.

She said she had felt "intimidated and scared" and that when she went to collect payment for the routine the team "short-changed" her.

"They wanted me to be a whore, which I wasn't prepared to be," she said.

'Not out of line?'

On Friday, a second woman, identified as Laura, said she was assaulted at last year's Mad Monday party. She told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that players had grabbed her and spat beer at her.

The team have not yet commented on the new allegations.

But the team's chief executive Andrew Flexman initially said Scarlette's allegations were "one person's accusation and her standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach".

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Users were quick to take to social media to condemn Ms Comer

In a second statement after his comments were widely criticised, he said: "We are taking, as an organisation, those allegations extremely seriously".

He added: "We are really, really disappointed in the actions of our players and in engaging the services of a performer."

Comments by a senior executive of the Gallagher Group, a Hamilton-based technology firm and the Chiefs' main sponsor, also triggered a backlash.

Margaret Comer told media outlet Fairfax: "If a woman takes her clothes off and walks around in a group of men, what are we supposed to do if one of them tries to touch her?"

"Perhaps the stripper shouldn't have been hired but I'm reluctant to say that the boys were out of line."

New Zealand's National Council of Women called the two responses "shameful".

"Taking your clothes off is not a license to touch and dismissing the allegations because of the woman's profession is a disgrace," it said in a statement.

Image copyright Waikato
Image caption A petition was even set up calling for Ms Comer to be fired from the Waikato Women's Refuge board

Ms Comer later apologised, saying that she felt "terrible" that her poor choice of words had caused hurt.

The Gallagher Group told the BBC that they "firmly believed in equal, fair treatment of women" and that full and formal investigation was under way.

New Zealand Rugby are also investigating.

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