Shock after teen performers harassed by Lions fans in Auckland

HighJinx Aerial Arts Youth Company
The young teens were asked for handjobs and lap dance by older male rugby fans. Photo credit: HighJinx Aerial Arts Youth Company/Facebook

A group of young teenage girls was left feeling guilty and vulnerable after being subjected to shocking sexual harassment while performing for Lions fans ahead of the first Test in Auckland last month.

But they are upset a second performance planned for this weekend has been cancelled over "health and safety" concerns, saying it sends the wrong message about who is responsible.

The seven teenagers from the aerial arts youth company HighJinx, aged between 13 and 16, were performing circus acrobatics for passers-by in Kingsland, near Eden Park, on June 24 when what was supposed to be a fun afternoon turned horrific.

In a piece written for The Spinoff, artistic director Carlene Newall de Jesus said during the 90-minute performance, sexual comments were made about the girls' bodies, they were asked for handjobs, told to spread their knees wider and asked for a lap dance by much older male rugby fans.

Ms Newall said most of them were wearing Lions jerseys.

Lions supporters Auckland
It's thought Lions fans were responsible for most of the harassment. Photo credit: Getty file

The girls told Ms Newall they were left feeling dirty, guilty and self-conscious, uncomfortable, vulnerable and "smaller."

Ms Newall says the girls are experienced performers and weren't nervous before the show; they were just focused on performing well. 

"The girls were having a fun time. We spent a lot of time doing makeup and warming up and rehearsing," she told Newshub.

While the girls performed, Ms Newall said she heard comments from the passing crowds but didn't realise the extent of the abuse until she debriefed with the group. 

"I got the full range of comments that the girls had picked up. Some of them were said to individual girls and some of them were said loudly across the crowd. We were really shocked," she said.

The girls told Ms Newall they wanted people to understand what it feels like to have grown men make such comments. As part of their debrief, the group discussed how to go about changing the culture that leads to harassment like this.

It's also about people calling out sexual harassment when they see or hear it, Ms Newall said.

"It's not the girls' responsibility to stop performing in these scenarios. It's the responsibility of everyone who is watching and listening and interacting and hearing these sorts of things to call them out." 

After The Spinoff contacted the Kingsland Business Association for comment, they cancelled a second show which was planned around this weekend's upcoming Test, citing health and safety regulations. 

The HighJinx performers have already practiced for three hours this week for the show and are deeply disappointed by the cancellation. 

"The outcome we were hoping for was that the girls would be able to perform this weekend and that there might be some sort of subtle difference in what was heard because of the awareness about what happened last time," Ms Newall said. "Unfortunately it doesn't seem like that's going to happen."

"It's disappointing because of the message it sends these girls in terms of whose job it is to stop this from happening. Them being cancelled sends the message that the right thing to do is remove them."

HighJinx is an Auckland-based aerial circus performance group for young people.
HighJinx is an Auckland-based aerial circus performance group for young people. Photo credit: Loork/Supplied

Ms Newall says the fact the majority of men making sexual comments about the girls were Lions fans is not a comment on their cultural differences. 

"I don't know whether their voices were louder so we heard the comments more, or they were braver because they were in a country that wasn't theirs, but it wasn't just me that noticed most of the comments that were heard were coming from people wearing Lions jerseys."

The British & Irish Lions say they "condemn any inappropriate or offensive behaviour. 

"Lions supporters have received a fantastic welcome wherever they have gone in New Zealand and we hope that in return they have treated people with respect. For anyone not to do that is upsetting and unacceptable."