Students on campus are signing a petition against alleged sexual harassment by private security.
Over 500 Wits students are signing a petition against the alleged sexual harassment by private security on campus hired to provide “operational control” in the face of fees protests.
“Wits University ought to be free space where females need not to worry about their safety,” says third-year BA student Mpho Ndaba, who started the petition.
The petition aims to raise awareness about sexual harassment on campus. Ndaba says the more female students he has spoken to, the more he realised that the harassment was being normalised.
According to Ndaba, students are not reporting these incidents because they think it’s normal or okay.
One of the students complaining, fourth-year BADA student Swankie Mafoko, says she was verbally harassed by the private security while she was reporting for VOW FM. Mafoko says she was inside Solomon House, when some security guards dressed in black and red came and stood behind her. The men started making sexual remarks about her body in a demeaning way.
She says she wasn’t bothered at first because she is used to catcalling at taxi ranks and other public spaces but she was shocked at the intensity of these guys’ remarks.
“What shocked me was when they were describing my breasts,” says Mafoko.
She says she was so shaken that she put on her denim jacket to cover her breasts and she immediately left without finishing her reporting.
“I panicked and walked away,” Mafoko says.
Mafoko says she did not report her incident because she didn’t see them and she doesn’t believe she can prove her victimisation.
“You can’t prove that kind of harassment on video, it’s my word against theirs,” Mafoko says.
Maria Wanyane, of the Wits Gender Equity office, says they have not received any official complaints about sexual harassment by private security so far.
Private security, who are mainly male, have been stationed on campus since October 2015 at a cost of nearly R2-million per month.
According to the Wits Gender Equity Office, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be physical. It can be any unwanted attention which can include heckling, whistling and catcalling.
“It’s important for everyone who has experienced any form of harassment to come forward and report it,” says Wanyane.
Wanyane says even if someone is harassed on campus by someone they don’t know, the unit has the power to view security footage and assist in identifying alleged perpetrators.