Concerns about female student safety on campus.
SOME female students at Wits University feel that their safety is more under threat than before. This is following the reports earlier this year of kidnappings in Braamfontein and the allegations of sexual assault at one of the residences.
A second year BA Law student, who preferred not to be named, told Wits Vuvuzela that the fear for her safety, on and off campus, especially in recent months prevents her from staying late on campus.
“We have a shuttle which runs until half past nine but waiting outside Senate House after those times is scary when there is no security waiting with you,” she adds.
Boitumelo Sepang, a chemical engineering student says that, “It was only with these abductions that I started to feel unsafe in Braamfontein. I won’t even go to the Wits Art Museum.”
In 2016, a female Wits Junction resident accused a fellow male resident of rape at the residence. This incident was followed by a protest at the residence that called for his removal from the premises.
Female students at the protests were angry at the fact that he had been allowed to continue his stay after he was accused and that safety of female students at the residence was compromised in the process.
Wits Junction was again at the centre of another alleged rape incident that prompted a “Name and Shame” campaign at the residence.
Director of the Gender Equity Office (GEO), Crystal Dicks, says that the lack of awareness about the extent of Gender Based Harm (GBH) is the biggest challenge that the office faces in combating the issue.
“An absence of a university wide appreciation of the extent of GBH on campus. It is clear from the complaints received by GEO that patriarchy and GBH on campus are widespread and resistant to change. We underestimated the extent of this reality and our ability to ubiquitously respond to this,” she says.
A third year mechanical engineering student, Tsholofelo Ndzeru, says that she discussed last year’s rape allegation with a male friend who commented that “when women say no, they usually mean yes”. This was a turning point in their friendship, she says, because she had thought that he knew better.
Third-year-accounting student, Cynthia Masombuka, believes that the failure of management to react effectively affects the number of incidents being reported.
Dicks adds that she has heard some of the complaints about the GEO.
“A policy review is currently underway to identify any gaps that may need to be filled or areas that need to be strengthened. We have a team of students working on this.”
Dicks says, “We are working hard at building confidence in the GEOs process. The intimidation and threats from perpetrators and those who protect perpetrators detracts from this work.” She went on to encourage students to provide feedback to the office.
Wits Vuvuzela, Wits Junction women begin a #NAMEANDSHAME campaign against sexual harassment, July, 27.
Wits Vuvuzela, Wits medical student lays assault charges against UJ student , July, 28.