Wits Vuvuzela takes a look at the sexual harassment policies of the University of Pretoria, University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes University.

South African university campuses are now acknowledged as key spaces for debilitating rape culture and sexual violence. According to research done by the Medical Research Council in 2009, it shows that rape in South Africa is “deeply embedded in the ideas of manhood” and it can happen to a man or a woman.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape at universities have received closer scrutiny this past year with protests across campuses exposing the extent of the problem.

Wits Vuvuzela took a look at three university campuses and the structural changes that have been undertaken in response to these protests.

Wits University

In 2013, the university dismissed four staff members for sexual harassment after media coverage and complaints from the student body. Students at Wits are continuing their bid for an end to rape culture through campaigns like #IAmOneInThree which was launched this year. This week, the 10th annual Silent Protest took place at Wits bringing together staff and students who were either victims or supporters of victims.  One of the people that shared their testimony at the event said, “You realise it is not abstract, it’s something that happens a lot”.

At the level of university management, Wits has passed the Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault and Rape Policy and Procedures in 2013 and undertook a review last year. It is through this policy that the Gender Equity Office (GEO) was established. The GEO is intended to assist victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus and is located on the 20th floor of University Corner.

Other facilities that exist to address the issue of sexual harassment at Wits include the Sexual Harassment and Safety Office, and the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee. Additional support structures include the Health and Wellness Centre on East Campus, Residence Life and Campus Control and Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU).


University of Pretoria

Despite reports of alleged violations of women at the University of Pretoria earlier this year, no formal investigation was undertaken as victims did not formally report their experiences. Members of the UP Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has said that the university has not been doing enough to bring a stop to sexual violence against women on campus, according to a report by EWN.

The Code of Conduct on the Handling of Sexual Harassment is the policy that governs how sexual harassment is handled at UP. The policy was established in 2008.

This year a panel of 11 people was constituted to deal with victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Additional support is offered through the campus Protection Officer, Student Council member and Student Support Services Division.

Rhodes University

Rape culture at Rhodes University HAS tackled head on this year through the circulation of the #RUReferenceList in April this year. The list purported to name sexual aggressors at the Grahamstown campus. A protest under the banner of #RUReferenceList, was sparked by the removal of posters aimed at highlighting rape culture at the institution.

The vice chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, said to EWN at the time of the protests that “Rhodes University cannot condone the sharing of such information, which is a complete violation of another’s rights. It destroys the presumption of innocence”.

A broad policy titled “Eradicating Unfair Harassment and Discrimination,” produced in 2012 and reviewed in 2014 offers some remedy to victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. To date, the university is yet to produce a policy specifically addressing sexual harassment and violence.

Support structures at Rhodes include Campus Protection, Health Care Centre and Dean of Students Officer.

The University does provide pose-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to victims if a report is made at the Health Care Centre, although laying a charge is not required.

Rhodes is the only institution out of the three that provides access to PEP although a call for access was made at this year’s Wits Silent Protest.

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