Silent protest breaks the silence on sexual abuse

Wits students took a stand against sexual violence Wednesday, showing solidarity for survivors and raising awareness.

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Witsies marched in solidarity at the Wits silent protest on Wednesday, lead by the organisers. Photo: Valerie Robinson.


Sexual abuse, violence and rape is something that is a reality. The person sitting next to you in class could be a victim or a perpetrator. This week’s silent protest took a stand to break the cycle of silence.

A 3rd Year Law student speaking to WitsVuvuzela told how she was raped at a party in March this year. The person was not a stranger but rather one of her boyfriend’s friends. “I am doing this to break the cycle. Knowing I have a voice, and other women have a voice” she said.

One of the major issues the protest dealt with is the ‘shaming’ that takes place, when the victim might want to report it.

The student said when she reported it to the police their response was, because there was alcohol involved it simply comes down to her word against his.

A second Wits honours student also told her story of Sexual abuse. She was subject to sexual abuse by someone very close to her over an extended period of time. The abuse began when she was just 11 years old.

Unlike the first student she did not report the incident to the authorities. She said she was too ashamed and insecure to be able to talk about it.

Neither of the students sought any type of counselling.  Bertrand Leopeng, an event organiser and an intern psychologist working at the CCDU said that they are starting a rape survivors group at the CCDU in order to accommodate students who require it.

The dean of students, Dr Pamela Dube, addressed the crowd at the start of the march, on Wednesday.

Reading a letter from one of the founders of the protest she said, “The testimony by survivors is eerily similar, whether it comes from a second year Wits student, or from a 70 year old Umlazi pensioner. All the stories speak of fear, of shame, of hopelessness. Very few of the stories feature the police, hardly any end with jail time for the perpetrators.”

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

The Seventh annual Sex Actually festival produced by Drama for Life (DFL) is here, with the theme “Love, Intimacy and Human Connection”.

A plethora of theatre performances, workshops, sex talk series and community dialogues are taking place at the Wits Theatre. The festival started this week and runs till the end of the month.

It will offer a platform for audiences to critique social change interventions in sex-related issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexual violence and abuse.

In the opening address for the festival, DFL director Warren Nebe, said the festival was launched as an initiative to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa.

He said the aim of the festival is to explore human connections in all its shapes and forms. DFL wanted to create a festival thats transcends race, class, gender and sexualities.

Tarryn Lee, Sex Actually festival director, said this year the festival is a public intervention looking to use exciting mediums to talk about sex, relationships and HIV/AIDS since it is often viewed as a heavy subject. They use dialogue to break the silence around the stigmas attached to taboo issues.

“In South Africa specifically, sex is often a very heavy subject in our society … It’s not always a celebrated subject and is also filled with many myths and taboos,” she said.

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TALK SEX: Drama For Life students perform Ships by Night by Megan Godsell in the opening of Sex Actually festival at Wits Theatre. Photo: Anazi Zote


Lee said the myths and taboos around sex need to be de-mystified and brought to light so that sex-related issues “are challenged in our community, our families and work space”.

South African National AIDS Council (SANCA) Deputy Chairperson, Mmapaseka Steve Letsike, appeared at the official opening of the Sex Actually festival. Her opening address started by praising women for their fight for human rights.

“By talking we facilitate dialogue and conversation about the certain taboos that encircle our society,” Letsike said.

Although she highlighted the triumphs of women who fought political struggles she said the current fight over HIV/AIDS is prevalent in young women aged 15-24. According to the Mail & Guardian, the rate of HIV amongst females is four times higher than that of males in the same age group.

“We have committed to really focus on young women,” said Letsike, adding that SANCA had also  launched the Zazi campaign, which is about knowing yourself, embracing yourself and knowing your status, ” Letsike said.

Zazi is a Zulu word meaning “know yourself”. It reminds women to know their inner strength, value and what it means to be themselves so they can overcome adversity. The programme was launched at the University of Johannesburg  on Soweto campus in partnership with the Department of Social Development.

In the meanwhile, Wits students at DFL take pride in this year’s festival performances because it raises awareness on issues which continually face youth. Damilola Apotieri, Masters student at DFL, thinks the festival is a good opportunity for students to lend themselves to different conversations around sex and relationships in hopes to generate more knowledge on these issues.

“Personally, I will recommend that all Wits students attend as there can never be any better platform to engage with such issues,” Apotieri said.