Rhodes University condemns rape

Rhodes University condemns rape and sexual violence, and is committed to upholding the Constitution of South Africa, the Supreme Law of the Land.  We acknowledge that while we are a microcosm of society in which sexual violence and rape are pervasive, our University does not and cannot tolerate this culture. Rape culture which refers to cultural practices and norms that uphold patriarchy and tolerate gender-based violence as a norm is endemic in our society. Every person has a right to their bodily integrity. One rape, is one too many. We acknowledge that there are flaws within the systems that are meant to ensure justice when one’s rights have been violated.

And so, our students have a right to be angry. Society fails survivors of rape daily as they are often not believed and securing a conviction is excruciatingly difficult and presents a significant barrier to reporting cases of rape. We need to debunk the ‘stranger danger’ myth, as more often than not rape is not reported because these assaults take place within intimate relationships. Rhodes University has committed to address our policies and protocols to ensure that we rid our institution of the pernicious scourge of sexual violence and rape and provide a safe, secure and supportive space for survivors of rape and sexual violence.

The challenge of ridding our University of the pernicious scourge of sexual violence and rape calls for a big, bold and imaginative response and not just tinkering around the margins.To that end, an intermin committee has been established to draw up the terms of reference for a task team, comprising staff members and students and in the interim is being Chaired by Prof Catriona Macleod and Ms Thabani Masuku, to look into ways that the University can strengthen its responsiveness to cases of sexual harassment or violence.  The following are some of the suggestions for the terms of reference for the Task Team:

  1. Make recommendations concerning the ways in which the experiences of survivors/victims of sexual violence can be heard in a safe, confidential, supportive space; recommend ways in which current spaces may be enhanced/improved upon.
  2. Review all policies and procedures relating to sexual offences, gathering input from all stakeholders and interested parties through open invitation. Engage in a reflective process in which the inadequacies of the present situation are highlighted and better ways of dealing with issues of sexual violence instituted. Recommend ways in which staff (including Grades 1 to 6 staff members) and student knowledge of policies and procedures may be improved in an on-going and sustained manner.
  3. Recommend ways in which issues related to sexual violence, rape culture, and hetero-patriarchal gendered norms can be embedded in the curriculum and other activities in the university (e.g. Orientation week, residences, work with trade unions) in a sustained manner, and in a way that emphasises the prevention sexual violence and its locatedness within gendered power relations.
  4. Conduct an audit of systemic issues (e.g. institutional culture; staff-student relations; relations between different grades of staff, attitudes of management, academics, students, administrative and support staff) that promote or undermine rape/sexual violence culture at Rhodes University. Recommend ways in which systemic issues that promote rape/sexual violence culture may be addressed.
  5. Investigate ways in which the university does, and may further, engage locally (with the immediate Grahamstown community and businesses) and nationally (e.g. policy, law, research, activism) regarding sexual violence and rape.
  6. Develop a system of monitoring and evaluating the embedding of the recommendations within general policy and procedures of the university, and the implementation of accepted recommendations.

In the short term, we have committed to:

(a)    Increasing the capacity of our Harassment Office so that survivors of rape and sexual violence are attended to without delay;

(b)   strengthening and expanding the existing sensitivity training provided to staff and students so that they can deal empathetically and in a caring manner towards survivors of sexual violence and rape;

(c)    Using external prosecutors for rape cases;

(d)   A task team will be established to review the Rhodes University Sexual Assault Protocol. This Task team will feed into the work of the one chaired by Prof Macleod and Ms Thabani Masuku, in the interim.

(e)    Any student who is accused of any offence will always be treated in line with Section 35 of the Constitution.

(f)     All students found guilty of misconduct including rape will have their transcript endorsed.

Rhodes has in place several initiatives to raise awareness of sexual violence and rape and support for students. During Orientation, we have had extensive programmes and activities including shows by the drama department with specific education agendas on sexual violence. Each year the student’s programme is adapted according to feedback from the previous year. Rhodes has a committee dedicated to addressing the issues of gender-based violence GENACT. It also has a Silent protest committee. With new influxes of students every year, this work needs to be continuously developed.

This year the University celebrates the eleventh year of the annual Silent Protest, the largest national awareness-raising campaign against rape and sexual violence, the University will continue these initiatives and re-examine where we might add and or alter our current initiatives.

The University agrees with students on all the issues that they have raised. The one area where we have not been able to find each other with our students is in respect of the action that has to be taken against individuals whose are accused. The University must accord all students the right to a fair trial in line with Section 35 of our Constitution.

Source:  Communications and Advancement

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