What is consent?
Mofokeng: Firstly, consent is never implied. That’s a very big thing for me; you can’t just assume that because I was wearing a short skirt I wanted it. Consent is genuinely me saying “yes”. It’s not me saying “maybe”. It’s not me saying “yes” to a kiss, which automatically means I’m saying “yes” to sex. Consent is “I’m allowing you to do this to me”, and then later on I’ll affirm that “I’m allowing you to do this to me as well.” It’s never tacit. It’s always a “yes”.
Letsoalo: So it’s explicit – explicit confirmation of something. If I remain silent, that is not consent. It must be explicit – that’s to say “yes”. You should never say or imply “What if?” or “Maybe”. So for me, consent is something that you have to explicitly state and say.
Are there misconceptions surrounding consent?
Letsoalo: Definitely. A lot. Because, as she [Mofokeng] said, sometimes consent is implied because she’s half-naked or she’s wearing a skirt or she’s showing cleavage – she’s asking for it. Also, “stealthing”, where someone agrees to have sex with a condom and you don’t use a condom – there’s no consent because that’s not what she consented to.
Why do you think these misconceptions surrounding consent exist?
Mofokeng: I think it goes back to these examples…people have it so ingrained in them that because I do one thing, it automatically [leads to] the next thing. So, because I got my Law degree, I’m automatically a lawyer, but I’m not – I’ve still got articles to go through. Just because you buy me a drink at a bar, and I think this happens to a lot of girls at varsity, just because you buy me a drink at the bar, it doesn’t mean I’m going home with you for the night. So I think people just have it ingrained in them that one thing leads to the next, and it’s just a very toxic way of thinking.
What is rape culture?
Mofokeng: Rape culture, to me, is anything that perpetuates the stigma that rape is okay, and sexual assault is okay, and patriarchy and misogyny – all of that stuff. Rape culture is a guy making a joke about rape and all of his friends laughing at it. By laughing at this joke you’re enabling this guy to continue. You’re saying to this guy, “It’s okay, you can continue making rape jokes”. It goes further. By touching this girl’s ass – “It’s okay, We’re boys. You can do that to a girl.” That’s what rape culture to me is. Rape culture is not respecting – I won’t even say women, because rape culture is also very evident amongst male rape victims. You know, people think that men can’t get raped, and the second a man is raped then, “Oh my goodness. What did he do? What did she do?” Rape culture is toxic in that sense as well, in that we perpetuate this thing that “Men can’t get raped”. It’s very possible they can.
Letsoalo: It’s like normalising rape – being so normal about an act of rape – that’s perpetuating rape culture. Rape jokes – “Someone is raped. It’s okay”, or even being a rape apologist, saying, “She asked for it”, “Well, it happens all the time.” Also, rape culture is evident in prison, if you can think about it, where you get prison jokes – that’s also perpetuating rape culture. It’s something that’s very problematic in this country, ’cause I’ll make reference to a cartoonist – Zapiro. Stuff like that – normalising rape, thinking it’s normal.
Mofokeng: [Saying things like] “That test raped me”. It baffles me. What raped you? I could be a rape victim and that could be very triggering for me. I think another aspect of rape culture – a very big aspect of it – is victim-blaming. This thing of “Oh, she asked for it”, “What was she doing there at night?” That’s also a very big thing when you shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.
Letsoalo: Or you’re using rape as a metaphor – you get some people saying that the current government is raping the economy. Rape shouldn’t be used as a metaphor. It shouldn’t be used to describe anything but rape.
What are the effects of rape culture?
Mofokeng: People thinking it’s okay to walk around normalising rape and talking about rape like they talk about their morning coffee – talking about rape like it’s not a huge thing that affects our country and the world. People thinking that a girl wearing a short skirt is a girl “asking for it”. I keep going back to this example because it happens – it does actually happen. Just people being ignorant – that’s the implications of this.
Letsoalo: Rape culture actually normalises rape in society. That’s the consequences or effects, because it says that rape is a normal thing. So that’s what rape culture does. People actually grow up thinking rape is a normal act. That’s the effects of rape culture. It’s a shame that it’s growing. The act of rape being normalised is [as a result of] rape culture – that’s what brings up the normalisation of rape.
Would you say that there is evidence of rape culture at UP?
Mofokeng: Without question, without a doubt. I think it’s especially evident within the residence environment – it’s toxic, it’s there, it’s internalised, it’s ingrained in you.
Letsoalo: And it’s hidden.
Mofokeng: It’s very hidden.
Letsoalo: If you can see, the res culture perpetuates rape culture…I’m not going to say it’s only the male residences that perpetuate the rape culture; the female residences too. If you can listen to this culture, sleep, where females go sing for men and you get lyrics like, “If you’re not gonna give it up, we’re gonna take it by force”. The Friday socials are so violent towards women.
Mofokeng: The socials are. You’ll get a person – a guy – just groping you, or a guy cat-calling you and then you react to his cat-call, and then you go from being “Wow, your ass is so great” to “You lil b****”.
Letsoalo: You even see the male residences in these socials performing sexual acts like it’s a joke, where they are boning something. They’re like “This is what I’m gonna do to ten girls today”. So it’s something that they teach – it’s a culture. It’s taught. It’s unfortunate that TuksRes hides this culture and it keeps it within their resses. I can also claim that female residences also perpetuate rape culture with the songs that they sing, the way they are supposed to be perceived in the greater student populace – there’s female residences where they see themselves as “potential housewives” or they are “wife material” or they are the poppies and stuff like that. [Rape culture is] also on campus. The other thing we need to note is that the rape victim centre on campus is the sh****est thing ever. It’s so bad. It’s a shame that they handed in a memorandum stating these kind of demands still the University doesn’t implement them. I don’t know if they’re waiting for someone to die to react.
Mofokeng: I’m just thinking about it now. If I had to get raped right now, I don’t know where I’d go. It’s not “I know there’s somewhere I can go”. It’s not publicised enough. There’s no posters. I just think not only the Management side of this is handling it bad, but also the students. Going back to the residence environment – you’re fresh out of high school, you’ve been thinking in a box your entire life at high school, and then you come to varsity where you’re supposed to be finding yourself and stuff, and the first thing you’re taught is how to treat a woman like this, and how to be “little women”. Obviously that’s going to carry on and it’s going to be in your head for the rest of your varsity career and you’re going to act on that at some stage. I think there’s fault within the students, and from Management as well.
Letsoalo: And also it goes back to this culture of disengagement that we have in this institution. There are no platforms to engage some staff, because I promise if I were to go to a specific residence and even try to teach the ladies there what rape culture is, how to have safe sex, what consent is – it’s a taboo, we don’t speak about it. We don’t speak about rape. That’s the kind of culture that we have in this institution – the culture of disengagement regarding these issues and also other issues.
Mofokeng: On the topic of engagement, I think, as much as Tuks is struggling with certain things, they are trying to engage within the residences. I’ve been part of talks where we do talk about rape and we do talk about consent and stuff, and the reception from the first years has been really good reception. I think there is initiative within the residences, but the greater student populace is not up to scratch. I can’t imagine myself standing in the middle of Student Centre having this conversation. I don’t see that happening. But from when I was in first year to now I must say there has been progress in terms of engagement in the residences – at least from what I’ve picked up.
Letsoalo: I think we should stop acting like rape is a taboo, like it’s something you must keep hush-hush, “Don’t tell anyone”, “We don’t speak about that”. And also this culture stems from another culture where you don’t speak about rape – it’s something that you keep within the family, or it must stay behind closed doors or something like that. I remember when there was an anti-homophobia march that was held by UP&OUT, females were holding up signs [that said] “This is my vagina” and they got a bad reaction from the general student body, saying that “You can’t say that”, “It’s not ladylike”. So they think rape is a taboo, and it’s very contradictory because it happens all the time.
Mofokeng: People can make rape jokes and stuff, but the second you get real about rape then it’s an issue. [In terms of UP’s constitution] I could get more punishment plagiarising than I could [for] being a sexual offender. That’s how I feel about the constitution right now.
Letsoalo: Because it does not touch on a lot. It is actually under referendum. It does not touch on this issue, does not touch on anti-homophobia or anything like that. So it’s just like the constitution says, “Ai. This is a taboo, so we’re not gonna speak about it again”. Also, saying that she’s more likely to get punished more for plagiarism than being a sexual offender – I think there are a lot of cases where sexual offences have fell through and they was not even a judgment or a punishment made. “Boys are being boys”. Now, if you are on campus or you are outside campus attending a social or anything, and you get groped by a guy, they’ll take it lightly, like “It was just a grope”. I can also go back to a recent event where there were no female securities to search you – they were male. There were also male securities working at the female section of the toilets. This was the RAG event. So stuff like that, they don’t take cognisance of. We’re at the Rag Farm bushes, and there’s like five big male bouncers at the female section, watching women go to the toilet. As a woman, seeing the rape statistics in South Africa and knowing that rape is a normalised thing in this country, obviously I’m taken aback. I don’t even know if these people think about this, or if they’re just turning a blind eye. It perpetuates rape culture, saying “We don’t take cognisance of external factors”, or factors like this that may create situations like this. There was a whole campaign, “Are We Safe?” So literally we asked ourselves, “Are we safe?” where five big men are watching women go to the toilet and come back, guarding the female section of the toilets. The institutional culture on rape in this university is very problematic. I can bet you a million that there’s also sexual offences when you’re writing exams with invigilators or even between lecturers and students. [Victims] don’t know channels to follow…
Mofokeng: And also this thing of intimidation, because if your lecturer assaults you, and then you go to the Head of Department or whatever, what happens when this person decides they’re going to give you zero on your semester test? What happens if this person threatens you? So, especially if it’s coming from a higher power, it obviously happens – it has to happen at an institution as big as Tuks. It’s happening and where do you go in that situation if it’s your superior doing this to you? That’s what we need answers for, because – yes – it’s set up nicely on ClickUP: go to your HOD, then you go to the Dean and whatever, but how?
Letsoalo: Bureaucracy becomes a problem here because most of the time the matter falls through when you have to follow these hierarchy channels where they say, “Go to your HOD, [from] your HOD go there, go there, go there, go there.” No. [If] I’m sexually assaulted, I need to know I’m going right here to be assisted right there, instead of saying, “No, you have to this and that”. Bureaucracy becomes a problem here in this hierarchy that we have.
Mofokeng: It gets lost in translation eventually – it’s bound to. Going back to your rape culture question, I just thought of this now – Caroline sort of touched on it: I think people neglect other things that aren’t necessarily rape – so your groping, your cat-calling, your flashing – stuff like that. Because I know if a guy was to touch me inappropriately right now, I would take it very seriously and most women don’t realise that that is not okay. A person touching [you], without your consent, is not okay. So, I feel like, yes, let’s place emphasis on rape, but let’s elevate all the other forms of assault as well. Let’s also pay cognisance to those things – let’s emphasise those things as well, because they’re very neglected, especially in a university environment. People walk around thinking that it’s okay to do this and that.
How can we as students try to combat rape culture?
Letsoalo: Obviously we need provision and actually rules that regulate sexual offences. So obviously the constitution must speak harshly – very harsh – against such offences. Also, we must go to the most conservative of spaces on campus and move away from our safe spaces – like this is a safe space. We should move to a space where you find your most conservative, most patriarchal, your misogynist places and preach this – because it does not help, where we say this in a safe space because it does not go to the masses.
Mofokeng: We all share the same values.
Letsoalo: It does not go to the masses. So go to those spaces – those ignorant spaces, those toxic places – and preach this. So, when you’re at a social and you get groped, don’t just keep quiet. Make a scene. Tell the guy…
Mofokeng: Spill his drink. Make a scene.
Letsoalo: … “You don’t get to touch me”. That kind of space. And also engagement. People shouldn’t sleep on the art of engagement, because actually, [through] engagement, you can change a preconceived idea a person had. It can actually try to make them see a different perspective of things, because – I kid you not – most people are not born conscious or woke. When you’re at university, you’re academics – so it shouldn’t be a problem for us to engage on societal issues.
Mofokeng: Ultimately, dialogue is uncomfortable. In order to reach a place where everyone feels okay and safe, we need to have uncomfortable dialogue, uncomfortable conversation. We have to talk about these things. I’ve got this saying where “Ignorance is only bliss for the ignorant,” you know, for the rest of us this is painful. You touching me is painful. In your head, this is okay, but to me it’s not okay. We need to start at the bottom from first-year level, and we need to change the mentality there, because once you start with someone from the bottom – from when they’re fresh in university – then they’ll learn.
Letsoalo: Ignorance is not always bliss in this case…The way we can combat this [is] through engagement, uncomfortable dialogue, because I bet you we’ll go to a male residence where there are very known for such a culture. We should go there and preach this gospel. We’re not going to get a nice response. We go back the second time – until, until, until, until. Because, again, I would like to emphasise that we’re not doing any good where we are sitting as people who are aware of these issues and we have a nice kumbaya. There should be tension. We should get resistance from saying, “This is how it is”. They’re like, “No.” Try to educate ourselves. Maybe we’ll also learn something from this – maybe we’ll also learn that these people were taught this. And maybe we can dismantle that kind of culture. Because some people, the way they are – it’s what they’ve been taught, it’s not necessarily the way they are “just because”. Hate is taught. Ignorance is taught. Toxic cultures are taught. But people can unlearn and learn.
Mofokeng: We actually had a rape culture talk at one of the guy residences, and the reception – obviously – it was “Oh my goodness, that’s not – whatever”. They were very “I like my patriarchy and my misogyny,” but there were guys in the crowd who were receptive, and I feel like as long as we get to one person – yes, it’s not all hundred that we’re hoping for, but that one person can go and talk to their friends like “This is the situation.”
Letsoalo: We shouldn’t gate-keep or be the bearer of consciousness. That doesn’t help anyone. Consciousness should be all over the place and actually that should be the goal of students this year – Tuks students – and the years to come. Consciousness should not be gate-kept, or shouldn’t be monopolised. Go to your – I would even say Engineering students – or whatever students where…their curriculum teaches them not to pay attention to such stuff.
Do you have any other comments in relation to this?
Letsoalo: From my side, it’s a very painful sight for me because it’s unfortunate that we live in such an institutional culture. From my side, as long as I’m here, I will actively work on combating and dismantling this kind of culture.
Mofokeng: I agree, and really for me, what’s the most painful about this is the victim. That’s really what gets me the most, and so many people are silenced because of this toxic culture. So many people are silenced because – just ’cause of the disgustingness of it. I just want there to be a shift from the victim to the perpetrator. That’s biggest thing for me, because – no matter what – it’s never your fault. It can never ever be your fault.
Letsoalo: And also we must move away from this thing saying “People who are not rape victims shouldn’t speak about rape.” How do you know one is not a rape victim? That’s the counter-question I always have. I’m like, “How do you know when one is not a victim?” Is it written on their forehead? Can you smell it? So this kind of culture should be dismantled – not even transformed – scratched out.
Mofokeng: [Regarding biological response to rape] just because my body’s producing fluids does not mean I condone this. I could have an orgasm, but that does not mean I’m enjoying this.
Letsoalo: And I didn’t consent to it.
Mofokeng: I think consent is the magic word here.
Read the article on this topic in Issue 8 of Perdeby.