As reported by The Citizen on 19 February, UP students are unhappy with the university’s progress regarding action taken to prevent gender-based violence. Students told the publication that the university seems to be taking its time revising policies of gender-based violence, sexual harassment and discriminatory actions. The students also said that the university has been “dragging its feet” as it has failed to keep its promise to open a crisis centre for raped and sexually assaulted victims. As a result, students have issues with their safety when they are on campus.
A final-year law student, Thiruna Naidoo, has expressed that the university has been trying to create a safer environment for students. However, the approach which the university is taking is regarded as “insufficient in addressing the driving factors behind these issues”. Naidoo expresses further that the university is not making a substantial effort to involve students in discussions about possible solutions. According to Naidoo’s comment to The Citizen, the university lacks transparency and there is also great difficulty when students try to access minutes from Executive Management meetings except for when the SRC requests them. Naidoo says that the university bases these policy changes on its own perception and not on research which should be conducted to find out the statistics of students’ experiences regarding the matter.
The university’s spokesperson, Rikus Delport, mentioned that awareness programmes have been increased around campus to prevent any further cases of rape and sexual assault. Furthermore, Delport said that the university has appointed a senior investigating officer who deals specifically with gender-based crimes. Since the university is close to government rape crisis centres such as Mamelodi Hospital and Steve Bantu Biko Academic Hospital, Delport says that it is not “feasible” for the university to offer similar services on campus. He goes on to say that these centres employ skilled legal people, forensic medical experts and counsellors who can assist rape victims in the appropriate manner. Delport said that “once a case is reported on campus and it is within the 72-hour period for the assault having taken place, the university arranges transport to the crisis centre so that the victim can receive the necessary medical, legal and counselling support.”
Students are encouraged to make use of UP SPEAKOUT for anonymous reports, and also contact the South African Depression Anxiety Group (SADAG) for online counselling.
Illustration: Rhodeen Davies