Following an ongoing conversation among students on social media about the rape culture at Rhodes University, a list containing the names of alleged rapists at the university was posted to a Facebook group on Sunday.
Included on the list is a former SRC President, a current SRC councillor and a former student who currently writes for the Daily Vox. This sparked immediate outrage, and soon after the list was published, students gathered and marched on the campus to find some of the men on the list. Others took to social media to voice their concerns under the trending hashtag #RUReferenceList.
Gorata Chengeta, who’s currently doing her honours in political science at the university and is also the social media manager for activist group Gender Activism Project, says that rape culture is a real problem on campus.
“Rape culture is a big problem at Rhodes, and in society in general. At Rhodes, it shows itself in different ways – it’s in the sexist traditions some residences have, it’s in the way students aren’t informed about what consent is in the first place and it’s in the way management has failed to acknowledge the problem over the last few years,” she says.
Speaking about the #RUReferenceList that emerged last night, Chengeta says that it has shown that students are very well aware of the issue and that many are survivors of sexual assault.
“The trauma that accompanies sexual assault can be debilitating, and can affect people’s relationships, their ability to do academic work, and their right to safety and security. It’s clear that many people have been affected by sexual assault at Rhodes, and that the lack of awareness about this issue has led to them feeling isolated and unsafe,” she says.
Currently, the best institutional support sexual assault survivors have at the university is through an initiative called the Silent Protest which is held annually. At the Silent Protest students are given the opportunity to speak out and share their stories, and through that, receive some sort of healing.
“Over time, there has been a perspective that the Silent Protest isn’t enough: that it’s not enough to have support once a year for a problem that affects so many people all year round. In addition, some people have noted that some perpetrators attend the Silent Protest, which further traumatises their victims. We have, for some time, needed much more action to be taken,” Chengeta says.
Many students have shared the view that the university administration is not doing enough about the cases of sexual assault that are reported. Chengeta agrees, saying that while the university continues to encourage students to report rape, it does not take into consideration the insensitive treatment that victims of sexual violence receive when reporting incidents.
“According to research I conducted last year, in the period 2011 to 2014, only one person was found guilty and faced punishment for sexual assault at Rhodes. I doubt that anything significant has changed in 2015 and 2016,” Chengeta explains.
“It’s difficult to establish the scope of the problem because the university has not released information on all the reports they receive. They only have released the reports of the people who wanted to take disciplinary action against their perpetrators. For this reason, we do not have a good idea of how bad the situation is, except for what people speak about in private,” she added.
In conclusion, Chengeta says that the university management has failed to account for this problem, and says they need to take the first step and admit that there is a problem. She says that the university needs to update its sexual offences policy and commit to taking action against perpetrators.
“We would also like to call for the suspension of student leaders (sub-wardens, tutors, society chairs, house comm members, SRC members) who have been accused of rape or sexual assault. It’s incredibly distressing for victims to see their perpetrators in positions of power,” she says.
Chengeta stresses that the University should work harder to ensure that members of staff and the student body are well informed about rape culture, domestic violence and how to report incidences of rape.