UCT lets down survivors of sexual violence

This first blog post explains why this platform exists:

For me power is the ability to make visible or invisible. The power which determines who gets to speak versus who gets to have their conversation on the sidelines. The influence that gives someone a platform to say something versus a concerted effort to shut them up. There’s been an immense amount of silencing around the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault at UCT.  A few weeks ago, a stranger approached me as I was waiting for a jammie home and he commented on an article I wrote about casual sexism. I told him that my main concern was how little we know about the levels of sexual violence that occur on this campus. His response was ‘I didn’t know that, that happened here’. Well, that’s what needs to be shifted – this ‘idea’ that this sort of thing doesn’t happen here.

The first time I encountered the mention of sexual harassment beyond a 5 minute chat in O-week of my first year. was my third year at UCT. I was sitting in a room at Graca Machel when a good friend of mine let me know that a lecturer was calling her at all hours of the day and making inappropriate advances towards her.

She was a tutor during the time that the harassment began and at some point was too afraid to spend any time in her office without the door being locked. After a month of inappropriate messages, phone calls and unwanted visits to her office, she told close friends and reported the issue to DISCHO. I will never forget her telling me at the end of that process that it had been one of the most disempowering experiences of her life. For starters even after she reported, she still had to deal with the harassment from the perpetrator whose office was a couple doors away from hers.

She opted for the mediation option, which involves discussing the issue with the perpetrator but having a third party in the room to mediate. She had to sign a confidentiality agreement that doesn’t allow her to talk about what happened or what was said in that room. This can be read as an act of silencing – this takes away the right of the victim/survivor (whichever term they prefer) to talk about a part of their experience. During the process, she found out that the perpetrator had done this to someone else. The other victim had also made at a statement to DISCHO.  But when she pressed to combine the cases against him then she was told that the other victim had withdrawn the case and no longer wanted to pursue it.

She and another sexual harassment survivor pushed back at the university’s inept system of dealing with this issue by providing comments for the Varsity Newspaper. Here are a few excerpts from the story:

“Two students recently  approached VARSITY with complaints about UCT’s Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO). The main concerns raised included the amount of time taken to deal with sensitive cases and the apathy with which cases were approached.”

“The first student argued that the blame does not rest solely with DISCHO, but also with UCT itself. “It is a failure by the University to provide real protection to those who are termed ‘victims’ and a disregard for the nature and seriousness of sexual harassment.”

“A second student who took a complaint of sexual harassment to DISCHO last year explained that her main concern with DISCHO was “the seriousness of the case, and the fact that I was more concerned about my safety than I felt they were.”

Read the full story here: http://varsitynewspaper.co.za/news/1060-uct-lets-down-assault-victims

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