Sexual offences on campus: lifting the veil of secrecy

An excerpt from an unpublished thesis by Esmeralda Sayagues:

This paper will consider whether there is a need for institutions of higher education to have a comprehensive disclosure policy regulating the release of information concerning sexual offences committed on campus to the student and faculty community.

My interest in this topic stems from an incident that occurred near the University of Cape Town (UCT) grounds in 2012. At the time, I was living in Woolsack Residence on middle campus and training as a Student Support Officer at the UCT Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO), which is located just below middle campus. During a training session one Saturday a staff member of DISCHO informed me that a few days earlier a UCT student had been raped by two men on a vacant plot of land right next to DISCHO. I was shocked. I had walked past that plot on countless occasions, thinking it was safe because it was located between UCT and Rustenburg Girl’s School. I retuned to Woolsack and shared the story with my friends and never walked that route again. What worried me, as a UCT student and middle campus resident, was that there was silence from UCT and the Woolsack residence authorities on the incident. The University did not issue any announcements warning students to be more vigilant or to use alternative roads. The University has often made announcements about the need to be vigilant when on campus in the evenings but there was silence about this particular incident.

I am now in my fifth year at UCT. Through my peers, and particularly through my training at DISCHO, I have learned about incidents of sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence and rape on campus. But I did not hear about these incidents through the university. The student body received safety announcements about a series of muggings that took place on middle campus in 2012 but none about the sexual offences committed on campus.

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