Online Harassment at UCT

It began in MAM1001W in 2012, rumoured to be the most difficult first year maths course in the country. Most of the year I was simultaneously trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and win the affection of this boy I liked, Mark*. We were chatting quietly, when a good-looking white boy told us to be quiet. A reasonable request – we were talking while the lesson went on in front of us.

A few weeks later, this boy added me on Facebook, “Nick.” No mutual friends, but I recognised him from maths class, so I accepted. I was flattered, but there was an unsettled feeling in my gut. How had he found out what my name was?

At first his messages were friendly, if not slightly weird. “I sense weird tensions between us,” he said. I was curious, and I wanted affirmation of my attractiveness. Regardless, I replied in a neutral way. I sensed he would take this bait and continue messaging me – this “sense” arose from the persistence I was used to in dealing with men who have wanted to be with me, or get into my pants.

Nick and I had spoken a total of four times in real life and online by the end of the year. They were short, surface conversations, with nothing unusual about them. But during the December vac his messages transformed into something else. “I’m basically in love with you”, he said. I replied, perplexed, “… you don’t even know me.”

From then on it was ugly. He spoke as if we had a relationship, not a vague acquaintance. His messages dissolved into threats. He told my then-boyfriend, Mark from MAM, that I didn’t truly like him. That Mark should cut his hair, wear contacts and stop wearing skinny jeans. That I actually like Nick, not Mark, and Mark should be more like Nick if he wants me to like him. In his messages, Nick mentioned something that only Mark and I had spoken about. He had been listening to our conversations in maths. Mark replied telling him, essentially, to leave him alone. Then Nick threatened to break Mark’s legs. Mark stopped replying.

After that, Nick became more incoherent, and more threatening. He said I shouldn’t be scared of him, that he could be my drug connection, that I’m a mean lesbian. That Mark and I “should start fucking each other (SEX :)SEX :)SEX :)SEX :))…please say you’re not a virgin….start pomping!!!!”

Then he started with the death threats. “Give enough time and i could resort to murder…. just like oscar…shoot you on campus and say you were violating me J” His last message to me on Facebook was in February 2013. It reads “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE you insect of a woman”.

By this time I had changed faculties, and hoped I wouldn’t see him again. But all of it made me feel sickly fascinated. Like I was watching a reconstruction of someone else’s life on the Crime Channel. I didn’t even think to report it to the police or to DISCHO. Would they care about this online harassment? It seemed like too much administration, with too little reward. Getting a restraining order would require lawyers, costs, time. His words disturbed me, but I felt removed from them; dream-like. I blocked him and the multiple profiles he created to invite me on Facebook, and I thought this was enough.

It was an unremarkable day in November 2015 when I received an email in my private inbox – the subject line: “A secret admirer (who loves you)”. I was hit by a cold wave of shock, fear. How had he got my email address? He said he hoped I was “still single”. How did he know that Mark and I had broken up about a year ago?

After his email my family sprang into action. They met with Nick’s family, who already knew who I was because he had mentioned looking at my social media, talked about something I had said on Twitter. They revealed that Nick had a mental disorder. They spoke to Nick, and Nick gave his word to never contact me again, barring an apology letter.

His apology letter, which he titled “Big Nick’s Apology”, was filled with the delusional narratives he played out in his head. He wrote that it was a joke. That he did it because he was feeling hurt and “rejected”. He gave his word he wouldn’t contact me again.

But he did.

 

 

*Names have been changed

Raped by a family member

Today I realised that my cousin raped me. I’ve been thinking about that night for so long and I’ve been doubting myself, because I can’t remember everything due to all the weed. But I realise now that the absence of one specific memory is actually proof — I can’t remember consenting.

My cousin already has a rape accusation against him. I’m feeling more sure of my realisation, the longer I think about it.

Furthermore, under South African law, no one can consent to sex while intoxicated. So really there are only two important facts here: I was stoned. And nonconsensual sexual intercourse took place. My cousin raped me.

What saddens me, is that I realised it today at a mass meeting against sexual violence and rape culture at my university, and my immediate reaction after realising it, was to keep it to myself and talk to someone first to “make sure”. We’ve been indoctrinated to doubt ourselves. We’ve been brain-washed to doubt our own experiences, emotions and thoughts. But I got up and spoke about it. Because I will not be an accomplice in the silencing and distrust of womxn.

The more I think about that night, the clearer it becomes. I was so uncomfortable the entire time. Anxious. The paranoia from the weed was hitting me really hard. I felt physically sick. I felt like crawling up into a ball and just crying. I felt unsafe. I felt violated.

Afterwards, every time I saw him, I was retraumatised. Everything about him disgusts me. I hate him. I hate when he looks at me. I hate when he tries to talk to me. I hate him coming into my house to help my mom with something. I hate having him near me. I hate hearing his name.

And I wonder why I only realise this now, months later. I am a survivor of rape. I am survivor who has been doubting herself and rationalising what happened for far too long. I’m done with this shit.

Sexual violence in Queer relationships

I’m a black queer student. Coming from a country where being queer is illegal, when I applied to universities, I thought that that the progressive UCT in South Africa would be the best choice, a fresh and enjoyable change. In many ways not being criminalized because of your sexuality was an emancipatory experience, but the joy of not having the law and police persecute you was short lived.

I had, in all the excitement of being in a new country, where there were openly queer relationships, ended up in a relationship, which I did not particularly want to be in, with an older gay white man. Early on in the relationship things were okay, but there was a clear shift to what I can now say very explicitly was a not okay period, which signifies a failure in UCT student affairs systems, particularly DISCHO and also my sexual education at the time or lack thereof.

It was three quarters into the semester that the line of consent was crossed, I was being assaulted, this is only clear to me in retrospect, and difficult thing to write. The relationship was going wrong, and my boyfriend was very possessive, at times stopping me from seeing my sister who was also studying at UCT, by not allowing me to leave his place. It was at around this time, that the emotional breakdown of the relationship meant that I no longer wanted to have sex, with this person whom I had previously been having sex with.

I had however not been taught by DISCHO that sexual assault could happen whilst in a relationship, that rape could happen with your partner. Nobody had ever told me that a “no” with a stranger carried the same weight as a “no” in a relationship. I lacked the sexuality, sexual and relationship education to empower me to get out of a situation that was clearly wrong. This culminated in a drawn out break down. Only finally when I broke of the relationship, during the early part of the second semester, did the situation escalate enough for me to understand what was happening.

After going to the person’s house to end things, he responded “Fine, but then let’s do it one last time, for me.” I didn’t use a question mark, because it wasn’t a question, and I don’t want to go into all the details. It was only then, where I realized what was occurring, the thoughts in my head at the time, while I lay there, were only this “possibly could be rape”.

I mean in my warped understanding I had been in a relationship with this person for six months. I had already at one point amicably slept with him, despite that being a long time ago. I also felt partly that he was entitled to sex.

Rape, in the little education I had from any institution was always gendered in the binary, so between men and women. I had the misconception that it was carried out by violent serial rapists in dark places. It was only a year later, in a law lecture where we discussed marital rape, where I clearly remember feeling overwhelmed and having to leave to go home. In that lecture, after two years of being at UCT, the idea that a relationship does not give consent to any sexual acts became clear to me.

I am writing this because it is clear to me now that forced sex even in a relationship is rape. Rape is and can be enacted on a gender non-conforming femmenine bodies, in queer relationships. My situation could have been remedied and reported if I had the knowledge I needed at the time.

Finding out a year later, and understanding what happened to me was a conflicting experience because I could put a label to the issue and the problem arising from it that affected me and I started working on fixing them , getting help and re-building my relationship with sex.

I hope that in writing this, that someone might know the things that I wish I knew when I got into that relationship, the things that I needed to know about sex and when it was sex anymore, but was actually sexual assault and rape.

Statement for #RapeAtUCT

Over the weekend, as the arrest of the suspected serial rapist dominated the news, we as UCT Survivors ask ‘What about all the perpetrators of sexual violence in their class rooms and residences that UCT has not offered a reward for?’ If the management of this institution are serious about tackling sexual violence on this campus, they need to be open about the perpetrators that are part of the UCT community. They need to be open about how their structures have failed survivors in the past. Last year, a review of the Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO) was commissioned and UCT management has yet to make it public for comment from the whole UCT community. It details some of the failures of these structures and details management’s negligence towards these structures as well as the questionable qualifications of those appointed to head up the disciplinary procedures that are part of these structures. We as a collective are calling for the immediate release of this document.

Council, one of UCT’s decision making structures, is meeting to talk about the document this week and we are calling for this meeting to be open to all members of the UCT community. We are calling for this meeting, which will discuss matters that impact our safety and well-being, to not happen at a secret venue cordoned off by private security. This meeting will happen on Saturday, the 19th of March. Security is conspicuously thin on the weekends leaving students vulnerable to attack, yet there will considerable security protecting 28 council members from the mere possibility of student protest.

Last month, the statement informing the UCT community about the establishment of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) was literally a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ bullet point among issues such as housing and financial aid appeals. It gave no time frame for when this body will be up and running. It gave no indicator of how this body will report back to the UCT community. Included in this body are CPS, who at Patriarchy Must fall meetings last year students complained that some members had catcalled and harassed them. Also included are Student Wellness, a body which some students complain is difficult to get a timely appointment and some survivors have been dissatisfied with the service that they received there. These issues were brought up in the review process.

Also in this body, is a SAPS representative. The South African Police Service is an institution that survivors are reluctant to report to, for fear of victim-blaming, secondary trauma and not being believed. The person heading up this body, Sinegugu Duma, has written work that contains undertones of victim-blaming and placing the burden of responsibility on women in particular to not get raped. We welcome the inclusion of the Rape Crisis Centre into this body – an organisation that has served the needs of survivors for many years. But going from the lack of transparency and failures of previous structures, how do we expect survivors to trust the structures? We as a collective support the establishment of a body that is supposed to provide compassionate and survivor-centred care but we call for this body to be held accountable and we will be unflinching in our quest to ensure that it lives up to its mandate.

The statements that UCT sends out every time someone is sexually assaulted always carry the same message to female students in particular, ‘make sure it isn’t you’ next time – pushing students to change their behaviour to avoid rape is the same as saying ‘make sure the rapist targets someone else’. It creates a culture of victim-blaming.

There’s been no promise to comprehensively tackle the sexism and rape culture on campus that creates stigma for a survivor of sexual violence and discourage survivors from reporting. There has been no promise of campus wide sensitisation and education for staff members, workers and students about gender-based violence. The assumption (and UCT’s preferred narrative about sexual violence) is that all the perpetrators are people from outside UCT community which isn’t true for a lot of cases we’ve been told about.

It is an accepted truth within the research literature about sexual violence that majority of rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the victim or survivor – that would include, acquaintances, friends, class mates, staff members that teach them. But these are not the perpetrators that UCT will send out emails and warnings about – repeat offendors of sexual harassment and other forms of threatening behaviours that are known to the university structures but remain on campus are not who they will write to you about.   UCT has not made a clear commitment that perpetrators that are registered to study here and that have been appointed to work here will be expelled or even suspended pending an investigation (a measure they instituted once again for protesting students).

Even if these people are not the perpetrators, these are the people survivors are expected to approach post-trauma. These are the tutors, lecturers and residence mates that survivors need to interact with and get help from. UCT management and its structures need to make a commitment dismantling the everyday sexism and misogyny that not only fuels sexual violence but creates an environment of tolerance and silence about it. We as UCT Survivors are committed to dismantling the PR double speak that allows this institution to insist that it is doing enough when it comes to issues of gender justice because to be quite frank they’re not.

 

*Sexual violence = sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape

Intimate Partner Violence at UCT

When it happened I remember hoping that at any moment security would hear me screaming and make it stop. I didn’t care that they’d see me naked. Or that id have to explain that was my boyfriend. Or what I was doing there in the first place. They never came to save me. For a long time afterwards I didn’t know what to do. I tried to talk to him about it but he dismissed it saying that’s what I liked. He didn’t think I could read into that power exchange and the reason why my body became a site of violence. It took a suicide attempt, hospitalization and a semester off school to come back. I went to DISHCO and asked what my options are. We do the same thing on the same campus and I didn’t want to see him again. At best they offered me a talk with him. One I’d never be able to tell anyone about. What about him being expelled? Him staying as far away from me as possible? I was supposed to be graduating that year. I didn’t, he did. He’s doing his masters now and I have to see him everyday. I have to relive being violated everyday. My psychiatrist says I’m going to live with that forever. UCT has played no part in making any of it easier. On the same campus a serial rapist was given community service, what of me if that’s the way they deal with it? They asked me to take time off. When I came back they became insistent I take more time off. I don’t think it was to help me, more that as a victim of rape I was the liability. Not him.

Sexual abuse in the curriculum

Last year I was a student in the third year contemporary literature course in which the novel Lolita was taught. At the intro to the lecture series, the lecturer (who I don’t feel comfortable naming as I believe this is a departmental issue and not a personal attack), unfortunately failed in warning the class of the evocative material in which the novel Lolita contains. 

 

The novel was taught as some sort of “art form” – the questioning of the pornographic material, alongside the “beauty” in which Lolita was written was constantly being suggested in the lecture series. As we continued to read and analyse the pedophilloic descriptions which were in the novel the course seemed to defend the narrative of a skewed perception of what was clearly a rape story. Not once was there an understanding or interrogation of the story of something that was “rape” and thus needs to constantly be questioned. If there was, I personally don’t believe it was interrogated enough. Lolita is seen as a “classic” and I think that instead of praising the white masculine authors such material needs to be studied from the narrative of the female voice, why does the English Department continue to praise the conservative, white masculine narrative….surely the story of a pedophile should be questioned rather than valued ? The fact that this course was taught by a man only perpetuates the support of such a culture – As a survivor of a situation very similar to that of Lolita, reading this novel and more importantly learning it as a “high art form”, was extremely traumatic for me and I’m sure various other survivors in the class. I felt continuously silenced and ashamed of my own story because for some reason it seemed to be a topic of adoration and splendor – an intriguing and admirable novel, rather than a devastating rape story. 

 

I’m not saying we have to stop studying this material – I just believe that the approach to it needs to change, the story of a powerless young girl manipulated and molested by her step father isn’t a form of art, but a true story in which her life will never be the same. The English department should challenge the ‘classic’ novel – give the students and opportunity to voice against the dominant masculine narratives. 

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AT UCT

Yesterday the UCT PR machine sent out an email labelled “Campus Announcement: Security alert: another Rhodes Memorial incident”. This communication is the latest in a string of emails detailing incidents of sexual violence that have happened near Rhodes Memorial – a tourist destination and memorial to a thieving colonialist attached to the campus that also doubles as extra parking space. The university stated that it was “distressed and outraged” that the total attacks on women near the memorial that have now reached four in just over two months. Yet, cases of sexual violence have happened at Rhodes Memorial for years. The difference is that after years of veritable silence about this issue, UCT is now sending out alerts about sexual assault incidents that occur on and near UCT property.

Last week, when the total number of women attacked was three, one commentator on Facebook, Stewart Innes, noted that   “Maybe if half the security guards outside exam venues had been patrolling the periphery of campus this could have been avoided. It was mightily excessive/heavy handed that I wrote an exam on the 12th(the day after one of the incidents) with 9 other people and still 4 guards standing outside on their cellphones because there was no threat. Food for thought.” This commentator made it clear that UCT shows its priorities by where it puts its resources. More security in this particular area would be a small part of the solution but it would be a plaster on a problem that has been festering for years.

On January the 16th, I tweeted @UCT_ News the following: “So this week I got catcalled by the private security on campus? Who are they there to protect? Definitely not me or other women.” They responded by letting me know that the “additional security on campus during deferred exams belong to a company affiliated to G4S which is responsible for campus safety”. They also urged me to report the incident to DISCHO. I fired back by asking them to ensure the report detailing how DISCHO has failed students is released to the public. Last year, I attended two of the sessions of the review process that this report would stem from. I listened to student organisation after student organisation bring forward information from their constituents about how these structures have not only been inadequate but have also re-traumatised them.

I tweeted @UCT_News again and asked them to provide proof that the various problems raised in the review process have been dealt with and was met with no response. I have personal experience of being a rape survivor at this institution, of friends who are survivors leaving due to a lack of institutional support, of friends who are still here and need to face their perpetrators on a consistent basis. Instead of window dressing – hastily fired off tweets and carefully constructed emails – UCT’s structures need to prove that they can be trusted in order to combat underreporting. It’s important that incidents at Rhodes Memorial were reported and the university responded by offering counselling and medical services but we still need to ask questions about the extent of and efficacy of these services.

On the 29 January, we received another one of management’s email communique specials. VC Max Price let the UCT community know that the university will continue to call on additional private security throughout the year – if needed. Apparently, they will be a stand-by defence force against protesting students. I’m waiting for an email informing us that Is UCT going to call on additional security to patrol high risk areas for rape like Rhodes Memorial. So far, they’ve responded by putting more security on the bridge over the M3 and telling us to not walk alone. In terms of dealing with the incidents of sexual assault that happen within residences, I fear that email communique is never coming.

So far the only solution brought forward to deal directly with incidents at Rhodes Memorial is to tell us to not go there after dark. But for protesting students they’re willing to bring in a paramilitary force. In the statement, Price goes on to say: “A university is a space of reasoned debate and reflection, and a shared commitment to mutually respectful engagement. We draw the line at protest actions that subvert or deny the rights of other students, staff and workers to participate in university life. And we will protect these rights.” We can only live in hope for the day that the “rights” of students who are also survivors of sexual violence are also upheld in such a seemingly impassioned way. We can only wait for the day that our safety and mental, emotional and physical well-being is brought to the fore. We cross our fingers, we tell our stories, and we protest for the day that our access to education and the academy is defended.

Dela Gwala is full-time feminist and MA Creative Writing student at the University of Cape Town. This blog post was originally published here: https://genderspecs.wordpress.com/