Re-traumatised by Student Wellness

In my first year, I was raped, as a virgin, by a mentor in my res whilst I went to see him in his room. I was intensely traumatized by the incident such that when I had gotten back to my room, after the violence had all ended. I went to shower to wash away all the shame, the guilt, the pain, his scent – and unfortunately I collapsed in the shower, I was unconscious for 45 minutes. I was woken up by the coldness of the water. I decided I had to go see a doctor, I managed to get an appointment with Student Wellness, to see a doctor the next day.

I arrived 2 mins late for my appointment with the doctor – because I didn’t know where student wellness was, the doctor had not even arrived as yet but when he arrived he looked at me and told me that I was late, shouting, and he led me to his consultation room. He asked me what was wrong, I told him I fainted in the shower, and I was unconscious for 45 mins, and at the time, my stomach was swollen and quite painful – this happens whenever I am under a lot of stress as I have a medical condition that is exacerbated by stress. And then I also reluctantly told him that I was raped the day prior. He looked at his watch and back at me, and he told me I have too many problems and I have to pick one for him to focus on. He told me that he doesn’t have time to attend to my issues particularly since I am late. He said he only has 15 mins per student and that isn’t enough time for him to attend to all my complaints. He told me I just delayed him from a very important commitment he has after this consultation because I was late. He took my blood pressure and told me it was very low but there’s nothing he can do about that – he said I fainted because of stress and there’s no medication for that. Then he proceeded to tell me my time is up, and he needs to leave. And he said I understand you have a lot of problems so he said he will provide me with 3 free doctors appointments with him, within the next 2 weeks after he returns from a trip he had. I felt so invalidated and disrespected.

Furthermore, after leaving his room,on my way out. I overhear him to speaking to a nurse about what he said, whilst I was busy settling my bill.The nurse comes to me an tells me, she can see from my folder that my complaint did not need a doctor and I should’ve just seen a nurse, and she proceeded to speak explicitly about what the doctor told her about me, and what she read from my folder. This conversation is happening in the waiting room, a full but quiet room, everyone heard her. I left student wellness still without HIV prophylaxis, STI meds or the pill, I left feeling worse than when I came. I couldn’t bring myself to putting myself in a situation where I could be invalidated again. So I went to the pharmacy and got the pill. I just had to sit and hope, I wouldn’t contract HIV. This year, I found out I contracted an incurable STI – HPV, and that I am high risk for developing cervical cancer. Because of that one doctor, who discarded of me like trash. No words can capture the trauma, I lived, and continue to carry with me.


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

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

I was stalked for two years at UCT

Five years ago I returned to my alma Mater, UCT, to take up a position as a lecturer. It had been four years since I had been on campus. One day, during the first few weeks of my position, I saw him. The young man who had harassed and stalked me during my undergraduate days was swaggering across Jammie Plaza all these years later.  The panic and fear that once held a grip on 19-year-old me came rushing back. I was frozen in terror. I don’t know what he was doing on campus or what his connection to UCT is these days but I am stunned that this man continues to prowl the corridors of the institution after all the trauma he put me and several other young women through. In the intervening years I had earned a PhD and a permanent post on campus, but I realised in that moment that no matter what I achieved or how hard I worked I would never gain the freedom to feel safe and protected on campus.

Back in 2003 I was sitting on campus and reading when I noticed a man staring intently at me about a table away from me. I felt uncomfortable and left Leslie social science. As I walked down to my Res, I noticed someone following closely behind me. It was him. It might sound like I was being overly paranoid but there was something very intent and disturbing about the way he was following me and staring at me. I was scared and I wanted nothing to do with this man.  Afraid that he would follow me far enough to discover that I lived in a res on campus, I tried to get lost amidst passing groups of people. Then I hung back near the law campus hoping that he would carry on walking and leave me alone.

Instead he walked back to me and asked me why I was sitting there and asked what I was afraid of. I told him I was fine and asked him politely to leave me be. At this he got angry and told me that I don’t need to be afraid. I just told him ‘I’m fine’ but that I don’t want to talk to him. Then to avoid spending any more time in the conversation, I carried on walking. This was the beginning of two years of stalking…

I got down to lower campus and noted that he was still walking two to three metres behind me. I felt it was unsafe to go to my res so I walked to campus protection and told them what was going on. When I described the guy the CPS officers immediately recognised who I was talking about and seemed upset. From talking informally to them I learned that this person was a repeat offender on campus, and more disturbingly, had extended his stalking of a particular young woman to an assault in which he reached up her skirt and touched her genital area.  CPS told me, however, that they could do little to stop this person because each case has to be treated separately and has to go through the discrimination and harassment office rather than being handled by CPS like robberies etc. They brought him in to the CPS building to ask him to stop bothering me. At this point he threw an enormous tantrum, screaming and wailing the office. I realised then that he was potentially quite a dangerous person. The CPS officer on duty seemed exasperated. He was powerless to do anything about someone he’d seen harassing and violating women on campus repeatedly. I am very thankful for the support and kindness I received from CPS. If only they had any authority to handle these cases I might have had a better experience at UCT.

This incident was the first in long campaign of harassment by this individual. He approached me in the hallways of the university, in the library, on the shuttle and several times followed me home. I routinely started walking around my res in case he saw me enter and found a way into the building. Every hallway on campus became a site of fear. I particularly hated going to classrooms in basement areas. I was afraid of certain rooms in the library ( the thesis collections in the basement, the photocopy area). With every encounter he became more aggressive. He spoke to me in a way that assumed a relationship that simply wasn’t there. “Why are you being like this to me” he would say. “Why won’t you talk to me”. Then he would start shouting loudly “You are so rude!” “ Why are you treating me like this”  I felt like I was having a fight with a boyfriend except I didn’t know this guy at all and had no desire to be anywhere near him. I could do nothing more than simply repeat that I wanted to be left alone before running away as fast as I could. I don’t know how I could have been any clearer. This lasted for about two years off and on. It happened every now and then, not constantly but the fear was there all the time.

Shortly after the first incident I went to the discrimination and harassment office where I was advised against taking him to the UCT court. I was told he was another student – I think a postgrad student but I don’t really know. They told me that I didn’t have much of a case because his behaviour was too close to ‘normal male behaviour’ and they can only deal with each incident separately – i.e. we weren’t allowed to tell the UCT court that he had groped other women and shown a consistent pattern of harassment.

Instead I was advised to apply for a restraining order from the police. Disco helped me fill it in. Then a few months and several incidents later I got a phonecall from Disco asking why I wasn’t at the magistrate’s court. My stalker had contested the restraining order and was sitting there with a lawyer. Nobody had told me to be there. Scruffily dressed and panicked my mother and I scrambled to the courtroom. I had to sit in a small room with him while his lawyer made his case. I was terrified and hated being seated next to him. I had to listen to the lawyer telling the magistrate that his client was just flirting with me like a ‘normal man’. A representative from Disco was there to help me and to his credit he tried his best. I am happy to hear that in the years since this situation the government has changed its policy on restraining orders but at the time you could only get a restraining order against someone you had been in a relationship with. I had no prior connection to my stalker. I learned that day that neither the law nor my institution would stop this man from harassing me and that I just had to deal with his ‘normal male behaviour’.

I got through it and got my degree. I actually did really well despite operating in a constant state of fear.  I didn’t get groped and at some point I stopped seeing him on campus. While I made it through, I think someone with less of a support network of family and friends may not have. Compared to many other women and indeed to many of this man’s victims, I got off lightly. The temptation to leave UCT or to stop attending class was big. It felt unfair that this person who didn’t even know was derailing my freedom whilst he was free to saunter around campus and lurk in narrow passageways terrorising women. How could this be right? How could the institution let this happen?

There is a positive side to this. These encounters lent new meaning and purpose to my engagement with feminist theory. I had to question the way we think of ‘normal male behaviour’ and the way we allow men to limit women’s freedoms while policing and silencing women. While I value what I learned and how this process shaped me I believe that no young women should have to deal with this at a place of learning.

I really believe that the process at UCT is flawed and skewed in favour of protecting UCT and protecting purpetrators. During my undergraduate years at UCT male harassment was tolerated and victims were shut down and siphoned off into the magistrates court where they may or may not have achieved a restraining order. When I saw him on campus 5 years later I was shocked because the sighting seemed to confirm the fact that nothing has changed – here he is moving freely, presumably continuing his behaviour. How many women has he harassed? What was he even doing there? A PhD maybe? I was struck with horror when I thought perhaps he was a staff member now. I never got the answers to these questions because, as in every case, when I saw him I ran in fear like an animal. That fear will never go away.

A while back I went back to DISCO and offered to help out and improve the experience of people who experience harassment. I don’t think they fully understood what I meant or registered that I wanted to correct a system that had failed me. In frustration I left it alone.  I believe we can build a better support system for women on campus. There are staff members who are willing and able to aid in this process. I’m not sure what the way forward is and must admit to often being to busy or exhausted to follow through on my desire to help prevent this stuff  but I hope this story offers one more perspective and one more voice behind the need to stop the culture of silence that others have described.

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.

Sexism, rape culture, heteronormativity and patriarchy present in the UCT residences

I have written this a hundred times in my head and a dozen times on paper but I haven’t shared it because I am bad at writing and was worried that I only care because my privilege has sheltered me from other, more pressing, issues at UCT.

But the sexism, rape culture, heteronormativity and patriarchy present in the UCT residences is absolutely awful and something needs to be done. So, SRC candidates, UCT: Rhodes Must Fall Student Housing- this is what is happening.

Kopano’s “official” song explicitly suggests raping a women till she is dead and then continuing till she is rotten.

Sub-wardens come into my room in Tugwell at 2am to check for empty alcohol bottles but Marquad has a pub and nearly all of the male residences have a drinking themed event. (Update: the names of the pubs are the Puss n Pint. Verge-in and Cock pit)

My mentees are too scared to walk to their own front door when Marquad gets drunk and antagonistic in the area between the residences.

Girls in female residences are told that they can’t have overnight guests or else people will think the residence is full of sluts. While heterosexual relations are aggressively encouraged in male residences, in female residences can only have female overnight guests and only if we apply 48 hours in advance.

At interrogations, women voicing concerns over misogyny in residences get their microphone turned off.

People in male residences often make jokes about having single beds so they can’t sleep with fat chicks.

And this just scrapes the surface of the institutionalised sexism in our residence system.

Let’s be better than this? “Boys will be boys” is not an excuse.

  • A facebook status by Emma Gates Pottinger (9/09/2015)

#sexistSA: Academic spaces are far from safe

Last year the Daily Vox posted an article detailing the experience of a survivor on campus:

“Soon, I discovered that my rapist was a tutor at my university. Because of the persistent, subversive misogyny I was exposed to on a daily basis, I felt completely unsupported. I was certain that talking about my rape would lead to me being ostracised. I had nowhere to turn.

Sexual harassment in academia is powerful because our harassers have overt and institutional power over us: they are often our lecturers and tutors, and have the power to determine our careers.

And yet there is very little discussion about on-campus sexual assault. While previouscampaigns run at UCT have highlighted sexual violence, they have never acknowledged that it actually happens on campus, and that it is classmates, lecturers and administrators who are the perpetrators. Structures that exist to deal with on-campus discrimination and harassment have failed to release statistics or reports on its occurrence on campus.”

Read the full article here: