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Thu Dec 08 20:09:43 SAST 2016

Rhodes under fire for rape and sexual harassment policy

Roxanne Henderson | 2016-11-30 13:38:46.0
Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela
Image by: THE HERALD

Rhodes University's sexual harassment policy or lack thereof has been dragged under the microscope at the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE).

This following protests around rape culture at the university earlier this year‚ sparked by the circulation of a “Reference List” on social media‚ naming alleged rapists.

This is one of the reasons the university has been called to give an account of its gender transformation progress‚ in an investigation by the CGE.

Vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela told the commission that the university's sexual harassment policy is now under review.

“Before the protests we thought we were doing what we could [to deal with sexual violence] but what came out of the protests is that more needs to be done‚” Mabizela said.

The commission had criticised Rhodes for the outdated policy that dealt with “rape and sexual violence as if it can be dealt with over the [negotiating] table”.

Mabizela said that Rhodes had made provision for complainants of rape to meet and speak with their alleged rapists without disciplinary proceedings being instituted‚ for which he came under fire.

“In terms of the Sexual Offences Act you can't mediate rape. So we are struggling with this notion that you have [to facilitate discussions]‚” commissioner Lindelwa Bata said.

Bata said that she understands the university's difficult position in assisting rape victims‚ but asked whether it had a responsibility to report rape cases to the police.

Mabizela said the university does not mediate rape but that it had to be sensitive to students who did not wish to take action against their perpetrators.

He also highlighted the fact that rape victims have lost confidence in the state's capacity to successfully prosecute rape.

"The level of successful prosecution of rape is so low in the state that people are not willing to report. So if I were to say to the students‚ ‘if you report a case of a rape‚ the university will not do anything other than pass it on to the police’‚ they would not report."

The commission said that the year-long suspension given to some sexual offenders‚ following disciplinary hearings‚ was not enough as rapists need to be identified as such for the protection of society.

Mabizela said the university had taken measures to deal with the scourge of sexual violence‚ including the establishment of a task team to look into the matter.

One of the recommendations made by the task team is to embed gender-based violence education in the curriculum.

Commission chairperson Mfanozelwe Shozi said that in the CGE's recommendations it would provide Rhodes with guidance for its revised rape and sexual harassment policy.

The commission also raised the implementation of policy as an issue. Progressive policies fail when leaders do not have the will to implement them‚ it said.

This week the commission will hear from Rhodes‚ the University of Cape Town‚ the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in a gender transformation probe‚ dealing with allegations of "sex for marks" and other gender-based abuse.

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