'Sexual assaults' and vigilantism send shock waves through UCT

30 June 2021 - 18:25 By aron hyman
Students at the University of Cape Town broke lockdown regulations on Tuesday night to find an alleged sexual assault perpetrator and take him to Mowbray police station. File photo.
Students at the University of Cape Town broke lockdown regulations on Tuesday night to find an alleged sexual assault perpetrator and take him to Mowbray police station. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times

The University of Cape Town (UCT) said on Wednesday it is providing support to a “survivor” who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow student leader.

A small group of students reportedly broke the Covid-19 lockdown curfew on Tuesday night to leave their residences and “look for the perpetrator”.

It is understood the group, including one of at least two alleged sexual assault survivors, found the alleged perpetrator at a residence and took him to Mowbray police station.

TimesLIVE understands one survivor was asked to open a case but refused due to the pressure she felt and the presence of the crowd. Western Cape police spokesperson Capt FC van Wyk said no criminal case had been registered relating to the alleged sexual assaults.

Several student bodies, including one to which the alleged perpetrator belonged, named him in statements and social media posts.

The UCT student representative council, in a tweet naming the perpetrator, welcomed the “protest action”.

But UCT vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng warned that the alleged perpetrator should not be identified and called students' “vigilante behaviour” unacceptable.

“We are also aware that a small group of students broke the curfew regulations, and in a group left their residences to 'look for the perpetrator',” Phakeng said in a letter on Wednesday to the UCT community.

“This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to break the curfew and Covid-19 regulations. This poses a risk to the students involved but also to others,” she said.

“Furthermore, it is unconscionable that a group threatens to take matters into their own hands and wish to act as judge and jury. There are legal processes to follow. This threat of vigilante behaviour is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng condemned 'vigilante action' by students.
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng condemned 'vigilante action' by students.
Image: Esa Alexander

Phakeng said publicly naming alleged perpetrators undermined the rights of survivors and could cause “untold harm to innocent people”.

She said: “I want to make it clear that publicly naming alleged perpetrators of [sexual and gender-based violence], particularly on social media, is not legal. These allegations can also undermine the rights of survivors. There is a risk that defamation cases can be brought against the individual who first made the allegation, as well as all those who repeat the allegation.”

Phakeng said in her letter that the university’s office for inclusivity and change is supporting one of the sexual assault survivors.

“The matter will be fully investigated by the special tribunal so that we can review the allegations and ensure that due process is followed,” said Phakeng.

“The [office for inclusivity and change] is specially set up with expert, professional skills to respond to cases where such allegations are made. The matter will be fully investigated within established policy and process.

“UCT has made significant strides over the past number of years to put this specialist support in place.”

Phakeng said any student or colleague who has experienced sexual assault or sexual and gender-based violence was encouraged to contact the office for inclusivity and change (OIC) for assistance.

“The OIC offers survivors immediate comprehensive survivor care and support; assistance with lodging complaints and laying a charge with the police; and an online portal where survivors and/or those close to them (allies of survivors) can report incidents of sexual assault or SGBV,” said Phakeng.

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