Last week #RapeatUCT, a mass meeting hosted by UCT Survivors, brought students and staff members together to unpack the university’s systemic rape culture. The meeting was in response to the four incidents of rape that occurred around the Rhodes Memorial area from December 2015 to February 2016.
On the 6th of February UCT management sent out an email that urged students to “use the Jammie Shuttle and the UCT blue route where possible as well as to avoid walking alone.” The email reiterated that UCT was deploying extra security personnel to patrol the bridge over the M3 and offered counselling to any student or staff affected by these incidents. UCT Survivors writes of this in the event description of #RapeatUCT, “UCT has failed to use their additional private security to guard this area and protect students. It is also essential to note that although this is the first time UCT is communicating about these atrocities- these are not the first instances of rape and sexual violence on campus or even in the area in particular. Their willingness to communicate seems derived from the fact that the perpetrator may not be part of the UCT community”.
Dela Buhle Gwala, a member of UCT Survivors, opened the meeting with a speech detailing UCT’s response, or lack thereof, and mishandling of rape and sexual assault cases on campus. She spoke of the apathetic and hostile responses to the previous day’s Clothes Line Project initiative. Survivors wrote down their experiences of rape, sexual assault and rape-culture at UCT on old t-shirts. The t-shirts were hung on clotheslines on the Jammie steps. Dela mentioned that some of the messages contained “damning paragraphs from the recent review of DISCHO.” UCT’s discrimination and harassment office, DISCHO, has come under fire from student bodies such as UCT Survivors for being ineffective in providing counselling and protection for survivors. This was written about in the #RapeatUCT event description as well, “DISCHO was put under review last year- after countless students and student organisations reported it to be inefficient and inadequate, with the only result of survivors being re-traumatised.”
The routine process for survivors who go to DISCHO for support is to undergo mediation with their assailant. This usually results in re-traumatising the survivor rather than helping them to heal. Survivors are also constantly at risk of being re-traumatised as they have to share the same space as their assailant. UCT is ineffective in removing known assailants from campus, instead it is often survivors who are advised or forced to take a leave of absence if they wish to avoid seeing their assailant. These are some of the issues that survivors who have turned to DISCHO have repeatedly spoken out about. Dela ended off her speech by opening the floor for people to speak about their experiences of gender-based violence and discrimination at UCT.
The meeting became a space for sharing in the collective pain and rage of womxn and non-gender-binary people. Many of the survivors who spoke were sharing their stories for the first time. Their stories were deeply painful to hear and painful to tell. Many of the attendees left the meeting crying with a friend’s arm around them for support.
#RapeatUCT was a testament to how the personal is political. Rape and sexual assault is always a political act. It is the actualisation of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It is something to be protested about, written about and analysed, something to give speeches and hold mass meetings about. But the real effects it has on those that have survived it are unknowable and deeply personal. #RapeatUCT was a stark reminder of the real pain and the real violence underlying all the rhetoric and intellectualising of this issue.