#CampusRape: Universities overhaul policies amid rape culture protests

EWN has compared rape policies & guidelines at 8 institutions as students say not enough is being done.

FILE: Rhodes University students show their support for the Chapter 2.12 campaign against victim blaming and rape culture on campus. Picture: Siyabonga Sesant/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Some students and staff members have questioned whether sufficient systems are in place for sexual assault and rape survivors on various university campuses. Students have also challenged the sexual offences policies at tertiary institutions, saying they alienate survivors and protect the alleged perpetrators. Students at several institutions say management has not done enough to address rape culture on campuses, and that while policies are in place, they are not properly implemented.

As part of an Eyewitness News special report on the many-headed hydra of rape culture, we compared the policies and guidelines as found on the websites of the institutions we visited. This is what we found.


All six universities looked into have policies dealing with sexual offences, harassment or assault, on or off campus, by a student or staff member. But some policies are more detailed than others.

Rhodes University, University of Cape Town (UCT) and Wits University - which have all seen recent demonstrations over rape culture - each have step-by-step instructions and guidelines for staff on how to support a survivor immediately after an attack.

These include how to take a statement, discussions about ARVs and how to protect a person who has reported an assault as well as advice to the survivor on how to preserve evidence should they want to pursue charges. Nearly all the universities advise a survivor not to take a bath or change their clothes, as this could contain vital evidence.

There is also a commitment - specifically at Rhodes, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and UCT - to educate the university community about rape and other forms of sexual assault. During the protests at Rhodes students called for more discussion and education about rape culture for every student.

In terms of policy documents available, Stellenbosch University has specific policies in place, orientated to staff in the work place, and not for students. Stellenbosch is currently drafting a policy for both staff and students.

The policies at the two technikons EWN visited, namely the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), are part of their anti-discrimination codes and aren't as detailed as those at the universities. At CPUT the sexual harassment policy is in the academic rules and regulations for 2016 booklet, while chapters 15 and 24 deals specifically with sexual misconduct.

There is information available for students on what to do immediately after an attack and details of their support structures on their respective websites and in student handbooks.

All in all, the protocols in place at the institutions are specifically orientated to steps taken immediately after an attack, and do not necessarily make provisions for survivors who might come forward months later, other than the counselling support available.

UCT students hold up posters during a protest against rape and sexual abuse on campus on 11 May 2016. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.


Women have described how they've been interrogated about the clothes they were wearing and whether they'd been drinking alcohol before an attack on campus. Students at several tertiary institutions want management to change the way rape and sexual assault are defined in their policies. They claim these policies are based on a rigged legal system that creates a safe haven for the perpetrator.

Several universities use the same definition as the South African legal system: that rape and sexual assault are unlawfully and intentionally committed. Stellies, CPUT and TUT define sexual harassment it as a form of discrimination without defining rape or indecent assault.

Activists say this definition is problematic because the onus falls on the survivor to prove that the perpetrator intended to rape them, which is part of the reason people are often reluctant to report such attacks.

When defining sexual harassment, UWC makes a specific declaration around intentionality, saying the definition emphasises the experience of the person, that someone may feel harassed even if there is no intention.

Most of the policies urge survivors to speak out, with UWC encouraging people to report cases as soon as reasonably possible.

All eight institutions also encourage students and staff to report cases to the police, with Rhodes, Wits and UCT going as far as to provide information on how to give a statement and preserve evidence.


At least five universities have set up panels or task teams to review their sexual offences policies.

UWC is the latest institution to hold a mirror up to its sexual harassment policy after a meeting with students at the beginning of this month.

The University's Gender Unit, the Proctors Office and the SRC are working with the vice-chancellor to spearhead the process and have called on students to come forward to give their input.

Rhodes has set up an interim committee to guide a task team of staff and students to review all procedures after the protest action earlier this year.

The task team will focus on creating an environment in which survivors are comfortable to speak out and recommend ways in which current spaces may be improved. It will also conduct an audit of its campus culture, including the attitude of management, staff-student relations and relations between different grades of staff. The task team will also recommend ways in which systemic issues that promote a culture of rape and sexual violence may be addressed.

UCT's Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Office was reviewed by a panel of staff and external consultants late last year. The panel's recommendations were made after students and staff were interviewed. The university accepted the recommendations and several gender policies are currently under review as a result.

But last week, a group of students gathered on campus to discuss rape at the university and have given management a week to respond to demands regarding measures to combat sexual assault and harassment on campus. Their demands include that sexual assault cases be made public and for more security.

A UCT student holds up a poster during a protest against rape and sexual abuse on campus on 11 May 2016. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

While Wits conducts yearly reviews of its policies, the gender equity office is currently conducting an anonymous survey asking students and staff to give their views on the effectiveness of the policies in place.

Stellenbosch is overhauling its policies and procedures, and there is currently a draft policy that incorporates staff and students. This document is under still under a process of consultation.

The University of Pretoria says it is also reviewing its policies.