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#CampusRape: Universities call on survivors to come forward

Wits University’s Gender Equity Office has assured survivors they will be offered the support they need.

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

JOHANNESBURG - Several universities are calling on students to come forward if they have been violated or witnessed any crime of violence against others.

Wits University's Gender Equity Office has urged female assault and rape survivors on campus to speak out, assuring them that they will offer the support they need.

Four years ago, several students reported cases of sexual harassment and assault against at least four lecturers at the institution, who were all suspended, and then later resigned.

The university appointed a standalone independent unit called the Gender Equity Office two years ago, to help assault and rape survivors on campus, who don't want to speak to management.

Director Jackie Dugard has explained the steps they take to help students.

"So in the first instance, what we do is provide support. It's only a secondary thing once we've tried to contain the immediate moment of harm, then we start to discuss what the options for redress are."

The associate professor of law says while women are often reluctant to take cases further, the office usually advises survivors to institute disciplinary action against offenders.

She says they have dealt with 160 cases internally at the institution, in the past two years.

Students can still choose to lay separate criminal charges with police.

WATCH: Inside SA's 'Rape Culture'

'THE LAW FAVOURS PERPETRATORS'

Two Wits University students, one who was raped and the other assaulted, have told Eyewitness News they believe the law favours the perpetrators in cases of gender violence.

Both women say they want their names to be known and they want to speak out to try and put a stop to the silence and stigma around rape at local universities.

They spoke to EWN as part of a special focus on rape culture at tertiary institutions in the country.

Simamkele Dlakavu was raped at a student residence in Johannesburg, during her first year at the institution about seven years ago.

The 24-year old masters' student first shared her story during a protest against rape on campus last month, and says she couldn't tell anyone what happened because she felt ashamed.

She says she didn't report the case at the time because she feels the law gives the benefit of the doubt to perpetrators and not the survivors.

"Even when you go report rape, you need to prove that you were raped. You are not given the benefit of the doubt."

Fellow student, Thenjiwe Mswana, was photographed being choked by a male student during a Fees Must Fall protest on campus earlier this year; she says it's unfair that survivors have to see attackers on campus, while management investigates.

Both students say they'd like politicians in Parliament to debate ways to protect South African women, both on campuses and throughout the country.

RAPE CULTURE

At the same time, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research says students across the country have brought the issue of rape culture under the spotlight again, forcing institutions to stop being complacent.

Protests broke out in Grahamstown last month, after a controversial list was released on social media naming eleven alleged rapists at Rhodes University.

Researcher Lisa Vetten said this is not first time a list like this has been published, and the public outcry has led to policy reviews.

"The first time a rapist was named on campus was in 1989 at UCT; even that, like now, caused somewhat of a crisis and you had UCT quickly putting together policies and the whole sector of universities following behind that."

But she said a lack of resources on several campus also hampers management's ability to help.