#RhodesWar and being expelled for protesting rape culture whilst rapists graduate

Rape Culture: A social context that involves disbelieving survivors of sexual violence, casual sexism, and how we view street harassment, catcalling or any sort of sexual harassment as normal or a good way to court women. It also involves trivialising or mocking sexual violence, such as rape jokes.

   Dela Gwala, previous head of UCT Survivors

Online there has recently been an outcry by, current and ex, Rhodes female scholars speaking on how women who have negated in protests against rape culture on campus have been indefinitely excluded while perpetrators of rape, some of whom have been convicted have gone free.

The various tweets under the #RhodesWar began after two anti-rape protestors were expelled for life after participating in protests in Grahamstown in 2016. According to a report ‘the protests escalated when a group of female students allegedly took matters into their own hands and dragged four students suspected of sexual assault out of their dorm rooms.’

The hashtag has spoken about how the women involved have either faced disciplinary hearings for protesting rape culture on campus, have been excluded and their transcripts withheld thus disallowing them to study elsewhere or have faced other harsh charges. The tweets also spoke of incidences such as a hit and run, committed by a white male student that left a black woman dead in 2015 and another in which a man who was convicted of sexual assault was given two years suspension whilst the women who protested acts such as his and other perpetrators were kicked indefinitely out of the academic institution.

The Rhodes University key first exploded in 2016 when women spoke out within South Africa about the rampant sexual assault that plagued these spaces of higher education. The #RUReferenceList protests in 2016 begun with a list of 11 names of men posted to Facebook.  

 

According to one post: ‘Eleven men’s names and the words “et al”. Nothing more. No descriptions were offered. No allegations were made. In a wry gesture towards the academic requirements against plagiarism in any student’s written work (an offence which can mean exclusion from the university) the post was entitled “Reference List”.’

 

This problem is not one that is simply a Rhodes problem as campuses such as UCT and Wits also report high levels of sexual assault with UCT reporting 13 cases in four months (and this number does not account for the cases that go unreported).

One woman at UCT was told ‘You see, I keep telling you girls to lock your doors.’ after she reported a house committee member letting himself into her room and sexually assaulting her. This is the sort of support that women within campus settings are often given. The problem of how management within these spaces (both within South Africa and globally) has often been termed as lacklustre at best and harmful or destructive to the victims at worst.

The handling of sexual assaults on campuses has always been controversial in nature with most tertiary institutions choosing instead to silence victims rather than dealing with perpetrators. And this is not just within South African universities. This is a global phenomenon and often crimes go unreported (one report states that only one in five women on American college campuses report assaults). Often campuses do not have the policies in place that allow victims of sexual assault to report what has happened and if and when they do they face a host of red tape, a lack of follow through in reporting and adjudication processes and social pressure from peers to stay quiet about incidences. It is no secret that campuses often cover up rapes on

Below are some of the tweets outlining the online protest:

 

 

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