Rape and sexual assault are common occurrences at university campuses all over the world – making it essential for all South African students to know about the resources available to them. The Citizen’s factsheet on crime last year stated that around 50 000 sexual offences were recorded nationally. The number of offences could be higher, considering that in 2010 only 3.9% of women who were survivors of rape reported it. According to the Gauteng GBV Indicators Project, the number of committed offences are undoubtedly much higher.

University campuses are not safe from the reaches of issues around gender based violence and sexual violence, relevant examples being the #AmINext protests and #OneRapistOneBullet movement in September that resulted in cancelled classes on 5 September. However, many students are not aware of the resources that UP offers to survivors of rape or sexual assault, such as #SpeakOutUP, the Student Support Centre, and Student Health Services.

“#SpeakOutUP is a student-led initiative aimed at combatting Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) on campus with a particular focus on sexual harassment”, said the #SpeakOut team.

The initiative is supported by both the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, and UP’s Transformation Office. #SpeakOut runs awareness campaigns, prevention work informing students about UP’s Sexual Harassment Policy and reporting process, as well as support from trained volunteers on a walk-in basis between 07:30 and 16:00. Volunteers trained as first responders can be found in the #SpeakOut office, where they offer listening and support services, and “refer all reported cases to the relevant structures on campus, with the consent of the student concerned”. Though currently located in the #SpeakOut office in the Graduate Centre, office 2-60, the office will move to the new CSA&G offices in the Akanyang Building this year.

Although bringing a case to #SpeakOut does not establish a formal report, it does provide an opportunity for a student to feel supported and validated in taking the process further, should that be the wish of the student concerned. The power of peer support is in the opportunity to share experiences in an informal setting. As rape and sexual assault may require urgent intervention, volunteers are trained to refer a student to emergency support services.

“University campuses are not safe from the reaches of issues around gender based violence and sexual violence”

When asked what a student should do in the short term should they experience assault, the #SpeakOut team advised that they should “speak to someone, seek immediate medical assistance and report the case to the relevant authorities”. Students can call UP’s crisis line immediately to access relevant information and assistance, or upon visiting the #SpeakOut office, students can be referred accordingly. Students can also contact the Transformation Office for support regarding the reporting processes.

Both #SpeakOut and the Transformation Office can be approached by students who “are unsure whether there is a case or not or which process to follow”, said Sarah Matseke, the Acting Manager of Transformation. “People don’t always know the definitions of sexual harassment and it is best if they get proper advice before dismissing any unwelcome sexual behaviour as minor”, explained Matseke. The Transformation Office is part of the mechanism that deals with the reporting processes at UP, where students can receive advice, on whether or not there is a case.

A formal complaint can be lodged with UP’s Security Services and can be done when a student would like to open a case of sexual harassment. Students opening a case can expect Security Services’ Investigations Unit to conduct interviews with relevant witnesses, and then refer case statements to the Transformation Office, without a judgement. From this point, the Transformation Office assesses a case based on whether or not behaviour of a sexual nature has been directed to the complainant, if this was unwelcome and if this was expressed by the complainant in some form, as well as the nature, extent and impact of the behaviour on the complainant. If the evidence warrants a formal process in the form of a disciplinary enquiry, this report is sent to UP’s Legal Services. Otherwise, “a mediation session will be conducted within the Transformation Office, only if the complainant is willing for such an intervention”, says Matseke. All engagement and information involved in these processes are confidential and carried out with the consent of the student who has requested a mediation or investigation.

Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment and rape is an important aspect for students, especially those who might wish to open a case. Many examples of sexual harassment are provided in UP’s Anti-Discrimination Policy, which can be found on the Student Portal. The best guide is “persistent, sexual behaviour/conduct that is unwelcomed”, explained Matseke, adding that campus security can escort students to their residences upon request, should a student feel unsafe.

The Student Counselling Unit (SCU) is another resource that can link students to other services, or help lessen the potential long-term psychological effects sexual assault or rape could have on a victim. “The SCU provides trauma counselling in emergency situations as well as in routine appointment schedules”, said Dr Linda Blokland, a clinical psychologist and head of the SCU, adding that “no crisis need is ever turned away but is dealt with in the same day”. The SCU is located in the Student Centre on Main Campus, where information regarding booking appointments can also be found.

“A formal complaint can be lodged with UP’s Security Services and can be done when a student would like to open a case of sexual harassment.”

The SCU is linked with all relevant services like Security Services, medical support, investigative processes, as well as the South African Police Force, meaning that any victim of sexual violence can approach the SCU in order to access other support they might need. Blokland added that no student is pressured to follow a defined route but is rather counselled through the process and decision making. It is noteworthy that the survivor can stop this process at any point. SCU is also able to refer students to public emergency medical service providers and the SAPS.

UP’s support system also includes an emergency care-line that can be reached on 0800747747 and is run by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. The UP 24/7 Crisis Line and UP Security Services numbers can be found on the back of all UP student cards. The numbers 012 420 2310, 2760, 0800 006428 or 083 654 0476 are 24- hour emergency numbers that can be used to reach Security Services. Matseke added that students without airtime can send a ‘please-call-me’ message to the last number and campus security will call back. All processes initiated with the above support services at UP are confidential.

“Sexual assault or any other type of assault can have long term psychological effects on a person”, explained Blokland, who said that it also carries the risk of impacting a person’s health, and therefore attention should be a high priority. The obstacles faced by survivors of sexual violence who wish to seek support or report the incident are well-known and an important part of coping with issues like trauma involve social support. Friends of survivors play a powerful role in supporting and encouraging the use of psychological, medical, and legal support.

“As a friend, one needs to respect the victim’s/survivor’s wishes, rights, and dignity”, said the #SpeakOut team. All decisions about possible action should also be made freely by the survivor. Blokland suggests that friends of survivors can also provide support by offering to accompany them to counselling rooms, should the survivor feel uncomfortable.

“Students should know that the services are sought voluntarily and no-one will ever be made to follow the process further than what they feel comfortable doing”, said Blokland, emphasizing the importance of making use of UP’s resources in the event of sexual assault or rape.


Infographic: Giovanna Jones