SpeakOut UP tackles sexual harassment

SpeakOut UP tackles sexual harassment

Correction: In a previous version of this article, a source’s surname Laluma Shongwe, was incorrectly stated as Laluma Chabedi. The article has since been corrected and Perdeby apologises for any inconvenience caused. 

 

Mbali Mkhithi

On 8 May, a demonstration was held by Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) at the Student Centre on Hatfield Campus where students protested using slogans such as “Femicide is a South African Curse”, “No to women killing” and “Blow the whistle on the likes of Mdu Manana”. According to PASMA secretary Olwethu Dlanga, the aim of the protest was to raise awareness about femicide, which is the killing of women by men. Dlanga said that, “People are not educated about the dangers of masculinity, misogyny and patriarchy and its toxicity. Violence perpetuated on women by men has been normalized by society to an extent whereby people are becoming desensitized to these things.” During the mass meeting which was held on the same day, questions were raised concerning the safety of victims who are forced to live within the same space as their perpetrators on campus.  Another speak out session was organised by the Hatfield Studios executive committee and held on 9 May at Hatfield Studios Lounge. The main point of discussion was, “Are we safe?” The guest speakers at this event were senior UP students Tshegetso Moepi, Refiloe Mofokeng, Letlotlo Chabedi and Laluma Shongwe. The speak out session aimed to address issues that women face around Hatfield, to share lived experiences of student assaults and the impact that the current clubs in the area have on student safety outside campus. Chabedi explained that, “There were multiple events which influenced the team to hold the speak out session but one topic which we all felt strongly about are the dangers which women face (even in an academic environment like Hatfield) and the national growth of femicide which is disregarded across the country. An event which was discussed is the frequency at which young women’s drinks are being spiked around the social spaces in Hatfield and the terrible events that followed as result of this.”

Brooklyn SAPS’ Captain Colette Weilbach revealed that, “In most reported cases liquor was consumed before the sexual offence occurred. Young women must think carefully whether they should leave a pub or night club with someone they just met. It is also not safe for young women to sleep over at a friend’s place where other men are residing. Cases were reported where the victim was raped by flat or roommates.”  House Humanities in collaboration with SpeakOutUP launched an office that would address this rise of rape culture within and around UP. The project is a joint idea that was bought to life by Stephanie Cookson and Mmathabo Lekalakala. Cookson explained that, “This project could be seen as one aimed at combatting sexual harassment and assault by inspiring students to speak out about their experiences and to create awareness for and increase accessibility to the resources such students need.” The SpeakOutUp office is a centralized office for student to go to in an event of any sexual harassment, assault and misconduct. The volunteers working at the office are UP students called befrienders, these students have received training with regards to HIV sensitivities as well as issues of social justice through the Centre for Sex, AIDS and Gender. The befrienders will go through additional training so that they are sensitised with regards to issues of sexual harassment. Humanities Chairperson, David Kabwa explained that, “The reason why we are choosing the befrienders right now is because we want to get the office up and running as soon as possible. The office space has been approved, it is the logistics right now that we are working on.”  Since there is a major distinction between sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape, the office will serve specifically for sexual harassment. However, it will liaise with the relevant authorities that are equipped with experts who are in a better position to deal with issues of sexual abuse and rape. There are two rape centres within close proximity to the University, one in Pretoria CBD and another in Mamelodi. The office will arrange with them in an event where a student has been a victimised. Such students are urged to visit the SpeakOutUP office where they will receive coping counselling before they are handed over to the more qualified individuals. A transport system will be set up so students do not have to transport themselves.  Kwaba explained that the activation of this office, which took place on 17 May, was so students would know about the establishment of the office before the University’s cooling off period. “We want students to be aware of the structures that are in place to assist them. The major issue that we have had in the past was that when people report instances of sexual harassment they would go to Help Desk, reception, lecturers, security since there is no centralization. The issues in these cases are often fragmented, that was the one major thing. What the Project Speak Out seeks to do is to establish an office with a centralized location that would be able to deal with these kinds of incidents”, Kwaba said. Since the office is currently run by student volunteers who do not yet have the necessary expertise to deal with very sensitive issues such as rape or sexual abuse, until then, students must be aware of the alternate routes they can take to receive assistance. Kwaba said that, “We are encouraging a culture where people speak up, we are of the belief that if people speak-up that we will see a drop in the number of cases reported. If I am an offender and I’m plotting an offense, I will be less likely to do so if I know that the institution that I am in has a culture against silence because I will be deterred.” Brooklyn SAPS’s, Captain Weilbach advised students, “Limit outings late at night. When going out, try to stay in a group, there is safety in numbers. Trust your instincts and be cautious when strangers approach you to ask for the time, a lighter, directions etc. Never be afraid to draw attention to yourself. If being followed or harassed by somebody go directly to the nearest populated place and ask somebody’s help.”

UP EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBERS

If students want to report rape, they can contact
the Campus Student Health Clinic at
012 420 2500 or Campus security at
012 420 2310.
For unplanned pregnancies, students can
contact Amato@UP at 012 342 3452 or Life-Line
UP at 012 804 3619.
Within 72 hours of the sexual assault, students
can contact First Aid Emergency Help at
012 354 1874 or Thuthuzela centres at
012 801 4504.
For professional counselling, they can contact
the UP Counselling line 012 420 2333.
For urgent counselling, students can contact UP
Care-line SADAG at 011 234 4837.
There is also Crisis Line at 0800 006 428, the UP
Care-line at 0800 747 747 as well as different
faculty advisors who can offer student support
with studies.
UP EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBERS

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