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Sexual predators are everywhere

- Erna van Wyk

The School of Public Health recently hosted a dynamic discussion on gender-based violence and rape culture on campuses.

The reactivation on campuses in South Africa and abroad to confront gender-based violence, such as sexual harassment and rape, as well as the lack of effective institutional and societal responses, calls for urgent transformation and the need to address the gender power imbalances in our society, such as patriarchy, gender inequality, discrimination, prejudice and stigmatisation of women survivors.

The Wits School of Public Health, together with student activists, journalists, and researchers at the forefront of rape and gender-based violence advocacy and research, recently held a dynamic discussion to  deconstruct the responses to Gender-based violence and rape culture on campus.

#IAmOneInThree

#IAmOneInThree student activist, Tshepiso Maleswena, said while she is still a “fallist” and supporting the #FeesMustFall movement, the reaction and lack of support for the Rhodes University’s #RUReferenceList “made me sick”. 

"....we are talking about a violation of a women’s body that happens every day. #IAmOneInThree talks about ‘Rhodes you are not alone’. It is not a Rhodes problem. It is not a Wits problem. It is actually a #SAReferenceList. It is all our problems,” Maleswena said.

Rapists are not holograms

Li'Tsoanelo ZwanePanelist, Li'Tsoanelo Zwane (Masters in Education student and activist), said government campaigns that deal with gender-based violence are “pretty much useless because they always do this thing of ‘real men don’t rape’ and that is very problematic because it implies that we are being raped by these holograms; (that) it’s not men who are raping us.

“And it also creates the idea that all rapes are inherently violent which isn’t the case because not all rapists are these strangers that come from dark alleys and come and snatch us, and take us away and kidnap us. Rapists walk among us.”

“Rapists are people that we are married to. Rapists are people that we go on dates with. We are friends with rapists as well.

"A rapist isn’t this hologram, out of space, abstract thing. It is a very tangible person that we deal with in our day-to-day lives,” Zwane said.

Women as the ones who always have to defend their actions

Pontso PilaneReading from the poem “Sons” by Rudy Francisco, journalist Pontso Pilane said: “Rape culture is the worst kind of teacher our kids are learning the most from. It teaches women that it is their responsibility to not get raped. It teaches men that ‘boys will be boys’”.

Changing the language

Lisa VettenLisa Vetten (political scientist at Wits) said that society needs to continuously challenge the gender norms that we keep on producing over and over again in issues of consent, gender roles in relationships and heterosexuality.

“Even talking about ‘who pursues and who consent’ is problematic because even if we have campaigns around consent who we are assuming is doing the consenting because that is implicitly saying who we think should be doing the asking and who sit back and wait to be asked,” Vetten said.

The panelists included Thandokazi Maseti (lecturer in Family Medicine at Wits); Tshepiso Maleswena and Hlengiwe Ndlovu (#IAmOneInThree student activists); Li'Tsoanelo Zwane (Masters in Education student and activist); Pontsho Pilane (journalist); Maria Wanyane (clinical social worker, Gender Equity Office at Wits); Dumisane Rebombo (One Man Can National Manager, Sonke Gender Justice); Lisa Vetten (political scientist at Wits); Abigail Hatcher (researcher, School of Public Health at Wits).

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