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Workshop on reporting sexual offences to police

- Kukhanya Mthimkulu

Intern in the Gender Justice programme, Kukhanya Mthimkulu, takes us through a recent capacity building workshop with students from Wits University

On Wednesday, 1 June 2022, CALS’ Gender Justice programme hosted a workshop with students from the Wits University Ernest Oppenheimer Hall of Residence (EOH) on reporting sexual offences to the police. The workshop focused in particular on identifying what constitutes sexual assault and harassment and included discussions on gender-based violence and rape culture more generally.

The workshop was attended by close to thirty first year male and gender non-confirming students who were enthusiastic in their engagement with the team and who contributed significantly to the discussions. Many forms of sexual harassment were new to the students, and the team identified behaviours such as watching, pursuing, or accosting someone as well as engaging in unwanted communication as examples of sexual harassment. The team also focused on the legal consequences of acts that constitute sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In a society burdened with an alarming number of cases involving gender-based violence and femicide, it was important that a significant amount of time be spent on discussing consent. The team went through its legal definition and stressed the idea that consent is not a perpetual undertaking but rather can be withdrawn at any point in time from when it was initially given – even as soon as immediately afterwards.
Some of the questions that came up were on why these things are not taught at schools. The students affirmed that gender-based violence is a significant social issue and children should learn from a young age about the need for consent. The team stressed that the important principle to remember at this stage is when you know better, you do better.

It was also necessary to capacitate the students – and by extension the victims and survivors that they may assist with this information – on what to expect when they report a sexual offence. The team went through what will likely happen if they find themselves having to go to the hospital or police station and the rights that they are entitled to, so that they are not subjected to further abuse, humiliation or harassment by any officer of the law or public health official while they find themselves in a vulnerable position.

A draft guide entitled ‘Reporting Sexual Offences to the Police: Handbook and Pilot Project’ written by the head of Gender Justice at CALS, Dr Sheena Swemmer, was presented to the students. The team took the students through the document, highlighting annexures that the students might need if they should have to report a sexual offence or accompany someone in a similar situation. For example, the ‘Sexual Offence Statement Checklist’ consists of questions to consider when making an initial statement that includes in it as much detail as possible of the incident.

The team also stressed that in order to live and exist in a socially just environment, and one which is safe and healthy, all of us must take care to discuss this information with our friends and family members. That is one of the ways that we can play a role in building the kind of society we can be proud of. This workshop is just one capacity building mechanism to engage, whether formally or informally with members of our communities, to ensure that they may identify when they are being sexually harassed and know what to do in that situation.

It was a successful workshop, with rich and lively engagement. Many thanks to the students at the EOH residence for participating and having the team for the evening and to Nokuthula Ndlovu, Anda Dungulu and Kukhanya Mthimkulu for representing CALS.

Kukhanya Mthimkulu is an intern at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and student at Wits University.