List of alleged rapists sparks Rhodes tension

Rhodes University has undertaken steps to strengthen mechanisms to support rape survivors at the institution after a list of 11 names of alleged student rapists went viral on social media, sparking angry protests across the university campus.

But, while vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela urged students to work within the prescripts of the law, many yesterday remained adamant they wanted those named to be rounded up and thrown off campus.

It remained unclear yesterday who was behind the initial publication of the names in what quickly became dubbed the #RUReferenceList, but by late on Sunday night groups of protesters had set out in search of those named.

The group took some of the named students into their “custody” at their university residences, despite vigorous attempts by Mabizela and other members of university management to prevent it.

Mabizela informed the group its members were breaking the law.

All but one student was released or had escaped by yesterday morning. The university said the student was also finally released after police intervened.

The Rhodes Law Faculty was also overrun by protesters more than once yesterday. Some of those named on the list are reportedly students in the law faculty.

The Dispatch has the list of published names but will not release it.

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender said yesterday she had not seen the list and was unaware if anyone on it had ever been criminally charged.

But she emphasised that the police were alarmed at figures recently cited of sexual assault on the Rhodes campus, saying police records did not correspond with these statistics.

She said Rhodes’ Gender Action Project (GAP) chairwoman Sian Ferguson had revealed that some 22 students had confided in her this year alone that they had been raped.

Ferguson was quoted as saying very few women reported rape as they feared secondary traumatisation and were aware of the low rate of rape convictions.

Govender said this was extremely serious and made an urgent appeal to victims to come forward and report their cases to the police.

The university said it condemned rape and sexual violence and sought to provide a consistent, caring, and timely response when sexual assaults occurred in the university community.

“Rhodes University does not tolerate this culture and strives to be at the forefront of change in ridding our institution and our society of this scourge,” the university said.

But it acknowledged that much more could and would be done.

Late yesterday afternoon Mabizela told hundreds of students that the university management wanted to work with all students to create a safe and secure environment at the university.

He undertook to review all policies and to beef up its response to sexual assault. But he said the university could not simply toss out the constitution and had to work within the prescripts of the law.

Mabizela questioned whether the students wanted the university to “round them up and throw them off campus” on the basis of allegations.

“Yes,” was the unanimous response. The university said it would create a task team consisting of both staff and students to look broadly into issues of sexual violence on campus and how systems and procedures could be strengthened.

The GAP said yesterday it stood in solidarity with all victims of sexual violence at Rhodes University and supported the campaign to end rape culture.

But it said it did not condone or support the actions of people “appropriating the campaign” for their own ends or those who exacerbated the situation for what it termed “spectator sport”.

The situation on campus remained volatile at the time of writing.

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.