Editorial: Stop the scourge of rape

A rape hot spot sign in Gauteng, erected by frustrated pedestrians. (Gallo)

A rape hot spot sign in Gauteng, erected by frustrated pedestrians. (Gallo)

Rape at South African universities has been whispered about for years, but talk about it is often shut up in internal processes. Now we’re talking about it.

The #Chapter212 movement, the release of the #RUreferencelist and the #NakedProtest at Rhodes University in Grahamstown has put the issue firmly on the agenda. The way the Rhodes protesters have gone about their activism has drawn both criticism and support. Whatever the reaction, though, one thing is clear: victims and survivors should always come first.

The list of 11 men accused by students of sexual violence – the #RUreferencelist – has gone viral. There are valid objections to this form of protest action, in that it presumes guilt without any formal mechanism of trial and evidence. But, given how the criminal justice system has failed rape survivors, it’s no surprise the protesters had no faith in going that route.

See: #RUReferenceList: A violent response to a violent act

At the same time, the heavy-handed treatment of the protesters by police will have destroyed any lingering sense that they are on the side of the victims, or committed to solving rape crimes. It looks like order and the protection of property are greater priorities for the police than catching rapists, putting them on trial and removing them from the society they are endangering.

The #RUreferencelist could unfortunately delegitimise this battle against rape culture if any man named on that list is found to be innocent. A protest movement risks losing its grip on the issue at hand when it gets too personal and flouts the rule of law. The protesters are calling for an improved application of the law and should not be undermining it.

It is understandable, however – even if it is not justifiable – that such actions are taken when rape victims believe they are not being listened to, that their accounts are dismissed by the police and those who should be helping them, never mind the tendency to blame the person who gets raped.

Our universities, with all their inequalities and fractured communities, are a microcosm of South Africa, and it’s very clear that the issue of rape needs serious attention. If the protesters achieve that, it will be a step forward.



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