Protesters demand reform following release of #RUReferenceList

After a “reference list” was released making public the names of alleged rapists at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, students have continued to protest against a system they believe is guilty of protecting rapists.    

Currently, student protesters at Rhodes University (RU) are disrupting lectures and uniting to reform the university’s rape policy and trauma services, because they say it fails to hold rapists accountable. The #Chapter212 campaign has organised most of the protest activity, which began last week when students plastered posters onto the face of RU’s library, with quotes and anecdotes that accused the university management of victim-blaming and sweeping rape allegations on campus under the rug.

“For now, our concerns are the sexual assault policy which has been under review for over a year. The policy is problematic as it excludes victims who have been forced to penetrate their perpetrators in its definition of rape. It also puts the onus on the victim to prove their perpetrator intended to rape them,” says Sian Ferguson, a student organiser in #Chapter212 and current chair of the Gender Action Project at Rhodes University.

The name of the campaign, #Chapter212, refers to Chapter 2.12 of the South African Constitution, which protects the rights, safety and dignity of students. Students allege that the processes to report rape at the university are inaccessible because there are too few staff members, and that the staff members who are there are insensitive.  

In the early hours of Monday morning, a Student Representative Council member, who is involved in the campaign, released a list of demands, which included the university’s rape policy be changed, with a the definition of rape being reviewed and the burden of proof be removed from victims.     

The demands followed from a night of protests on Sunday, when a list of names of alleged rapists was posted on the RU Queer Confessions, Questions and Crushes Facebook group, and went viral under the hashtag #RUReferenceList. It’s unclear who released the names, but Ferguson says that it is a misconception that #Chapter212 made the names public.     

After the list of names was made public, students converged at the university’s Steve Biko Buildings, and went from residence to residence to search for people who are on the list. According to Rhodes University, a few students were held, but after negotiations with staff, the last remaining student being held was released on Monday morning.     Rhodes University spokesperson, Catherine Deiner, says that the university respects the right of students to report or not report rape. Students have four options if they choose to report rape at the university’s Harassment Office: 

  1. Report the incident with no further action, 
  2. Report the incident and have the accused be brought in, 
  3. Mediation, or 
  4. Disciplinary action.

“The University engaged students and have responded to the students demands. However, the University must act in accordance with the law of the land,” Deiner told the Mail & Guardian.   

The university’s vice-chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, addressed students on Monday and spoke on some of the demands, but students are not satisfied that the university has committed to meeting their demands.     

Mabizela said that the low capacity in the university’s counseling services will be improved and the counseling service will be open 24 hours. Mabizela said that the names on the list would not be investigated until formal charges are laid. He also stated that the core issue lied with the Sexual Offences Act, which the university follows in its rape policy.     

Meanwhile protesters are attempting to organise the campaign at Rhodes University. Students are boycotting their academic classes, as the university attempts to continue its programme and operations.     

“There is a partial shutdown, it’s not endorsed by management but students are disrupting academic classes. This partial shutdown will continue until the demands are met,” Ferguson said.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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