23 July 2012

Open letter to the Monday Paper and Campus Protection Services

The Campus Protection Services advertisement/article, 'Negligence blamed for crime on campus', p6 of the Monday Paper 21 May-3 June 2012, refers.

In this article and its title is an implicit, subtle but significant shift of responsibility from the criminal to the victim, and it is deeply offensive. It is not negligent to trust that others will respect ownership, particularly when items owned are still under personal possession - in a locked car, on a desk in an office, in a bag while working in a computer laboratory. Those who are guilty of a criminal offence, be it speeding, theft or rape, must be blamed and held wholly accountable.

The transfer of responsibility onto the victim reads as a disclaimer against poor performance in protecting individuals and possessions on campus. There is ample evidence that premeditated criminals are on campus every day and night. Women and men are not protected against physical harm, and one must always assume that possessions and personal safety are under threat. This is not a conducive environment in which to conduct the business of a university, a fundamental aspect of which is creativity.

However, the CPS operates under trying conditions; UCT campus is a microcosm of our crime-ridden society. We cannot walk on the mountain without a tazer, cycle to UCT along the Liesbeeck River Trail without fear of attack, or travel by public transport knowing we are safe from mugging or worse.

The efforts of the CPS, UCT, and their partnership with the Rondebosch Police do not go unnoticed, and the UCT community of staff and students (and parents) is grateful. The campus precinct is now populated by the personnel of the euphemistically-named Groote Schuur Improvement District (GSID), many of whom seem to be security guards. The primary emphasis of the 'improvement' is evidently reducing crime through visible policing. But despite all these efforts, UCT staff and students will continue to fall victim to criminals (I intentionally do not say 'crime'), and when this happens we do not want to feel any sense of personal blame for negligence - place the blame on the perpetrator!

My closing request is that UCT media and CPS communicators be conscious of the effect of using language that apportions blame to victims - and thereby softens our response to criminals and their acts.

Associate Professor Jennifer Whittal


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