Dear parents, guardians, fee payers and sponsors of UCT students
I wrote to you recently to update you on our stance as the UCT leadership against sexual and gender-based violence (Read the VC Desk). I was so proud to see how many staff and students came together to demand decisive action from the government to protect women and children and vulnerable people in our society.
We do recognise that there is currently a heightened awareness of sexual and gender-based violence at our university and across our country, and rightly so. Tragically, sexual and gender-based violence is rampant in our society. I want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to support those who have been affected. Additional measures have been put in place to support survivors and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted in accordance with the law. We communicated this to students and staff today.
Any students who have experienced sexual assault or gender-based violence are encouraged to contact the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC) for assistance (021 650 3530 during office hours or 072 393 7824 for the 24/7 hotline). The OIC will offer survivors immediate comprehensive care and support. They will assist with lodging complaints and with laying a charge with the South African Police Service (SAPS). In addition to this, the OIC has created an online portal where survivors and/or those close to them can report incidents of sexual assault or gender-based violence.
We encourage people who have been affected by sexual and gender-based violence to come forward. We urge students to use the available channels to lay charges against alleged perpetrators so that the right process can be followed.
Over the last few days, alleged perpetrators of sexual assault have been publicly mentioned by name, particularly on social media. Many survivors feel incredible anger because the legal system that is supposed to offer support, protection and ultimately prosecution has let them down, so I can understand why they might turn to naming and shaming. But I want to make it clear that publicly naming alleged perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly on social media, is not legal.
Not only can such allegations cause untold harm to innocent people, it is inefficient in bringing perpetrators to justice. More than this, there is a very real risk that defamation cases can be brought against the individual who first made the allegation, as well as all those who repeat the allegation. Anyone who names an alleged perpetrator on social media (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp groups and all other public platforms), and anyone who then repeats the name, can be prosecuted. Please urge your dependant not to participate in naming and shaming on social media. We understand that many feel angry and frustrated, but this approach will not help us achieve the outcomes we all seek.
For those whose names have been mentioned, you are asked to contact the OIC immediately. UCT has put a process in place (for further information contact the OIC) that will deal with the matter effectively, taking due legal process into consideration. It is critical to recognise, and UCT does, that the rights of everyone involved, including alleged perpetrators, must and will be recognised and protected. There is support available and we will deal with the matter appropriately.
This is not a comfortable topic of discussion, but it is a necessary one. I hope that together with you – the parents and supporters of our students – this university can address the issues head-on and provide a safer space for all.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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