Dear colleagues and students,
I write to you on a very serious matter.
It has to come to my attention that allegations of sexual assault have been made against a University of Cape Town (UCT) student.
I wish to assure the UCT community that the executive is treating this matter with the urgency and seriousness it demands. We will ensure that due process is followed and that the matter is concluded as speedily as possible.
The university is providing support to the survivor through the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC), whose staff have specialist skills in responding to allegations such as these. The matter will be fully investigated by the Special Tribunal so that we can review the allegations and ensure that due process is followed.
The OIC is specially set up with expert, professional skills to respond to cases where such allegations are made. The matter will be fully investigated within established policy and process. UCT has made significant strides over the last number of years to put this specialist support in place.
We are also aware that a small group of students broke the curfew regulations, and in a group left their residences to “look for the perpetrator”. This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to break the curfew and COVID-19 regulations. This poses a risk to the students involved but also to others. Furthermore, it is unconscionable that a group threaten to take matters into their own hands and wish to act as judge and jury. There are legal processes to follow. This threat of vigilante behaviour is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Any student or colleague who has experienced sexual assault or sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is encouraged to contact the OIC for assistance. The OIC offers survivors immediate comprehensive survivor care and support; assistance with lodging complaints and laying a charge with the South African Police Service (SAPS); and an online portal where survivors and/or those close to them (allies of survivors) can report incidents of sexual assault or SGBV.
We also offer support to people who are friends and allies of survivors, to help them through the anxiety they may be experiencing at this time.
We encourage people who have been affected by SGBV to come forward. We urge students and staff members to use channels available at UCT to lay charges against alleged perpetrators so that the right processes can be followed.
I appreciate and understand that a case like this causes significant anxiety in our society and across the UCT community. Many survivors and their allies feel incredible anger because the legal system that is supposed to offer support, protection and, ultimately, prosecution has let them down.
I want to make it clear that publicly naming alleged perpetrators of SGBV, particularly on social media, is not legal. Such allegations cause untold harm to innocent people. These allegations can also undermine the rights of survivors. There is a 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 (and anyone who then repeats or forwards the name) can be prosecuted. All of this works against the interests of the survivors of SGBV. We understand that many feel angry and frustrated, but this approach will not help us achieve the outcomes we all seek, which is to end all forms of SGBV.
Anyone who has experienced sexual assault or SGBV, or is aware of such an incident, should use the channels provided by UCT and SAPS. These channels include the Campus Protection Services (CPS), which works closely with the OIC in cases of sexual assault or SGBV.
We understand that people may want to gather in groups right now, when there is a heightened sense of anxiety. It is important to remember that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night, 27 June, that the country has moved to the adjusted Lockdown Level 4, which restricts gatherings in particular, and has brought the curfew forward to 21:00. Please adhere to these health regulations to help us stop the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure your safety.
We condemn any form of SGBV and will continue working to ensure that our campus is a safe environment for all members of the university community.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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