Civil society concerned by violence against protesting students

Instances of sexual violence, assault and harassment are rife at institutions of higher education. Universities are microcosms of our broader society and therefore must become active in bringing sexual violence to an end in South Africa.

On Sunday evening, 18 April, a ‘reference list’ was anonymously published on social media, making public the names of alleged sexual violence perpetrators at Rhodes University (RU) in Grahamstown. This led students at RU to form a campaign against rape culture, named #Chapter212‬, referring to the South African Constitution’s chapter regarding the safety and dignity of the student body.

On Tuesday, 19 April, students of this campaign participated in a non-violent protest against the university’s policy on sexual violence and harassment, which they state is guilty of protecting rapists and is inadequate in assisting victims. Furthermore, RU management staff is being accused of victim-blaming and sweeping rape allegations on campus under the rug. The protesters are calling for a review and reform of RU’s sexual assault policy, particularly with regards to its narrow definition of rape and the unfair burden of proof placed on survivors to show that their rapist intended to rape them, which is not in line with South African legislation pertaining to sexual violence.

The National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Campaign, a coalition of 35 civil society organisations across South Africa, notes with deep concern the nature in which these protests have been handled. Despite being peaceful, the protestors were met with violence on Wednesday, 20 April, when police officers made use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesting students. According to reports, six students were arrested and one was hospitalized in this gross violation of their human rights.

We offer a message of support to organisations and campaigns at these institutions who have taken up this matter, as well as students who are rising up against rape culture permeating all spheres of their lives, most notably on campus – a space that should provide safety to students.

We further urge higher education institutions to urgently review their use of state and private security forces on campuses and update their sexual violence policies in line with the legislation of the country, including accurate provision to post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) access. Additionally, we call for these institutions to increase education and awareness on sexual violence and assault on all campuses across the country.

We recognise that while the reference list impinges on every person’s legal entitlement to be presummed innocent, the release of this list is evidence of the frustrations, hopelessness and desperation of some survivors’ need to be heard. While the accused persons rights are being upheld, we urge the university to listen to the needs and experiences of survivors and use this information as a guide towards reviewing their policies and responses to sexual violence on campus.

We are encouraged and hopeful that despite the pain and trauma that has resulted, the attention to sexual violence that these incidents have generated will lead to the creation of safe campuses and societies for everyone.

The National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence Campaign – a coalition of 35 civil society organisations. This press release is endorsed by:

  • Sonke Gender Justice
  • Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP)
  • Thando
  • World AIDS Campaign International (WACI)
  • Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)
  • Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture
  • Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  • Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre


Media Contacts

Kerryn Rehse

Rakgadi Mohlahlane

Fiona Nicholson

Tanya Charles
Sonke Gender Justice

Marike Keller
Sonke Gender Justice