Letter: How we can fight rape on our university campuses

ONCE more we see the consequences of South African society’s unwillingness to admit, face and solve its problems, such as one of the world’s worst rape statistics outside of war zones. Here victims and rightly concerned people are ignored until they do something drastic, like publishing a list of suspected rapists.

While this act of desperate frustration was illegal, we really need to focus on what the problems are and what to do about them. They are teenagers’ arrogance and recklessness, lack of situational awareness and common sense, poor preparation for living outside the home, lack of self-defence skills, ignorance of how state and private security systems work, and what their limitations are in terms of capabilities and powers under the law.

The problems include institutions which place their reputations above the welfare of their students, false charges of rape which make it harder for actual victims to be believed, a disgustingly patriarchal denialist mindset which blames the victim instead of the perpetrator and institutions designating weapon-free zones while neglecting to provide adequate protection (most campus and shopping mall security guards are unarmed).

There is the slow pace of the legal system and an extremely low conviction rate for rapists, tolerance of “corrective rape”, and ill-treatment of LGBT rape victims by society, police and justice system.

Okay, so what can we do about rape on university campuses? First, make sure universities get the money due from fees and state funds because they need it to deliver services.

Then be ready to pay more because truly effective security is expensive, and security guards earn minimum wages that demotivate them to risk life and limb on your behalf. Hold universities and SAPS accountable by legally compelling them to publish campus crime stats monthly, quarterly and yearly.

Students must assume primary responsibility for their safety. This means carrying some kind of weapon to defend themselves, such as pepper spray in gel form made by a reputable manufacturer (the aerosol version can be blown back in your face by the wind), an Asp (telescopic baton), around R20 in 10c pieces in a sock to use as a cosh and a bunch of keys held to protrude between the fingers (punch the face, throat, ribs, groin), and learning some sort of self defence system like Krav Maga, Aikido or Spetsnaz Sistema.

Learn basic first aid and to carry a kit, as well as how to preserve forensic evidence and memorise the attacker’s identifying characteristics.

Surroundings must be designed or if need be modified, to have clear lines of visibility. Cut bushes, eliminate nooks and crannies, expand the lighting scheme, patrol secluded areas frequently and have emergency phones all over the campus so that victims can get help fast.

Properly train cops and security guards to deal with sexual offences and victims, speed up the legal system, support the victims and punish severely those who lay false charges. Last but not least, finally understand the shame of rape lies with the rapist and the society which fails to stop him/her (yes, women rape too), not the victim!

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